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Jun 042013

Introduce some frugal fun to your kids this summer. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or you’ve hired a babysitter, or even if you just have a couple weeks to fill between summer camps, you’ll need some ideas to keep kids entertained. Some of these activities take advantage of free programs you’ll find in your community through businesses like roller rinks and movie theaters and some are activities you can put together on your own.

Free and cheap stuff close to home

  • Fun for preschoolers: Play at Home Mom is filled with inventive ideas that will inspire you, and most of the materials you’ll need can be easily found around the house. From xylophones made out of drinking glasses to an outdoor letter hunt, more than 100 activities are organized by category (rainy day, outdoor play, paint play.)
  • Recycling projects: The website A Childhood List shares 47 recycling projects for kids. Aimed at toddlers through pre-teens, this list includes detailed instructions and photos that teach kids and their parents how to make fun toys like rain sticks and boats out of items that might otherwise be thrown in the trash.
  • DIY field trips: Ask local businesses and craftspeople if you can bring your child by to see what they do. An artist might invite an interested child into the studio or a doughnut-maker might be happy to show how he makes the doughnuts. Not every business will say yes, but keep asking around.
  • Hands-on Science Learning: Natural disasters make headlines, which means that kids are curious about them. The book  Natural Disasters: Investigate Earth’s Most Destructive Forces with 25 Projects (Build It Yourself series) has kids simulating avalanches, volcanoes and earthquakes with materials like rice, pipe cleaners, plastic figures and gravel. Kids will also make emergency kits for both people and pets.
  • Boredom: Don’t get caught in the trap of constantly entertaining kids. Experts point out that it’s good for kids’ development to deal with boredom. Doing so helps develop their own creativity, which means that they’ll learn to make their own fun.

 Free (or very cheap) community activities

  • Apple Camp: Apple stores offer popular movie-making camps for kids every summer. Registration isn’t open yet, but you can sign up to be notified when it is. Learn more about the camp and the sign-up process.
  • Free roller skating: Kids Skate Free is a national program that offers kids one free roller skating pass each week. You’ll need to register your child with a participating skating rink to get the free pass (there’s a limit of four kids per e-mail address).
  • Free bowling: Two programs allow kids to bowl for free all summer. Parents can sign kids up for AMF Lanes’ Summer Unplugged and the Kids Bowl Free program, both of which give kids the chance to bowl two free games every day. Bowling shoe rental is usually not included.
  • Cheap movies: Many movie theater chains offer very inexpensive movies for kids during weekday mornings. The three most widespread programs are the Regal Summer Movie Express program, Cinemark’s Summer Movie Clubhouse and Harkins Theatres’ Summer Movie Fun. Tickets are no more than $1 a movie for any of these programs. Be sure to check out your locally owned theater as well, if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. It might have a summer movie program, too.
  • Free movies: Check the websites for your local parks, churches and neighborhood associations. Many host free outdoor movies in the summer, often offering kids’ activities like bounce houses and face-painting before the movie starts.
  • Reading: Your local library and independently owned bookstores may offer summer reading programs in which kids can earn prizes, store credit or free books when they read a certain number of books. Living on the Cheap has compiled an extensive list of summer reading programs across the country, including those offered by Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Random House and many more.

Jody Mace

Jody Mace is a freelance writer who has written for publications like O Magazine, Washington Post, and Parents. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two teenaged kids. Her colleagues are dogs named Harlow and Shaggy. She publishes Charlotte on the Cheap and takes the “cheap” seriously. For fun she plays mandolin and browses at her local Goodwill Store, where she is “Foursquare Mayor,” as long as that Russell G. doesn’t steal it from her again. You can see her celebration of thrift store finds at Thrift Wrecks.

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