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May 012012
 May 1, 2012  Posted by  Family, Kids, Recreation, Summer Fun With Kids

Many of us fondly remember our childhood summers – riding bikes, chasing the ice cream truck, playing outside with neighborhood friends until way after dark. So it’s with some sadness that we realize that our own kids might not get to experience those same idyllic summers. Neighborhoods can be empty as kids spend their days in specialty camps. The lure of video games may be more powerful than the lure of learning to whistle through blades of grass. And many parents today aren’t as comfortable as their parents were with letting kids roam free all day.

But there are ways to introduce some simple – and frugal – fun to your kids this summer. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, or you’ve hired a babysitter instead of sending your kids to camp, or even if you just have a couple weeks to fill between camps, read on for some ideas.

Engage imaginations

The best way to get kids immersed in an activity is to provide a little bit of support and guidance, but not too much. Gather discarded materials: mailing tubes, old pens, bubble wrap and, especially, cardboard boxes. Buy a few items: duct tape, PVC pipes and connectors and rubber bands, for example. Send the kids on a mission outside to find sticks and other materials from nature. Then start them out with a challenge. Ask them to create something that floats or a catapult. Then get out of their way, and see what happens. If you’re brave, get your kids the book, The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery. And then really get out of the way.

Grow something

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, help your kids make a small raised-bed garden or just use a container. Provide them with seeds and a little bit of instruction. Let them choose what to plant, whether it’s flowers or veggies. Maybe you’ll get a vase of fresh flowers out of the bargain, or your kids will try zucchini for the first time. But no matter how it turns out, you win. You’ll end up with tired kids who have gotten their hands dirty. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children takes gardening a step further by showing how to create themed gardens with your kids

Skip rope

Do you remember when skipping rope was fun and not just exercise? It was the rhymes that made it fun! Teach your kids the old jump rope ditties. Besides just being fun, it’s a way of preserving one of our cultural traditions. How many of these rhymes ring a bell for you?

Community offerings

Check out what your community has to offer. Parks departments often offer free or inexpensive outdoor activities like nature scavenger hunts or geo-caching. When the activity is over, see how you can extend it for your child. Maybe he’d like to create his own backyard scavenger hunt for siblings or friends. Also, local libraries usually offer a lot – much more than just story times, and these activities are usually free.


Look on the websites of your local movie theaters to find free or $1 kids’ movies on weekday mornings. Last year, Regal Entertainment Group’s cinemas had a busy schedule of $1 movies through their “Summer Movie Express” program. Also, a new trend is for parks and churches to show free outdoor movies in the evenings. Families bring blankets and snacks, and kids run around together before the movies start. Throwing a Frisbee, chasing fireflies? That sounds like summer.

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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