Summer vacation is almost upon us. The last day of school is less than a week away - it's time to start planning out some fun activities to keep the kids entertained and engaged over the next few months at home.
It's easy to break the bank trying to fill the days with fun - water parks, amusement parks, arcades, museums, indoor playplaces, the zoo, eating out and buying treats and hitting every festival and fair and summer event you can find. But it's just as easy to have an active, fun-filled summer without blowing the budget.
Childhood summers are all about play. Playing in the yard, playing at the park. Digging in the sandbox, climbing on the playground, swinging on the swings, sliding down the slide. Blowing bubbles, jumping rope, running through the sprinkler, colouring with sidewalk chalk. Playing catch and going for bike rides and climbing trees and kicking the soccer ball around.
Take the kids for long walks and bike rides through the neighbourhood - turn it into a scavenger hunt to explore and discover the world around them. Hunt down new parks and playgrounds to play at - there are likely dozens within walking distance of your home you might never have been to before. Discover different walking trails and bike paths and follow them to see where they lead. Pack up a simple picnic and head out to the park.
Look up local community events - street festivals, school fun fairs, small-town special event celebrations - these are almost always free of charge to attend. It's easy to spend an entire sunny afternoon wandering around looking at outdoor booths and displays and vendors and enjoying street entertainers for no more than the cost of an ice cream cone as a treat.
Take the kids to the local splash pad - if you don't have one right in your neighbourhood there's likely one nearby. Look up the nearest botanical garden or outdoor arboretum and spend a few hours exploring. Check the websites for all the local nearby towns - movies in the park, cultural events, outdoor concerts and fireworks are happening in small towns and big cities across the country all summer long. All open to the public and free of charge.
Admittedly, the weather doesn't always cooperate with our plans for outdoor adventures. There are still a million things to do with the kids when you're stuck inside on a rainy day without having to shell out for a few hours at a crowded indoor playplace.
Read books together. Play board games. Bake cookies. Build a blanket fort in the living room. Colour. Do crafts. Construct a massive Lego city. Paint a mural. Play puzzles. Dig out the dress-up clothes and put on a performance. Pop some popcorn, pull out an extra mattress and have a PJ movie party.
Hit the local library - it's always free to visit, browse, and take out books and movies and there are often free programs running for children. Community centres offer a host of free or inexpensive drop-in activities - and keep your eyes open for special events. Many malls have free drop-in mini playplaces or playgrounds. Most recreational children's programs offer open houses once a month or so to entice new registrants - a great opportunity to try out something new and different without having to spend a cent: rock climbing, pottery, jujitsu, jazz.
There are so many ways to have fun with your kids without blowing the bank - or even spending a single cent. Though big-ticket treats like a day at an amusement park or passes to a waterpark or the zoo are an amazing treat and a wonderful way to spend the day together, you can have just as much fun enjoying the summer and making memories with your kids without even pulling out your wallet.
It seems a lot of the unnecessary spending comes from parents who simply don't know what to do with their kids. Working parent or at-home parent, no matter how much time you have to spend with your children, that time can and should be meaningful. Play with your kids. Engage. Spend time with them doing nothing. Use your imagination and make the simplest, everyday things in life an adventure. Spending time together with your kids does not have to mean spending money.