Summer is here, and if you are like me, the money isn't there for trips to the zoo, water parks or amusement parks. What to do? Kids need stimulation, and will get bored very quickly sitting around playing video games and watching television. These two activities are the biggest time wasters and usually do not teach your children anything at all other than how to be in a permanent vegetative state.
I have four children between the ages of 12 and 7, and I want to make sure that they have a summer of good memories with their parents, one of fun and excitement without spending a much money or going into debt. Here are some ideas:
1. Instant Water Slide - All you need for this is a large roll of plastic or a box of trash bags that are linked together through perforation. Unfold the thing and lay it in the yard, staking it down with ordinary tent stakes (or cut up a wire clothes hanger). Use a bottle of dish soap (preferably the eco green stuff) and coat liberally, then spray it down with water to get it all sudsy. You don't need to leave the water on. Kids will be sliding across it in no time and it will take up hours of time. My kids slide on a 50' x 36" roll of plastic I picked up from the local hardware store for less than $10. We reuse the same piece every year.
2. Library Time - Usually the local public library has tons of activities planned for children during summer break. Get a calendar from them and plan trips to check out books, get involved in free summer workshops, and many other fun things kids will enjoy. Our library used to have a puppet show every Tuesday that the kids looked forward to every week. One of the best things in the world you can do for your children is read to them. Check out books that may be a little above their reading level and spend an afternoon reading that book to them. Your children will thank you for it when they are older.
3. Role Playing Games - Usually these types of games (i.e. Dungeons and Dragons) have huge rule books and take a while for the person running the game to learn the rules, but there are several role playing games with online rules that are easy to learn and they are absolutely free from this website. Three things that role playing games do that no other game can do: 1) encourage the imagination of the player 2) help children practice rudimentary math skills and 3) encourage strategy and teamwork among the other players.
4. Baking Competition - Give each child an identical recipe (of course this assumes they can read, but help the little ones along). Each child is given the proper ingredients and must measure everything out themselves to bake a cake or some other confection. Award points for following the recipe, creativity in decoration, and taste (use neighbors or grandparents as guinea pigs). Your kids will work for hours on this and all of you will have plenty of snacks for days.
5. Back Yard Camping - This can be done even without a tent, but if you do have a tent, break the thing out and let your kids live in it for a night. They can pile in with their sleeping bags, make s'mores in the oven (unless you live in the country like me and can build a fire), tell ghost stories by flashlight and sing songs. If you do not have a tent, use these instructions for building one from average household items.
6. Sprinkler Games - Everyone has played in a sprinkler for a cheap way to cool off in the summer time (and to water the grass...right dad?). Why not organize the chaos. This website has plenty of games to play around the sprinkler that are fun, easy and will not break your budget.
7. Science Experiments - I love these. Get a balloon, a piece of tape, a drinking straw and some string. Put the string through the straw and then run the string from one end of the living room to the other and tape the ends so that it is stretched tight. Tape the balloon to the straw, blow up the balloon and you have an instant rocket! Kids will spend forever playing with this toy. This website lists several other fun scientific things you can do with your kids at home without breaking your bank account.
8. Scavenger Hunt - This is probably one of the easiest ways to get kids out of the house and into the yard, but it takes a little preparation on your part. I usually make up my own list of things to find that are in our yard or in our neighborhood, and then take them on a walk so that they are with me and safe. The scavenger hunt ideas on this website are probably some of the best ideas for taking your scavenger hunt to the next level, and also bring a little adventure into your life as well. The point of this is to get them outside exploring their world.
9. Movie Making - Most everyone has a camera of some kind in this day and age. Most phones shoot video footage. I have video editing software on a desktop computer in my home and my kids make movies that they plan out, storyboard, and direct. There are several Windows and Mac versions of free video editing software out there. Of course kids also star in the movies and pick out the soundtrack for the films as well. Kids love to see themselves on camera in a movie and their little films will be played and played over and over by them throughout the summer. Upload the films to YouTube so that everyone can see them. Here is a parody we made of '70's chop-socky movies. They watched a few of them that I had lying around the DVD cabinet, and so they wanted to make their own. They wrote this themselves:
10. Poetry Writing - Pull out the rules for writing a Haiku or another poetic form if they are older children or if they are very small then let them craft away on a poem that you write down for them. They will take to it well if they are given the right encouragement. If they write enough poems you can make a small book for them through Createspace by uploading the poems to Amazon. Have them design their own cover as well. Even if no one else buys the book you will have a precious book of poems that your children wrote during your memorable summer. They also make great Christmas gifts for the grandparents.