Midway through summer, children nationwide are starting to utter the two words sure to push any parent’s buttons -- “I’m bored!” While nonstop vacations and month-long summer camps are not practical for most budget-conscious families, plenty of ways exist for kids to have fun without going into debt or sacrificing a savings plan. This summer, try some of these low-cost activities:
1.Host a backyard campout. You do not have to travel to a national park or other campsite to sleep under the stars. Pop a tent on your lawn, unroll the sleeping bags and roast marshmallows on an enclosed fire pit. Your children get the excitement of camping while you enjoy all of the luxuries of home -- food in the fridge, fresh drinking water and a toilet that flushes.
2.Master a craft. Hobby stores are chockablock with kid-friendly activities. You can bead necklaces, make a throw pillow, build a model airplane or tie-dye shirts. Or spend time teaching your child to knit, sew, crochet or do other activities, just like your parents or grandparents used to do.
3.Play board games. Video games may be all the rage, but children still love board games replete with dice, colorful cards and playing pieces. Show your child the strategy behind chess and set aside time each evening to help him or her master the game. Bring out old board games from your childhood, or try your hand at popular new ones.
4.Go on a hunt. Arm your children with cameras and give them a scavenger list of interesting items to find and photograph. You can make this a one-day activity and focus on your neighborhood, or create a longer activity where kids check off items they discover in the community throughout the summer. A creative list might include finding a man wearing an orange hat, a food that starts with the letter “p,” a red door or a flock of birds. A technological twist on the traditional scavenger hunt is geocaching. All you need is a device with a global positioning system or GPS. Geocaching.com lists coordinates for hidden geocaches, or containers, that your family can seek out together. After you find the spot, you can leave a note for the next discoverer, and swap an item in the box for one that you bring.
5.Get a move on. The physical activities you can do with children during the warm-weather months are almost as endless as kids’ energy levels. Try family bike rides, nature hikes, water balloon tosses, disc golf, freeze tag, volleyball, badminton, touch football and more. Alternatively, head to a playground and relive your youth by pumping your legs on the swings, zooming down the slides or playing foursquare.
6.Settle in with stories.Most libraries and many bookstores offer free weekly story times where children can be introduced to new books, and sometimes also participate in craft time and singing. While visiting these locations, you can look for books and movies to explore at home together. See if you can enroll your child in a summer reading program. Another idea: write your family story together or tell a fictionalized tale. Each family member can take turns writing a chapter, adding to the story where the previous author leaves off.
7.Make a movie. Use the video capabilities on your smartphone or tablet to help your children make their own movie. They can spend hours or days writing the plot and script, pulling together costumes and props, rehearsing their lines, and finally filming and editing the production. You can even scout yard sales and thrift stores for clothing and props. Invite neighbors, friends and relatives to participate. Host a movie premiere night at your home when the movie is ready for viewing. Actors can walk the red carpet and dress in their finest Oscar-worthy attire.
Children’s imaginations are the stuff of legend. They sometimes just need a little encouragement to turn off the screen -- television, video game or computer -- and explore the world around them. Consider collecting your family’s options in a “big ideas” jar filled with fun, inexpensive things to do. The next time those dreaded words “I’m bored” are uttered, send your child to the jar and watch the (budget-friendly) fun begin.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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