Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keep Your Sanity This Spring Break

This is a post that was published about a month ago on another site, Moms By Heart. I wrote it while the blog author was away and needed a guest post. I'm reposting here because I thought the timing was good, for Spring Break. Enjoy your time with your family!


When my kids were little, I didn’t think too much about the cost of having them. I mean, they didn’t eat too much, I bought most of their clothes at garage sales or consignment shops, and everyplace we went that required admission was always free for young children. Well, as they say, the honeymoon’s over…

Now my kids are 9, 7, 6, and 16 months. Sending our kids to a private school pretty much bleeds our bank account. So, when summer finally rolls around, the kids look at me longingly for fun activities to keep them busy. Hey, I’m all for keeping them entertained, but… I don’t want it to send us into debt. Every time we go to the pool, BANG! $30 bucks. When we go to Six Flags, BANG! $180 bucks just to get in the gate (and that’s WITH a coupon!). The zoo? BANG! Art Museum? BANG! Even the Ice Cream man with his jolly music-playing van? BANG!

So, after all these BANGS left my wallet practically dead, I needed to find a way to get more BANG for my BUCK.
Creative (and cheap) Ways to Keep Kids Entertained

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are just some of the things I have come up with in my years as a penny-pinching, fun-loving mama:

Look for Coupons. EVERYWHERE. – Many free publications (the ones in stacks near the door of the supermarket) have coupons in them, if you’re willing to look. I’ve found the best deals in the free parenting magazines. And if you find a good coupon, pick up more than one magazine and clip all the coupons! I also find coupons in the famous blue Val-Pak, the Money Mailer, and the circulars that come in the mail every week. Don’t forget to look online.
Just Gotta Have Faith – Churches are a great place to find free fun, and you don’t have to be a member to enjoy yourself. Every summer, churches will host events like carnivals, ice cream socials, picnics, and craft fairs and they invite people from the community. They WANT to see new faces. And, as a bonus, these places quite often have special activities geared just towards the under 12 crowd.
Think Exercise – What’s a creative way to get your kids up and moving? One activity I (as well as my kids) used to love is to make an indoor obstacle course. I’d set up chairs to crawl underneath, ribbons to walk on for a “tightrope walk” and paper plates to hop onto. Other ideas for keeping active: have a headstand contest, learn the crab walk, play follow the leader.
Keeping it clean – Wash your car at home with the help of your kids. Let them wash their bikes and scooters. Get a sprayer nozzle and let the kids wash the side of the house.
Go watch sports events of local teams – You don’t have to pay for the big ticket of major-league teams. Go see a minor-league baseball team play. Or, check out a collegiate team from the local college or university. And, don’t forget to support your little-league players too! At lots of these events you are allowed to bring your own concessions, so don’t worry about paying for a $5 hot dog or a $4 soda – just bring your own cooler!
Look for free/cheap community events – Our local library shows a recently released kids movie one Saturday each month. Our old pool gave 25-cent admission on the 25th of the month throughout the summer. The Art Museum has free admission on Tuesdays after 4pm. Even the local Children’s Museum is free on Friday evenings. Just bear in mind that the crowds will be bigger at these times, so plan to have an extra set of eyes watching your flock!
Take a class – Lowe’s and Home Depot offer free Children’s Workshop classes. Kids get to build stuff with their own hands and the store provides all the materials free of charge. They are usually held on Saturday afternoons. You can also check out the local community college offerings. Many will provide special one- or two-day classes on topics like bugs or photography.
Camps – Check out the Parks & Rec Department – I swear, there is no better value for your dollar than camps offered through your local Parks & Rec. Usually the camps are day-camps with a theme, like Nature Camp or Patriotic Week or Arts & Crafts week. The cost is always reasonable (we send our kids for $30 each – that’s six hours a day for 5 days! And they get a t-shirt too!) Also, most churches will hold a Vacation Bible School, which is like day camp in a church environment. You don't need to be a member of that church to attend. It is always free and the kids can go from one church to another, attending as many different camps as they like. VBS is usually a week long, for a half-day each week.
Be creative at home – What are you recycling this week? Pull it out and – voila! It is your child’s canvas for his next masterpiece. Give him some paint and an old cereal box or 2-liter bottle and let his imagination go. Or, use that 2-liter bottle to build a terrarium. And, one of my all-time favorite home activities is to plant a garden. The cost for seeds, and the return on your investment, is immeasurable. Plus, a kid learns that tomatoes come from the ground, not from the supermarket.
Imaginative play – Got a hairbrush & barrette? Play “Beauty Salon”. Got some band-aids? Play “hospital”. Got some paper plates? Play “restaurant”. Got any books? Play “library”. Got any envelopes? Play “post office”.
Scouting – Talk about bang for your buck, the cost for a year of scouting can’t be beat. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts alike are organizations that teach responsibility and values while providing opportunities for friendship, leadership, and personal growth. The cost is next to nothing (usually less than $50 annually), and the den or troop will meet regularly throughout the whole year. Can you think of another organization that keeps children engaged for 1-2 hours every week, for only about $5 a month?

These are only a few ideas. The real secret is to keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t be lazy and just fall into what’s easy. BUT also don’t blow all your ideas the very first week of summer vacation. Store them up and spread them out. And allow yourself to splurge on the ice-cream truck every once in a while!


Debbi said...

Great Ideas!

Chris said...

Very deserving of a repost!

Jen said...

you are just so good at this stuff. you should write a how to book, Fun and inexpensive ways to entertain kids.

Aleta said...

I don't have any children, but I love these ideas and will share with my friends. Excellent post!

Former Fat Chick said...

we have "yearly passes" to Universal Studios/ Islands of Adventure, it hurts to pay for them in February, but boy of boy we are loving them during Spring Break & Summer, and you can debit them monthly with you bank card!

Sturgmom said...

Those are great suggestions! We also foud that it's cheaper to just get a membership to places and pay up front than to do it every time we go. We now belong to the zoo, the museum, and the Y.

SoBella Creations said...

Found your site via SITS.

We have annual passes to Disney. And the girls love going to the water parks.

anymommy said...

I love this. It's so funny because I was at a loss this afternoon and gave my three some tupperware and macaroni. They played for an hour! Guess most of yours are too old for macaroni, but it was so nice.

Janie at Sounding Forth said...


Don't mean to be negative, so don't delete me.

How do you entertain 28 year olds?


calista said...

I loved these tips. I'm gonna use a couple of them!! Thanks for stopping by the blog. About your comment, and Psalm 121, it always seems that when God keeps putting something before us, he wants us to really meditate on it, so read it again sister and keep it close..LOL, have a great weekend!

Wendy said...

These are GREAT ideas. However, I need a followup post, please. It should be titled:

"What To Do When You Have Run Out of Steam by 1 PM But Your Kids Are Still as Wild as Apes."

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

Fab ideas---you are very creative!!!

Mariel said...

Those are some great ideas! I forgot about Home Depot doing those classes, my kids would love that!

Thanks for coming by my blog!