Ten ways to spice up summer without spending a penny by Kiran AnsariPlaying dress up or reading library books can be a fun way to pass the time.
We're only weeks into summer and already the kids are bored. With the economy sputtering, we'd all like to entertain our children without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas that may help you face the onset of summer boredom and win.
1 Breath of fresh air. Get out as much as you can and enjoy the summer while it lasts. Add variety to your outdoor activities. If your kids think a stroll around the block is boring, let them roll along on inline skates or scooters. Let them play hopscotch with colored chalk in the driveway or shoot hoops on the patio. Add a twist to lunch by serving sandwiches from a picnic basket in the park or on the front lawn. Involve the kids in gardening. Not only will they be helping you, they will feel a sense of accomplishment when the flower box or mini garden patch they tend blossoms. After the work is done, reward them by letting them play with the water.
2 Share your talent. Whether your backyard is the envy of the neighborhood or your brownies make mouths water, capitalize on what you do well. Enjoy sharing your talent with your kids. Polish their writing skills, help bring out the artist in them or introduce them to the world of scrap booking. You need not enroll them in special classes when they can share a hobby with you.
3 Shop in peace. Plan your shopping trips so you get your work done and the children have fun, too. Some stores, such as IKEA and Car Max, have ball pits and doodling paper to keep the little ones occupied while you shop. Craft stores such as Michael's and Hobby Lobby often have free project demos and workshops. If you are going to stop at a fast food restaurant for a bite to eat, choose one with an indoor play place with tunnels and slides where kids are entertained for free. That's a great option for rainy days, too.
4 Go downtown. Take a day trip to Chicago. You could visit the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier any Thursday between 5-8 p.m. for free and the Mexican Fine Arts Museum free any time--although a donation is suggested. Of course, there is never a charge for a leisurely stroll along Lake Michigan. If you start at the Shedd Aquarium, walk north to Navy Pier. From North to Hollywood avenues, there are numerous beaches to explore--the one at Montrose Avenue is even dog-friendly. Visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com and take a look at all the Chicago Park District's walking trails, free programs and fishing holes around the city. Save on gas and parking by taking the Metra or a Chicago Transit Authority train. To get around downtown, just hop on a free trolley from the Metra station to the museum campus.
5 Closer than you think. Find out what your town has to offer. From borrowing unlimited library books to free access to the Internet and some recreational facilities, every park district has some interesting summer activity planned. Enroll the kids in a reading program or let them check out computer games and DVDs from the library.
6 Recycle creatively. Before throwing away a cereal box or an egg carton, think of a creative way to turn it into a craft project for the kids. Download free project ideas from www.michaels.com or www.hgtv.com. For instance, press flowers from your back yard to make pretty cards or make pencil holders by gluing ice-cream sticks to an old tin.
7 Extraordinary chores. Turn mundane tasks into fun projects. Some of these may--at first blush--seem lame but stick with me. Depending on the child, their age, your attitude and maybe a little financial incentive, they may work. Ask them to organize your CDs alphabetically or by artist. Get them to indirectly practice their handwriting by copying the recipes you have scattered all over the place or ask them to make a new address book for you. Sometimes access to “grown-up” stuff can be far more fun than cleaning their bedroom.
8 Remember this? When it rains, it's time to head for the basement. This too might take a little cajoling. But with a little enthusiasm and perhaps the garbage can centered like a basketball hoop--it could work as well. This is a cleaning project, but the object is to make them think they're exploring. Children love to rediscover what they once had, especially if you are threatening to throw it out. Sort through boxes in the basement or garage and watch their faces light up when they find their old toys. Let them play dress-up with your outdated clothes and accessories. They can spend hours playing with their “new” stuff while you organize a garage sale or pack the discards up to donate to a charity. It's a win-win situation--busy kids and an uncluttered basement!
9 Family time. Even if you're not going out of town together, designate special family time. Monopoly or Monopoly Jr. can get even the busiest families to stop and spend time together. Try playing charades or cards. Or light some candles on the porch and tell family stories. Get the grandparents involved and let them tell about the days when they were children. Think about participating together at your religious center or taking a meal to a homeless shelter.
10 Kid pools. When the siblings have had enough of one another, have their friends over. Pizza, popsicles and three best friends is all it takes. Start a kid pool with the moms of your children's friends. One day a week, a few friends can meet at one home under one mom's supervision. The kids get their play date and the other moms can run errands or just soak in a bubble bath (yeah, right!). Make a sleepover more fun by letting them camp out in the backyard or make a fort out of bed sheets in the basement.Kiran Ansari is a freelance writer and hand-made greeting card designer. She lives in Schaumburg with her husband and son.