11 Free or Cheap Adventures for Your Kids
Having a fun summer vacation doesn’t require spending lots of money or traveling to far-flung lands. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your neighborhood.
NEA Member Benefits has come up with 11 great pint-sized staycation ideas, with the help of a few experts, that will keep your kids active, engaged, and happy all summer long.
“Just because you can’t make it to the beach this summer doesn’t mean you can’t create beach-inspired activities right at home,” says Dana Browne, director of business development at Kidville, a franchise that provides classes, parties, and programs for children. You can create that relaxing retreat vibe with music, décor, clothing, and food.
Regular, creative activities also keep children busy. “At our day camp, weekly themes are so popular because they keeps the kids excited about what’s coming up next, just like a vacation would,” Browne says.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Backyard Beach Party: Invite your friends over for a beach day in the yard. Set up beach chairs and towels, turn on some sunny tunes, and serve up summer snacks such as popsicles and fruit kabobs. Give kids beach-inspired activities to do throughout the day, suggests Browne, who also recommends setting up a water-play obstacle course with pool noodles, sprinklers, and water balloons. The children complete different challenges, such as a water balloon toss. “With all of these fun water activities, you’ll feel like you’re playing on the beach.”
2. Backyard Camping Trip: Set up tents in your backyard and add games, nature walks, storytelling, and campfire snacks, Browne suggests. As it gets dark, break out the flashlights for a game of tag.
3. Indoor Sports Day: On a hot summer day, plan to go to a few different indoor sports facilities, such as the bowling alley, an indoor basketball court, and an indoor swimming pool. Bonus points for creating games with inexpensive prizes for the winners.
4. Culinary Adventure: Take your family to explore the local farmers market and come up with meal ideas based on ingredients that look delicious. Talk to the vendors about how their products are grown and why they’re special. Then go home and cook the meal together.
5. Walk as a Writer: “Take your kids out to explore places in your neighborhood and write about what you see, feel and think,” suggests Jessica Cuthbertson, a sixth-grade literacy teacher at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora, Colorado. “Ask them: What stories would the park bench tell if it could talk? What about the mailbox? The tree stump? The busy street? The dog that’s walking its owner? Try this at different times of day and see what stories develop.” You could even create a book that captures the stories as a summer project.
6. Fruit Picking: Picking fruit is a good workout, and the rewards are sweet! Depending on the season and location, plan a day to go pick your locally grown specialty, whether it’s strawberries, blueberries, or cherries. Then spend the evening in the kitchen, canning, preserving, cooking, and baking. If there’s a lot left over, help your child set up a stand in your front yard so she can get her first taste of entrepreneurship.
7. Giveback to Charity: Visit a local shelter, hospital, or elder-care home to help others and give back to the community. Let your children choose where they’d like to go. Or, go a step further, and spend the day gathering goods and gifts to create care packages for those in need. Deliver them together.
8. Be a Tourist in Your City: Have the children plan a day touring a city near home where they’re the tour guide, suggests Eileen Ogintz, syndicated travel columnist of “Taking the Kids” and the creator of Takingthekids.com. Include museums, attractions, restaurants, and more, just as if you were taking a real trip outside your hometown. “We often overlook what’s right in front of us because we live there,” Browne notes. “But if you plan outings to historic sites, parks, and the like, you can re-create that special memory of travel right at home.”
9. Eat Your Way Around the World: Spend a few evenings expanding your culinary boundaries by going out to restaurants that serve food from different countries. Before you go, research the cuisine with your child to learn about how people across the ocean eat. Talk about the similarities and differences after each visit.
10. Plant a Garden: Head to the local garden center and let your kids pick out a few plants to bring home with you. Spend the day in the sun planting and potting, talking about what each crop will require. Assign your kids tasks for maintaining the plants through the summer. Even better if they can eat the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor!
11. Learn About Your Past: Work together as a family to learn about your past and create a shared project. Trace your ancestry back a few generations and collect old photos. Type up family stories to make a genealogy scrapbook.