Cheap Thrills: Summer in the City

by Maureen Bennie

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If you are like any young family on a tight budget, taking an out-of-town vacation may be out of the question this summer. So what do you do with the kids when the heat is on and that phrase "We're bored" begins to ring in your ears? Summer in the city can be fun and surprisingly cheap if you are willing to be resourceful and creative. Here are ten summertime fun activities and ideas for your backyard and beyond.

  • Think about buying a pool. Even a small pool will provide hours of entertainment for children. I don't think there is a kid out there that doesn't love to splash around in the water. Look for one on sale at department or hardware stores (sales often happen on weekends). My parents bought us a second hand above ground pool when we were kids and got more than their money's worth out of it. If a pool is out of the question, try the sprinkler. Toy and department stores carry interesting sprinkler heads too if you need to shake things up a bit.
  • Get a sandbox. This is another great purchase that can provide hours of fun. A sandbox is inexpensive and sand is dirt-cheap. Throw in a pail, shovel and a few plastic molds and you have hours of fun. My sister and I spent hours in our sandbox building elaborate sand cities inhabited by plastic farm animals.
  • Try bike riding. Kids love riding bikes. This is an excellent item to buy second hand through the classified ads, at a sports swap, or a garage sale. If your children are too young to ride their own bike, invest in a bike cart. Again these can be found at a reasonable price second hand. Bike carts are available as single or double child carriers. We bought the stroller conversion kit for our cart so we can use it as a stroller when need be.

    Bike rides can be great adventures. Pick up a bike path map in your city (available at outdoor stores or through your Chamber of Commerce) and vary routes. Pack a picnic lunch and stop by a river. Pull over at a park to stretch your legs. Bike riding is great exercise and fun.
  • Check out your local library. There is so much going on at the library these days. Most offer free children's programs such as story time. Libraries have more than just books. There are CD's, videos, talking books, Internet use, and magazines. It's nice to have some good reading material for those lazy afternoons in a lawn chair.
  • Consider a family pass to a favorite place. Many family oriented places offer economical family passes at great savings. Attractions like the zoo, a sports center, an amusement park, or special interest sight can be wonderful places to spend a day. Passes often pay for themselves in a couple of visits.
  • Find out when free or discounted days are for indoor attractions. Rainy days can drive everyone crazy if you don't get out for part of the day. Places like the museum, planetarium, movie theater or science center often has discounted or free admission days. Keep a list of these handy so you know where to go when the weather isn't agreeable.
  • Check out community programs in your city. City communities offer day programs for a reasonable fee. If there is financial need, often these programs are subsidized or free. Your local YMCA is a good place to start. There are all sorts of day camps that feature crafts, sports, drama, art, or music. Our city offers free "Stay and Play" programs at community centers where children can play organized sports, games or do a craft.
  • Find out about special events in your city. Most cities will have summer festivals or special events that go throughout July and August. Check your local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce to find out the summer offerings. Street festivals celebrating different cultures are great learning experiences. If you have children who have never seen a play before, some cities have local drama troupes that do plays in the park. Check out outdoor concerts too.
  • Go to a friend's house for a play date. There is something about toys at another person's house - they are new and exciting. My own kids often play with the same toys they have at home at another person's house simply because the toys are in a new location. Go figure! A change of scene and playmates can be refreshing for everybody. Mix up a pitcher of Kool Aid and you've got the makings of a fun afternoon.
  • Have a barbecue in your backyard or at your local park with family and friends. There's nothing better than getting together with good friends and family, barbecuing traditional summer foods like hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill. Kids love it and so do most adults. Play Frisbee or baseball after dinner or simply relax and watch the sunset. Is there anything better on a balmy summer evening?

Spending a summer at home doesn't have to be dull or a chore. With some planning and a bit of money you can make a little go a long way, creating a memorable summer for everyone.

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