12 Tips for Inexpensive Family Entertainment

by Vickie Phelps

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"Mom, I'm bored, there's nothing to do." Sound familiar? During those long summer vacations, the kids are clamoring for things to do, and places to go. A few trips to theme parks and water slides and the family budget is down the tubes. So, how do you keep them busy and maintain enough in the checking account to survive?

The following are some inexpensive or free activities the whole family can enjoy. Some of these tips may involve only the immediate family, but many can expand to include neighbors or close friends.

  1. Great American Hot Dog Cook-Off. Why not plan a neighborhood hot dog cook-off? Have each family bring a grill and fixings for hot dogs. For this event, the wieners and buns could be cut into fourths for sampling. Encourage participants to come up with a different twist on flavors, fixings, etc. Have everyone sample hot dogs from each grill and then vote on the best hot dog in the neighborhood.>
  2. Summer Scrapbook. Keep the kids busy taking pictures and collecting mementos from their summer activities. With an inexpensive camera, they can take pictures of their siblings and friends as they play in the pool or take part in local activities. And don't forget the family vacation. Buy a large spiral-bound notebook or inexpensive scrapbook and let them paste their pictures inside, labeling each picture with dates and names. At the end of the summer, they'll have lots of scrapbook memories.
  3. Concerts in the Park. Check with your local Parks and Recreation department about concerts in the park. Some cities offer free events during the summer months. Take snacks and drinks along so you won't need to purchase from expensive vendors. Don't forget the binoculars for a close-up look at the performers.
  4. Library Lounge Lizard. Most local libraries provide magazines for all ages in addition to the books. Even if the teen in your family isn't an avid reader, he or she probably enjoys the latest magazines. Some libraries host story hours, author visits, and book fairs, free to the public.
  5. Who's Who at the Zoo? Some cities maintain a free zoo or charge a nominal fee. The kids may enjoy it more if you allow them to invite a friend to go along. How about a scavenger hunt at the zoo? Prepare a list of things to look for. Separate into teams and search for the animal with the long nose that eats ants or find the birds that eat pink shrimp and turn orange. Give the winning team an inexpensive prize at the end of the hunt.
  6. Museum Mania. Most towns of any size have at least one museum. Exhibits change from time to time in larger museums so you can go more than once depending on the cost. You might want to check out museums in a neighboring town or talk with another mom or two and do a driving museum tour taking in several museums in one day. What about creating your own museum? Clean out an area in the attic, basement, or garage. Set up tables and let the kids and their friends bring in items to display.
  7. 3-D Puzzle Party. If your family enjoys jigsaw puzzles, make a party out of it. Invite another family, serve simple refreshments and put a puzzle together. A 3-D puzzle provides a challenge for all ages. This idea could be extended over several weeks depending on the size of the puzzle.
  8. 1-2-3 Hike! If you live near hiking trails, pack a picnic lunch and take the family hiking. Make it an educational adventure by exploring the area for native flowers, birds, and stones. Be sure to take the binoculars for birdwatching, and don't forget the first aid kit.
  9. The Neighborhood Bestseller. What could be more fun than to write your own book? Most families own a computer and the book will be neater and easier to read if typed. Meet with other families to decide on a subject and title. One family starts the book by writing a chapter on the chosen subject. Each family member can contribute ideas or do their own writing. Save the book on computer disk and pass it from house to house until the last family has written a chapter. When the book is finished, a designated person can proofread the manuscript and print out a copy for each family to read and enjoy.
  10. Christmas-In-July Cookie Exchange. These are popular at Christmas, but there's no reason not to do it at other times during the year. Contact several other families asking them to bring three dozen cookies each. When everyone arrives, divide the cookies, putting half on a platter and saving the other half for taking home.

    Serve punch, soft drinks, or coffee and enjoy everyone's contributions. You might wish to rent a movie for the crowd to watch while you munch cookies. As each family leaves, give them a plastic sandwich or freezer bag and let them choose cookies out of the saved ones to take home and enjoy later.
  11. Book Autograph Parties. Are you a family of bookworms? If so, why not attend some autograph signing by your favorite authors. Check with area bookstores for scheduled events. Most large cities have more than one bookstore so you may be able to attend more than one signing over the summer months.
  12. Neighborhood Talent Show. Why not organize a talent show in your neighborhood? Bet you didn't know that Mike down the street plays a mean sax and Louise in the house next door can tap dance. Get as many families involved as possible with as many short five to ten minute acts as you can arrange. Do a couple of practice runs and then invite extended family members and friends to your own talent hour.

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