Mom's looking for summer activities for her 9 and 11 year-olds

Alternatives to Summer Camp

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Needs Ideas for Summer Activities

My boys that are ages 9 and 11 declared themselves "too old" for the town camps and kids sports programs of previous summers. The problem is that just "hanging out" becomes bickering and/or them wanting to spend money on every activity they can think up. Does anyone have ideas for me to keep my boys entertained and occupied for 10 weeks? Thanks!
Sarah G.

Let Them Start a Summer Business

The 11-year-old can look into being a "CIT" (counselor in training) at his town camp. Counselors in Training get to spend their days doing lots of fun activities with campers while learning leadership skills, getting the taste of having a little authority, and often getting paid to do it!

The nine-year-old might enjoy volunteering at the ASPCA or another a local agency. Joining Boy Scouts to attend their overnight camps is also a low-cost option since the camps are subsidized. Or, together, both boys could start a home-based summer business like dog walking. Those kinds of activities teach kids a wide variety of skills while also earning income! When kids earn some of their own money, it really takes the pressure off of parents while kids end up becoming much more responsible about spending money!
JR in Houston

Teach Them to Cook

I work in a museum and we run some summer activities that are different and for older kids. Some even volunteer and work with the old guys in maintenance, which all boys seem to love. Also, my younger kids did summer theater in our area. This was not anything fancy, but they had a lot of fun. We also took different days picking and cooking dinner. You'll eat some unusual combinations, but it was fun and became useful in life. Lastly, my summer rule was that complaints were always followed by extra chores (bed stripping and toilet cleaning were the most effective and helpful). A good week is followed by a day at the public beach! As frustrating as they are, enjoy these years. Your boys will soon be working and off with their friends, and you will miss them terribly!


Your boys are old enough to be big help. Animal shelters, park districts and state parks can often use extra hands. You might be able to find an older individual that is having trouble keeping up with their yard and garden like they used to. Another possibility would be to volunteer with the programs they used to enjoy as junior counselors. Some towns have websites for non-profits to post their volunteering needs, which could be a resource for lots of local opportunities.

Set Some Structure

There are a lot of things that your boys can do to occupy their summer without breaking the bank.

First of all, most cities have low-cost and free summer activities. Make it their job to look through the paper to find any events coming up that they might be interested in.

Set some structure. If they tend to have trouble just playing and finding their own fun, sit down and brainstorm some ideas, including playing sports on their own, riding bikes in the park, playing video games, going for ice cream, having a picnic, visiting cheap movie matinees, and doing arts/crafts projects. Write each idea on a slip of paper or several slips of paper if it's a favorite activity that they'll want to repeat.

Separate into "Active" and "Indoor" jars or containers. Each day, except for days with specific activities already planned and scheduled, draw a slip from each jar, switching it out if weather or other issues make it undesirable that day. This ensures a variety of activities. Plus, it keeps them from playing XBox all day long.

Don't be a banker or a chauffeur. Have the kids earn money for the summer activities that cost money, whether from extra chores at home or doing odd jobs around the neighborhood like mowing lawns or babysitting. Offer to match whatever they earn if you like. And set limits on how often or how far you will drive them places. Have them do most things together so you're not running them around to separate places all the time, and try to keep most of their activities close to home so they can walk or bike.

Plan one or two special outings during the summer. Reward their cooperation with a trip to the zoo or amusement park, a slumber party with several of their best friends, or some other special treat. They're less likely to complain about their frugal activities if they have something like this to look forward to, and they'll appreciate it more.

Finally, make sure they have a set quiet time at the end of day. Reading for a while before bed keeps their minds sharp during non-school months. Plus, it is a nice transition from a day of boisterous play to a quiet, restful night's sleep.

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Have Them Make a Scrapbook

When my parents wanted to keep us occupied in the summer, they would buy us each a large "scrapbook" (the kind that are filled with blank newsprint pages). We would each pick a topic that was of interest to us (anything at all) and then we would have to fill the book with information about our topic without spending any money. It was very challenging. We would have to look through newspapers, magazines, etc. or write the content ourselves. We learned a lot and enjoyed the projects without really realizing that we were being kept busy!
Rachel D. in Ontario, Canada

Compromise on Summer Camps

My kids are around the ages of yours, and I think your children are still the right age for the sports camps and so on, regardless of what they are saying. Since they bicker when they are together, perhaps you can compromise and send them every other day. I would send the youngest on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The oldest would go the other two days. Then, you would have time to do frugal activities with the kids separately and maintain peace in your home. They may enjoy the camps more if they don't have to go every day.

As for summer activities that don't cost much, a few things come to mind. Going to the beach, seeing a movie at discount matinee times, going to the library (which often has activities all summer long for free), having a camp out in the yard one night, going to a museum on discount days (check your library for free passes), and doing crafts are all good ideas. Many craft materials can be found at a dollar store. You could even have them keep scrapbooks of their summer.

The last thing I would keep in mind is that it is unfair to parents to work all day while the kids sit around bickering and expecting to be entertained. A summer chore chart might a great way to teach them that and get some time for yourself.

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Sign Them Up for College!

Many community colleges have great summer activities and classes for kids in everything from art to Spanish to game design. They are cheaper than expensive sports camps, more expensive than cheap recreation center day camps, and may not work for every week of the summer. But, they break up the time and cater to a wide range of interests.

Take the Next Step:

  • Discover more frugally fun summer activities for kids by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
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