Sunday, November 9, 2008

10 Cheap Things to Do With Kids

This post has been included in the Festival of Frugality~The Veteran’s Day Edition, hosted by On a Quest to be Debt Free and Kids and Money hosted by Money Hacks. Check out these interesting carnivals for many other creative ways to pinch pennies.
It has also been included in the Thanksgiving Traditions edition of the Carnival of Family Life hosted at The Expatriate's Kitchen. Please visit for tips on all things family from finance to food and further.

Photo by César Astudillo

One of the big problems of living through an economic crunch is not being able to provide your kids with lessons and activities that get them thinking, moving, and learning. We've suspended soccer, dance, piano and violin lessons, and chorus. We've also had to put on hold plans for things like hockey, science club, and language lessons. The kids know what's going on, if not the extent.

Forgoing toys is another matter, and one I'm not really concerned about right now, except to say to my little ones, "The less we have to spend on xyz, the more we'll have for more important things."

So what can we do in the meantime? Here's what works so far:

1. Girl Scouts.
It's the best kid bargain on the planet, and the girls learn and grow so much it's worth every penny.

2. Bike riding.

Already got bikes? Great. Find a local bike trail and ride away. It gets you and the kids moving, and keeps you off the streets.

If you don't have bikes, see if there's a swap in your neighborhood. Our town dump has a swap meet where we have picked up numerous kid bikes in the right size. Our neighborhoods also hands down bikes from kid to kid. (And not just bikes either--the littlest Poorhouse recently scored a hand-me-down skateboard from the big boys next door.) Sometimes churches or other community organizations will hold sports swap events as fundraisers. Or, check out the local second-hand sporting goods stores. The one in our area is called Play it Again Sports.

3. Boys and Girls Clubs

These fabulous places provide a safe and nurturing place for your kids to go when you can't be there. For a nominal annual fee (ours is $22), your kids can do homework, play games and sports in the gym or outside, take classes (may be slightly more), do crafts, participate in discussion groups, or (insert parental rolling eyes here) play video games and watch TV.

Of course you will want to visit first to make sure you're comfortable with the staff and supervision, but this is a fabulous resource for parents who need a place for their kids to go after school.

4. Take a Hike
In our area of the country fall is beautiful, and we are lucky to have miles and miles of trails nearby to explore. We could go everyday and not be bored. (We don't, but that's another story.) Little kids can ride in a backpack. Bigger kids can carry their own snack and waterbottle.

5. Find a Community Playgroup

Parent groups for those with young children may hold a co-op playgroup with toys and coffee at local public facilities (like churches). They may be during the day, so more suitable for parents who don't work outside the home. If there isn't such a group near you, consider starting one.

6. Go to Free Town Concerts, Movies, Plays

Our town hosts weekly concerts in town center during the summers. Show up with a blanket or chairs, a picnic from home, and some able bodied dancing machines, and you've got yourself and evening out.

7. Take in the Historic Sites

Have a National Park location nearby? Bundle the kids in in the car and take them. You probably haven't been since you were a kid. Bonus: The Rangers Rick and Rickette are fabulous storytellers who can really get kids excited about history.

8. Check out your Local Library
Ours has storytime for infants, for preschoolers, pajama party nights for slightly older kids, a summer reading program, AND (get this) FREE passes to local museums. And how much does all this cost? Nothing, Zilch, Nada. Such a bargain. Plus all the books. We can even get travel packs to keep the kids busy in the car on a long trip.

9. Go to Church or...

...synagogue, or mosque, or ethical society, or whatever works for you. Regardless of your religious persuasion, your local house of worship probably provides lots of activities for kids.

My kids are very musical, and I feel the worst of all about having to suspend their music lessons. But our church has an active children's chorale where the kids are learning to read music, singing in harmony, learning rounds, and really getting something.

The social action committee at our church is teaching the kids to knit and using their results for people in hospital or otherwise ailing. So much better in so many ways than paying for private craft lessons, don't you think? My kids have held a talent show and raised money for a children's hospital, planted flowers on the church grounds, sung and visited with nursing home residents, donated supplies to a pet shelter, and learned about giving. Priceless.

10. Rake some leaves.

Kids love helping out and spending time with their parents. If you can't afford yard service (we've never used one), teach your kids about the land around your house. What needs to happen to prepare for winter? How does compost work? Have them help you plant bulbs and see their delight in the spring.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. With a little imagination and your time, your kids will have plenty to do. All they really need is you.

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