10 Low- or No-Cost Family Fun IdeasThese family fun ideas won't break your budget.
Sure, a week at a theme park may be on every child's wish list, but what kids really want -- and what they'll remember long after the souvenirs have been lost -- is the undivided, loving attention of their parents. These inexpensive (or free) activities will stimulate family interaction and create lasting memories for you and your children.
1. Plan a photo safari: Got a digital camera? Make a list of natural wonders (birds, leaves, rocks, trees, etc.) and head out to a nature preserve or park. Enjoy the beautiful setting as the kids hunt for and photo-capture the listed items. Vote on your favorite photos and print them (use your library's printer if you don't have one) to create a photo gallery for your home. Each season offers something new for your gallery.
2. Map your neighborhood: Decide on the boundaries and set off with paper and pencils or crayons. It's a group effort to identify buildings, trees, streets, sidewalks and other major landmarks, and to determine where they should go on the map you create. You can invest in a roll of inexpensive craft or white shelf paper to create the final masterpiece, suitable for hanging in your home.
3. Put on a play: Invite kids from the neighborhood and your extended family to participate in a play. Some kids will write the play, others will round up props and decorate sets. Budding thespians will perform the finished masterpiece. Advertise the premiere and invite everyone you know; charge a small admission fee (50 cents or so), and use the proceeds to finance a picnic for the theater company.
4. Take a hike: Visit your local library or bookstore to browse local day-hike options and plan a family outing. Choose a short, easy trail for your first venture, and fill backpacks with an extra jacket, hat, sunscreen, healthy snacks and enough water for each member of your hiking party. If you decide to bring the family dog, make sure Fido has a collar with current ID and rabies tags, and keep him on a leash unless you see posted signs that unleashed dogs are welcome. To celebrate your adventures, bring a camera and have each family member write about their favorite part of day. Keep these memories in a scrapbook to remember fun family times.
5. Hunt for wild things: In your own backyard or a nearby park, take young explorers out to identify items on a list you prepare. Make the list simple or complex, depending on the ages of the kids. Make sure your kids identify rather than capture each item; it's a great way to teach your kids to respect nature by not disturbing plants, animals and birds.
6. Pitch a tent: If you're new to camping, rent your tent for the first outing. A 3-day camping trip is enough time to decide if it works for your family, and in most cities you can rent a 4-person tent for around $30. If you're camping in a warm season you can get away with blankets and quilts instead of sleeping bags, but it's best to borrow or rent air mattresses rather than trying to sleep on the tent floor, unless you like waking up feeling stiff and cold. Research campgrounds in your state to find one with the amenities you want, including showers, campfire pits with cooking grills (bring your own cooking and dining equipment), and whether you can drive to the campsite or have to pack in your gear.
7. Swim and picnic: Let each family member choose or prepare their favorite picnic food, and head out for a day of fun. Even if you don't live near water, you probably have a community pool or YMCA nearby. Plan a family outing that includes a swim in the local pool (where pool games add to the fun). When everyone gets hungry, head to a local park or forest preserve and bring out the picnic.
8. Explore the wonders: Many zoos, aquariums and museums offer free or reduced admission one day a week, so plan ahead. As a family, do a little library or Internet research about what you'll see; perhaps each child could describe a favorite fish, bird or mammal. Science and children's museums are more fun for kids than miles of paintings, because kids love to play with interactive displays. It's learning, disguised as fun.
9. See the stars: If you live near a big city, check out the local planetarium for budget-friendly programs that introduce kids to the wonders of the universe. Local colleges and astronomy groups are other good ways to connect with star-gazers; ask if they offer free lectures and sky-viewing opportunities. Your local library is a great place to learn about the stars and constellations you'll see.
10. Put on a show: Talent shows are a great way for adults and kids to have fun together, and the perfect antidote for rainy-day or after-dinner boredom. Allow some time for participants to prepare, then start the show. Invite shy kids to go "onstage" as part of a group or with an adult, but don't force anyone to perform. Encourage good sportsmanship and respect: everyone who wants to can perform, and everyone gets applause.
Sharon O'Brien is a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon, and a freelance writer specializing in relationship and lifestyle information and advice.
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