Science centers are fun as well as educational. They showcase all kinds of cool hands-on activities for the kids to try, which teach them about nature, physics, geology, states of matter, energy, and so much more. Many science centers even have great activities for preschoolers. They won't realize that they are learning anything–they will think they are just having fun playing!
Art and history museums also make great summertime destinations for families. Many offer special exhibits or activities geared towards young learners. But the key to making these outings affordable is to look online to see if they offer any free-admission days during the summer. Museums in our area often offer free admission on Wednesdays.
I always recommend arriving just after the museum or science center opens–that is when it is the least crowded–and pack a picnic lunch from home to avoid an expensive visit to the cafe for just so-so food. If you want to treat the kids, stop for an ice cream cone on the way home!
Idea #2. Hiking and Geocaching
My kids are less than enthusiastic hikers, but hiking is an activity that my husband and I really enjoy doing together. So, to inspire them, we make sure that our hikes include a geocache-finding mission, too.
According to geocaching.com:
“Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”
You can download the Geocaching app or use the website to look up caches by searching by zip code or even by the name of a hiking location such as Rockefeller State Park, NY. Press enter and you will be presented with a list of caches and important details such as the level of difficulty or challenge of the terrain. Click on the name of the cache and you can find the description of the cache as well as the clues to help you find it and, of course, the all-important GPS coordinates.
Make sure that you also have a hiking map of the trail as well as some treasure to place into the box to exchange for the trinkets you will remove.
I recommend using this as an opportunity to do some household decluttering–specifically looking for small items such as matchbox cars, bouncy balls, and other small plastic toys.
Idea #3. $1 and Discount Movies
Many movie theaters around the country offer $1 movie days or deeply discounted movie days for kids. If you look on their websites, you can check out their summer offerings. Many times, the $1 movies are ones that you might already own on DVD, so it may not make sense to pay again to see them on the big screen. But discounted prices on first-run movies can be a fun way to spend an afternoon as a family.
Idea #4. Learn Something New Online
It can be hard to say “no” when one of my kids is asking to try a potential new hobby. But lessons can be expensive, and adding activities to our summer schedule is not something that I am looking to do. A perfect solution? Try the activity online!
LearnPianoLive: A great website that allows you to take piano or keyboard lessons online with a live instructor once a week in a group class setting.
GuitarLessons.com: A free-lesson site that starts all the way from the most basic lessons (such as how to properly hold the guitar and learning the names of the strings) and continues on to learning to play songs and eventually on to advanced topics such as guitar theory and ear training.
A great site offering free videos on magic tricks is ActivityTV.com. Owned by Xfinity, there are more than 200 videos available that can teach your kids all kinds of different magic tricks! Each video demonstrates the trick and then shows kids how it's actually done!
A cool site where kids can spend some time learning how to code, as well as some basics of web design, is Scratch. It is a free site designed by MIT labs that gives kids the chance to learn a programming language and then use that knowledge to build stories, animations, and games and share them in a supportive, respectful online community.
YogaVibes offers five online yoga classes for kids, which you can try for free for 15 days (after your free trial, a membership will run $20/month). Keep in mind that it is still a good idea for you to do yoga alongside of your child just to make sure that they're doing it properly, but an online yoga class can be a great way to introduce your kids to the concept of yoga.
Idea #5. Camp Out in Your Own Backyard
Have your kids asked to go camping, but you aren't sure if you can actually make it through a night in the tent out there in the “big, open wilderness”? Then borrow a tent from a family friend and set it up right in your own backyard! Make a small fire for s'mores if you can, and if you can't, you can always use a Sterno can from the grocery store set up on a plate. Roll out the sleeping bags and pillows and listen to the frogs make their night noises while you fall asleep in the cool air. The good news is that the bathroom inside your home is only a few steps away, and if the night goes well, you can decide to venture off to a nearby campground to really test your family camping skills!
Image via Flickr/Rolands Lakis