Summer Delights

Tips for affordable family merriment.

What’s better than the lazy days of summer? For most families, the end of the school year often brings a collective sigh of relief and a welcome escape from the hectic pace of the morning rush, homework and afterschool activities. But what happens after the novelty of summer vacation wears off? What happens when your child utters those all-too-familiar words, “Mom, there’s nothing to do. I’m bored!”

If your household is like mine, boredom often evolves into whining and fighting. So, what can you do to break through boredom and keep the kids busy without feeling the pinch in your wallet? Read on for lots of affordable options for family fun.

  • Amusement Parks. If you’re thinking about taking the kids to Six Flags, Hershey Park or another park over the summer, be sure to contact your local township office or Parks and Recreation Department for discount tickets, suggests Laura Di Nardo and Megan Pinto, co-founders of www.twofrugalmommas.com. “Online deal websites like Groupon are another great way to find savings on park tickets,” DiNardo adds.
  • Beaches. Several beaches in New Jersey (Atlantic City and Wildwood), Delaware (Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches) and New York (Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Jacob Riis and Rockaway Beach) offer free admission for beach-goers. Many additional seasides offer free entry to military personnel on active duty.
  • National Parks. Not only are America’s 400 national parks beautiful, most don’t charge a service fee. And, of those that do, several offer free or discounted entry during select days and weeks during summer. Other sites offer discounted annual passes for unlimited admission over the course of the year. “Plus, military families receive free entry into all national parks as an effort to thank service members and their families,” Pinto says.
  • Bowling. Bowling alleys are great escapes from heat waves and rainy days. “Take advantage of the ‘kids bowl free program,'" Pinto suggest. Register your children to receive free game vouchers through e-mail by visiting www.kidsbowlfree.com.
  • Movie Theaters. The movie theater is another wonderful way to beat the heat or spend rainy days. Most major chains, including Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theaters offer $1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10am as part of the Summer Movie Express program.
  • Libraries. Most libraries and book stores, like Barnes & Noble, provide free story time and/or free music classes throughout the July and August. “Several libraries also offer a free summer reading club to school-aged children where they read books and meet to discuss,” DiNardo says.
  • Backyard Bliss. While there are plenty of options for taking kids to places for an enjoyable time, sometimes there’s nothing better than the merriment available in your own back yard. “Get out the slip-and-slide, sprinkler or water balloons. These are relatively cheap if you don’t have them at home already, and are always fun ways to cool off on the hot summer days,” Pinto suggests.
  • Plant a Garden. Landscaping is another low-cost option for family time. If you don’t have a huge yard, no worries. You don’t need a lot of space for a simple garden and can always opt for a container garden. Kids are fascinated watching their own plants grow. Seed packs or seedlings are usually only a few dollars. A garden also provides lots of fresh veggies or fruits, which helps save on the grocery bills. “I plant one every year, and my son and I love going out to check on it every day to see how it’s growing and if there’s anything to pick for dinner,” DiNardo adds.
  • Laying Low. The summer provides families with the rich opportunity to slow down from the high speed of daily life. Plus, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to plan for family time— it can be as simple as scheduling a regular movie night, making s’mores over the grill, finding some local fireworks or just putting up a tent and camping in the backyard.

Most of these affordable activities focus on the slower pace of life, which is what summer should be all about. And for an added bonus, they’ll create truly priceless memories.