So my family has been making a conscience effort to save money and cut expenses. Hence, the creation of our $40 Challenge with our grocery budget. I have transferred this thinking to our entertainment budget as well. Don't get me wrong, there wasn't much to our entertainment budget because it was usually just our monthly Netflix subscription. It's rare that we have the opportunity to really go out and do things. We did plan a trip to the zoo a few months back but we do not regularly go out. I'll go ahead and say it, we are homebodies and an old married couple at 27 and 29. But, we have a little boy that I want to expose to learning and fun activities. I did a little research on our area and was surprised at all of the free activities for preschoolers and children. This past week we have enjoyed two low budget activities. A free mommy and me activity at a local museum and nighttime adventures with glow sticks. Here are a couple of things that I have learned in this search and activities that have been a success for us.
1) Check your library. Almost every library offers story time for kids and even events for older children to participate in. Not to mention that during the summer there are summer reading programs. Just within the past month we participated in a special story time for preschoolers that was being offered. Libraries also have cool children's sections with special computers, toys, chairs and books. My son loves just playing the kids section because everything is his size. There are also usually fliers with information on events within the community. Not to mention you can rent movies. Trust me they are not new by any means but they are new to our preschooler who loves getting to watch a new Thomas or Elmo movie.
2) Check out your local Parks and recreation Department. Not only do they control all of the public parks and rec centers they also offer some free classes and courses for children. Not to mention open gyms for the older kids. There are actually some free holiday events being offered in our area. For example this December there will be a Christmas in the Park program where you can walk a trail and see the lights and there will be a Santa's workshop. It's not free but it's only $2 per person for the walk and if we choose to do the Santa picture an additional $5. That's not bad at all for a family night out. There's also Fall Festival and a Winter Carnival being offered at one of the local rec centers, both of which are free.
3) Check for museums. There are several museums in our area, including a children's museum. We can go as a family to the children's museum for $5. My son loves it and we can spend an entire afternoon there. We lucked out when we took him and it happened to be one of the two days during the month that there is a free train display open to the public on the 3rd floor. I did a little research and found out it's offered the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month and is free. They also passed out activity sheets and a coloring book for free. The other museums in our area all have free admission. I wasn't sure how it would go over with a preschooler but he actually enjoys it. One of our museums offers a monthly mommy and me activity. They just began the series again and we have gone the past 2 months. It's an hour long with a craft, story, song and then "field trip." Our field trip this past week was making apple cider, which the kids then got to sample.
4) Go to the park. Does anyone else remember how much fun it was when you got to go play on the jungle gym? I loved it. I admit that I still wish I were young enough to play on them, and sometimes I do anyway with my son. If you already go to the park, try a new one. I know that here each park has different toys and structures so for younger kids it's a big adventure.
5) Life size drawings. This happened by accident one evening. My son came out of our catch all room with a roll of wrapping paper and proceeded to unroll it and tear it. At first I was irritated. Then I saw the opportunity. I got really excited and unrolled the paper until it was taller than him. I then had him lay down and traced him with a marker. After that was done i showed him the paper Michael. We grabbed some crayons an drew on clothes, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair. He thought it was so neat. Then I taped paper Michael to his bedroom door and that is where he has lived for the past month. Who knew?
6) Play dough. Who doesn't love play dough? Well, except when your cleaning it up of course. One afternoon we decided to make our own. There are tons of play dough recipes out there that are simple and usually last a few months if stored correctly. We made it with ingredients we already had on hand. So essentially it was free. I dug out some cookie cutters and we spent an hour patting out the dough, cutting shapes and then doing it all over again.
7) Sidewalk Chalk! I love this stuff. Sometimes I break it out because I want to play with it. My son is still a little young and gets bored with it easily but he will ask for it and has a blast while it holds his attention. We recently took it to our sidewalk and a road was drawn where he then drove his trucks back and forth.
8)I'm going old school on this one. Crayons and coloring books. Really, who didn't play with these are one time? They sell both at dollar stores in many varieties. I can remember sitting as a kid and coloring for hours. My cousin and I loved to draw or color pictures and then hang them on every part of the wall we could find and pretend to have an art show. Its a really good rainy day activity. Break out all of the art supplies, make some finger foods and pretend you are having a gallery opening. String some ribbon across the door frame and let there be a ribbon cutting ceremony to start the event.
9) Glow stick fun! This is current favorite at our house. I found glow sticks in the $1 section of Target. I got 25 for $2.50. Once it's dark we take a couple and go outside. We toss them around or put them on and chase each other. After a certain point it's so dark that they, and my son's light up shoes, are all you see. Maybe older kids could make an interesting game of hide and seek after dark using them.
10) Build a Fort. One of my favorite things to do during the summer as a kid was clothespin a sheet to the box fan in the hall and hide under it. This of course turned into moving the fan close to a door, confiscating all of the sheets in the house and making tunnels and rooms. We have made several bedroom forts.
There are so many things that you can do inexpensively with your family that are a lot of fun. There's even a place here that offers outdoor movies on Saturday nights with free popcorn and it's always a family friendly movie. I never noticed how many opportunities there were until I started looking. I think the key to finding free or inexpensive activities is to look for them. A friend even mentioned that during the summer movie theatres offer days where kids see a movie for free or $1. After looking into it I found that several local theatres offered some type of summer movie deal. All it really takes is a little planning ad creativity.