Summer can be a mixed blessing for families with kids. On the upside: sunny days and lots of outdoor activities. On the downside: uncomfortably hot days and pricey indoor activities. To beat the heat without sweating the cost, here are 10 cheap or free activities sure to keep kids busy this summer.
10 Cheap Ways to Beat the Heat With Kids This Summer
Many movie theaters across the country offer a cheap summer movie series geared toward children. For $1 a movie or $5 for 10, take the kids to the Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse to see recent G- and PG-rated movies such as "Pan" or "Paddington." If you can't make the specified days and morning movie times, there are other ways to make movie-going affordable.
All YMCAs offer some sort of free trial that lets prospective members check out the facility before committing. Trial memberships come with no strings attached and usually are good for three to 30 days. In addition to indoor pools, some Ys also have outdoor pools, and the trial membership grants families an inexpensive pool pass for at least part of the summer. Sign up at the right time, and you also may be able to take advantage of the moderately priced summer camps available at the Y.
Check around to see if your community maintains fountains or sprinklers that are appropriate for kids to play in. While there are designated splash pads in some cities, other water features may serve the same purpose. Some of these public fountains exist at malls and parks and are completely free.
On certain days of the week, some restaurants offer free kids' meals, often with the purchase of an adult meal. At the beginning of the summer, create a calendar to keep track of the various offers and each week choose one or two places where you can dine as a family in air-conditioned comfort. Remember, though, paying for adult meals can add up quickly if you eat out too often.
Bundle some education with a fun trip to a local nature preserve or wildlife center. Visiting and participating in programming is typically free or cheap. The Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, for example, offers educational programs and mounts outdoor exhibits, including a butterfly garden and nature trail, all at no cost.
Nothing says summer like ice cream. Rather than buying ice cream to cool the kids off, try making it at home. This may mean an initial investment in an ice cream maker, but choosing an inexpensive model can end up saving money in the long run. Plus, DIY ice cream is a fun learning activity for the kids.
The local recreation center is a smart place to get out of the heat and keep the kids moving. Open gyms are free in many municipalities, as are community concerts, competitions, and volunteer programs. Many parks and recreation departments also offer recreation classes for a fee, which is typically quite cheap for community residents.
Putting pen to paper and forging an old-fashioned pen pal relationship with a friend from school or a cousin who lives in a different state can provide valuable writing practice during the summer downtime. Help preschoolers trace letters and elementary-schoolers write more complete or varied sentences. Writing back and forth comes at the price of postage.