Free Family Fun

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Summer Entertainment

Summer Fun Without the Price

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The picture on the calendar changes from a meadow in springtime to a red and white sailboat on a perfect summer day. The end of the school year approaches and summer vacation seems to stretch endlessly through the long, lazy days of June, July and August.

Make the most of every unstructured day. Here are some easy, fun ways to celebrate summer together. First, head outdoors for some free family fun. Visit your neighborhood park and spend time playing with your kids instead of just sitting on a bench. A simple game of tag is enjoyable and invigorating. My children and I play "Troll." I guard the "treasure", which is usually a picnic lunch while trying to tag the kids.

Go on a family bike ride. Many cities have bike paths or you can ride the residential sidewalks on less busy streets. My children and I like to go to a large empty parking lot nearby and goof around on our bikes. When we get tired, home is only a block away. Just remember to put safety first by wearing helmets and follow the traffic laws in your area.

Nature hikes are exciting and you don't have to live in rugged wilderness. Just a walk around your block can produce tons of intriguing specimens like pinecones, fascinating leaves, unusual sticks, pretty stones, feathers, perhaps an abandoned nest or eggshells, insects or many other remarkable things. You can gather your items into a nature book by pressing, pasting or taping them to plain white paper and labeling each one. Make an attractive cover and tie the pages together with ribbon through holes or by stapling. We spent a lot of time last summer with this simple pastime.

Plan a picnic. You can go far afield or just spread a blanket in your yard. Eating outside in the fresh air is relaxing and builds a family closeness that can't always be had when eating in front of the television or rushing at breakfast.

The temperature climbing faster than your electricity bill? Set up a sprinkler and run through with your kids. Don't worry what the neighbors think; they'll probably want to come over for a refreshing shower.

Swimming is a great pastime and is excellent exercise. Even a wading pool will cool you off with a quick dip or a few splashes. Make sure to avoid sunburn by frequently applying sunscreen lotion and stay indoors in the hottest part of the day, typically 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Garage sales are a huge source of entertainment. Give everyone a "budget" and scout out the ones in your area that look interesting. Block sales or sales grouped close together are great for walking and you just might find treasure in another person's trash.

Lemonade or Kool-Aid stands are entertaining and can teach children the value of a dollar. Make colorful signs and set up in a busy area so they should have lots of "customers." Look for a shady tree or have some sort of shelter from the blazing sun. A cooler with lots of ice will keep the drinks cold and refreshing.

Remember how much fun you used to have playing in the dirt? Relive those childhood memories by planting flowers with your kids. If you don't have flowerbeds or even a yard, you can still plant colorful blooms in baskets, vases, teapots, buckets or other containers. Choose inexpensive, easy-care flowers for a burst of color all summer long.

Summer wouldn't be complete without camping. If you can't get away for a weekend, set up a tent in your backyard. Toast marshmallows over a campfire or outdoor grill and tell deliciously spooky ghost stories. Being together in the dark without the distraction of television, video games or radio brings families closer together.

Play hide-and-seek or tag in the dark. Let everyone have a flashlight and set defined boundaries. Very young children should have an adult or older child help them.

There are lots of pleasurable indoor activities as well. The Public Library is a treasure trove of books, videos, tapes, audio books and even video games, all free for the borrowing. Check out a book about the constellations or look up stars on the Internet. Spend a warm evening sky watching; the stars are free.

McDonalds offers free tiny ice cream cones; get one and savor it with your children. "Fun" calories don't count! Window shop at the mall, but leave your wallet or purse at home if you don't want to spend anything. A few hours walking is terrific exercise and a little wishful thinking never hurt anyone.

Summer showers dampening your fun? Play dress up; the goofier the better. Garage sales are the perfect place for silly clothes, hats, jewelry, shoes or props. Take pictures for lots of laughs later.

Browse a second-hand or thrift store. A lot of donations come in from spring-cleaning and after garage sales, so sales are frequent. My children and I pick up tons of used books at a fraction of the cost.

Check out the discount theatre. Tickets are only $1.50 in Fargo, North Dakota. If allowed, bring your own snacks and drinks for even more savings. Nothing good showing? Then rent videos or DVDs and watch them together.

Have a blast shopping at The Dollar Store, where everything is priced at $1 or less. Set a limit on your spending so you don't go over-budget on all your bargains.

You don't have to spend tons of money to entertain your family this summer. Turn off the television, unplug the video games and do something fun together. This may be your most enjoyable summer ever.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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