Have an Amusement Park & TV Free Summer (and if you can’t, find a way to make it cheaper)
• If you haven’t begun to plan summer vacation for your kids—lest they spend the majority of it in front of the idiot box (as my mother called it) watching bad re-runs of bad sitcoms–now is the time to begin thinking about it. The more occupied the kids are outside of the house , the better. But left to their own devices kids will always find the most expensive diversions possible, but with a little planning and networking, summer vacation doesn’t have to be expensive and their minds don’t have to turn to mush. First my take on the amusement park issue and then, my suggestions for free or nearly free summer activities to keep the kids away from the TV and the video games.
• When my kids hear the word summer nowadays, even at the ages of 3 and 5 , they think two things: they are going to be in a wedding (three so far) and they are going to Disneyland (thanks to one of the weddings being next door to Disneyland, thank you cousin Briana). This is problematic for me. Disneyland costs something like $70 for my three year old to get in and the only thing they don’t seem to charge for is breathing and going to the restroom. And technically you could use the picnic tables outside the gate and bring your own food, but socially you do so and you scar your children (I can see the therapy couch now). If one must be dragged to Disneyland, befriend an employee to help you out with tickets. Seriously, I haven’t paid full price for Disneyland since they started making “Passports” and we could no longer just bring the Buster Brown shoebox full of E—through A tickets saved up and stored above the microwave in Grandma’s kitchen.
• Disney employees tend to be geeky and take their employment as a brush with fame and greatness. They like to show off they work for the Mouse. Exploit this factor. They love feeling a little bit special and different from the rest of us. Use it and save $400. Of course the easiest way to get a family of four in is probably on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in February but you can try a week day in June as well.
• Other amusement parks have the same sort of employee and friends and families discounts but even if there are block out dates, the next best exploitation is to saddle relatives with a wonderful day out with your children at said amusement park. This works well because if they take them , you don’t have to go! What works in my family is cultivating relationships with my twentysomething childfree but in a relationship cousins and sister with my two kids. Of course it helps that my kids are well behaved, independent with an uncanny savvy streak when it comes to well placed hugs and I love yous for their aunts and cousins. This summer, I don’t even have to go to Disneyland. A cousin and her husband want the challenge of faux parenthood for a day, bless their silly souls.
• But still, amusement parks set a dangerous precedent of summer expectations so in reserve, I keep a good deal of other activities handy that hopefully will become routine enough that they’ll never notice they were suckered into free and intellectually stimulating activities.
• Museums and libraries. Often both of these have summer programs for kids that either cost nothing or next to nothing. Library summer programs usually come with free t-shirts and crafts and pizza parties at the end. I schedule kids museum visits for the one free day a month. For example, when I do this in San Francisco, I can get about three free museum trips in if I plan ahead and hit the right museum on the right day (first Tuesday of the month for one, first Wednesday of the month for another). Most museums have ‘family activities’ on Sundays that are free or low cost.
• Little kids are entertained by empty boxes and playgrounds and wading pools. I drive the extra mile to take them to bigger or better playgrounds and parks with more stuff in them because it entertains them longer and wears them out (key). These things might seem boring to you but can give you lots of mileage. We’ve also mastered the art of having a really cool picnic basket and blanket that we cart everywhere so we don’t have to stop for food. It helps that we’ve seldom gone to fast food so they don’t really know it exists as a temptation and money sucker.
• My son’s preschool teacher has started giving the kids the task of creating ‘trash art sculptures’ when they get bored. They clean up the neighborhood, make art out of found free objects (some of the last couple were pretty darn cool). They can clean up the neighborhood AND make art at the same time.
• We’ve been collecting old puppets from thriftstores all year and have created a ‘puppet theatre’ in the backyard. I’ve told each of my kids to think up the characteristics for each of their puppets. For preschoolers and kindergartners they’ve got some pretty elaborate storylines developing. Puppet theatre in the backyard can eat up whole afternoons and you only need to bring out some snacks and keep them hydrated.
• Good old swimming lessons. Many communities offer scholarships for swimming lessons at local community centers since swimming is something all children need to know how to do. You are sure to qualify if you live in a high cost of living area with more than one child.
• My husband uses the summertime to teach our son more computer skills. The fun type. The old delayed reaction digital camera is now the kids’ camera and the old eMac with iLife ’06 is now the kids learning and creating vehicle for them to learn on.
• There’s always farming the kids out and getting them to take on jobs. We’ve told our five year old if he wants any more Star Wars Lego he has to start his own blog and get his own Google Adsense account. Of course he just barely started learning to read and write so , he might need a bit of help on this one. But older kids can always be forced into labor with enough shame and guilt. My mom forced my butt off of the summer couch with a summer hire job at the age of fourteen. My clothing options were much better in the fall that year—that works too.
• With a little creativity and advanced planning the coming summer doesn’t have to be expensive or lethargic. Who knows? Cultivating their creative side could always work out in your favor. And perhaps any residuals from their fifteen minutes of creative fame they might share with you. And if that doesn’t work, there is always Disneyland.
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