Affordable Family Fun: How to Entertain the Kids Without Going Broke

Entertain your kids, stimulate their minds and exercise their bodies - all without spending a fortune.

The end of summer is just around the corner. With the cooling temperatures and the inevitable return to school, the kids in your family are probably already searching high and low for entertainment. If you're determined to keep them away from the television and video games as much as possible, you might have your work cut out for you.

With so much entertainment competing for pieces of the family time and budget, it’s easy to forget some of the simpler pleasures of growing up. But those simpler pleasures are often the ones that fire the imagination or present kids with a chance for real exercise.

As a parent, you’ve heard the advice and seen all the evidence about television and video games leading to obesity and other serious health risks in children. Some recent studies show that now as many as 83 percent of kids are watching two hours of television or more each day, while an incredible 90 percent of toddlers spending that much time around the tube. With so much time staring at a screen, they're missing a lot of the fun of growing up. Passively watching events unfold also robs their brains of much-needed interaction.

There's an emotional factor to consider when getting your children up and moving about, too. Activities with others and in the great outdoors allow for happier, less anxious kids that feel better and are more relaxed as they head back to school. You might remember the cooped up, restless feeling you felt yourself after playing video games or watching too much television as a child. You can spare your children that tension by getting them moving now, doing healthy activities that stir the creativity.

Helping your kids towards carefree, stimulating fun doesn't have to cost a fortune, either. Here are some tips for making them happy without leaving your pocketbook tapped out:

Build Them Rockets, Castles and Forts.
Maybe you made box and blanket forts in your backyard or family room when you were a child. The simple construction and easy setup remain popular with kids now. Any large sized cardboard box will make a great fort on the frontier, castle of the Middle Ages, rocket ship to the moon, or anything else you and your children’s imaginations can conjure. Appliance packing crates, such as that carry refrigerators or laundry machines, make the best raw materials, but there are other sizes and shapes available, too.

You should probably handle any cutting or trimming yourself – your child’s safety scissors won’t cut the tough cardboard. Once the basic shape is finished, your kids can spend hours decorating their new playset with finger paints, magic markers, and crayons.

DIY Toys for Kids
Kids know they can get all the toys they want at the mall or from one of the big box stores. But easy come easy go, and the little plastic men they find there probably won't have near the emotional attachment as something homemade or done themselves.

There are hundreds of fun arts and crafts-type projects to get into with your kids, many with materials costing just pennies. You can help them make cardboard swords and paper pirate hats so they can play buccaneers on the high Caribbean seas; let them fly a squadron of paper airplanes into the back yard. They can make a telephone out of two vegetable cans and string, to communicate across the yard or around the house. These toys are also disposable - there's no sticker shock in throwing them out once the kids move on.

Art for Art's Sake
Children love to feel a sense of accomplishment, especially after making their own creations. A few pieces of paper and some colored pencils can provide hours of mind-stimulating fun. With a pencil and a leaf, they can make charming carbon copies suitable for hanging on the refrigerator or bedroom wall. (This project is a double treat, because they need to go outside to find the leaf they'll use.)
With some washable paint, you might even let them decorate their own room. Just make sure the crayons or paint is washable or acrylic based. Your children should also understand that the paint and the brushes aren’t for putting in their mouths, either.

Field Trips To Public Places
Sometimes even the places that are familiar to a child can seem like an adventure when placed in different circumstances. For example, taking them to see their school on a Sunday, when everyone’s gone and the buildings are quiet, can make for a spooky treat. You can also take them to see their local government building, downtown square, or city park. These little excursions are best for longer afternoons (late summer/early fall) or on the weekends.

By Michael Kabel
Published: 9/6/2007

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