Summer is almost here! I don’t mean the season since that’s over a month away. I mean that time of year when the kids are out of school for weeks on end. Here in the Valley of the Sun, kids generally get out before Memorial Day and go back in early August. That’s ten weeks of uninterrupted stay-at-home-parent-and-kid-time! Since I’m too cheap to pay for anything over $10 a class, we don’t do summer camps. I simply make a chart of ideas to keep us busy, and we pick and choose our adventures as we go. Follow along with me as I go through our list of Summer Activities!
The first time I made a menu of summer activities, the kids were still pretty young. It included things like “go to the splash pad” and “go to the mall playground.” Now that they are older, we have to come up with some new ideas for activities. I have three categories: 1. Free (or Cheap) Activities, 2. Stay at Home Activities, and 3. Paid Activities. None cost too much, most don’t cost anything, but they are all fun!
This is where we get a lot of use out of the places we pay for annual passes or memberships. For us, that means the Phoenix Zoo, OdySea Aquarium, and Hurricane Harbor. In the past, we’ve also had passes to Legoland Discovery Center, Sea Life Aquarium, the Science Museum, and the Children’s Museum. If it’s worth the price, it should pay for itself in only a few visits. You want to be sure you can get good value from the pass before you commit to buying it. Passes usually come with discounts on food and merchandise at the venue, so you save you some money while you’re there as well. I put this in the “free” column because we don’t have to pay the entry fee each time we go.
Look for Other Free Activities
I try to get creative here. Our library hosts a weekly program in the summer at each of the branches. They range from experts with animals to magicians of science to various storytellers. The kids are getting a bit old for this program, but they still love to spend several hours at the library picking out books and reading in the comfy chairs. Our local movie theater (Harkins) hosts a summer movie program for only $7 for ten movies, one each week of the summer. They are all available on video, but there’s something about going to the theater to see a movie. I count these in the free activities as well since it’s also a fundraiser for the school, and still so cheap for us at only 70¢ per ticket. Win, win!
Other ideas include going to the local mall, antique, or pet store, finding a splash pad, or going on a hike. While it’s too hot in Phoenix to play outside much, cooler temperatures in the mountains make it worthwhile to drive an hour or two to find a nice hiking trail. Our local library has Culture Passes available for checkout that allow free or reduced admission to area museums. This year and next, we have 4th graders in the family, so we can visit our state’s National Parks for free.
Stay at Home Activities
It’s always good to mix going out with staying in during the week. Summer is a time for relaxation, too, so we try to have a balanced schedule. The kids mostly came up with the ideas on this list. It includes all of their favorite things to do around the house, including playing with Legos, drawing, and reading. I’m not sure who came up with the Extra Chores Day, but thank goodness! If you live in a more temperate climate than we do, this is the perfect place to include those backyard activities!
We try to pick from the Paid Activities list the least, maybe once a week or less since they can be quite expensive, like museums, regular movies, or pottery painting. For some of the activities in this column, I will try to find a Groupon, especially when they have a bonus discount code. Right now we have six passes to a local jump place for less than $7 each. Also, our zoo gives reciprocal membership to other zoos around the country, either half priced or free. The one in Tucson is free to us, so that would be a great day trip. Someone suggested Disneyland during our brainstorming session, and I left it, because you never know, right?
Museums on Us
Bank of America hosts a free weekend at local museums around the country on the first full weekend of every month. I was hoping it included Friday, but it is limited to Saturday and Sunday. If you have an account with Bank of America, you can get a free ticket for each cardholder. I counted this as a paid activity because we would still have to pay for the kids. In the Valley of the Sun, we have three museums to choose from. We could hit a different one at the beginning of each month in June, July, and August!
Find Activities in Your Neighborhood
Perhaps your community center or Parks & Rec department have summer programs for kids. These programs are usually offered at a lower cost than commercial programs, and are offered right in your own community. Ask around to other parents in your area. They may have some ideas to keep kids busy throughout the summer as well. Having a network of other parents is a great idea to trade hosting playdates and carpooling to community center classes.
Make Your Own Menu
The summer can be daunting, especially if your travel calendar is as sparse as ours is this year, but you can have fun with your kids without breaking the bank if you think outside the box a bit. Use my list as a template to get yours started, deleting some and adding others, until you have a good menu of options to choose from to keep your summer filled with new and exciting adventures until school starts again!