Summer is here. Kids are out of school, and you’re bound to hear a few “we’re boreds” (or a few hundred) over the next several months. As a child, I can remember what a thrilling experience it was feeling the temperatures warm up, having exciting end-of-school-year dances and activities to go to, and fantasizing about the days to come. I grew up on a farm, and so our summers were spent around animals, out in the barnyard with nature, and periodically at my grandmother’s pool. This may not be what other children’s summers look like, but it certainly has the elements of a good summer vacation.
How to Keep Kids Busy This Summer
Here are some frugal ideas for how to keep your kids (and you) happily occupied during summer vacation.
- Go Camping at a Campsite, or in Your Own Backyard
My husband and I just went camping  with a group of adults and kids. It was a blast! The total cost was a tank of gas plus $24 for the campsite (can’t beat that !). If you don’t want to go away to a campsite, then why not let the kids pitch a tent in the backyard? We did this as children, and timed it for special nights when something in space was occurring (a lunar eclipse, meteors, shooting stars, etc.). We never actually saw anything because we fell asleep well before the actual time, but the memories are very dear to me.
- Roast Dinner over a Fire
Building a fire can be a lot of fun. What is even more fun is being able to cook your dinner over one with your children! Aside from dessert—which we all know is going to be s’mores (who can resist?)—try cooking the main dish on a stick so that your kids can do it themselves. This can include roasting hot dogs, kebabs, fish, mushrooms , pineapples, bananas, refrigerated biscuits, etc.
- Museum Crawl
Here in Houston there is a monthly free day at the zoo, and a weekly free day to the Museum of Fine Arts. Many museums have free days , so be sure to check with your museums and see if they offer something similar.
- Free Story Time
Check with your local library and bookstore for their story times. Also, stores like IKEA offer free story times (called Sagosund) and sometimes even a free snack.
- Give Them Projects to Do
There are a large number of activities and projects that you can set up for your kids to do. Some of these include creating a bird feeder , causing a soda geyser eruption , creating a tornado in a bottle , making crazy putty , etc. Do you know someone who has a metal detector? My stepmother found one of these for very cheap at a yard sale, and you can only imagine the amount of fun it caused when given to a group of kids.
Grab your GPS (or borrow a friend’s) and get in on the fun of finding a “hidden treasure”. On the Geocaching website  you can look up locations in your area. Set aside an afternoon to take your children outside to find containers with surprises inside.
- Hold a Kid Olympics Competition
One of the most fun childhood activities I can remember is when my Uncle Andy held a Kid Olympics for me, my sister and brother, and the neighborhood kids. Basically you create several challenges including things like an egg and spoon walk, a timed race with a finish line, jump roping, or really anything where you own most of the materials. You can even give out prizes, or purchase big tubs of ice-cream that everyone can enjoy afterwards.
- Free Bowling
You can register your kids  to receive two free bowling games everyday this summer at participating bowling centers. AMF is also offering two free bowling games  per day this summer for kids up to the age of 16. Note that typically shoe rentals are not included.
- Dollar Movies
A few summers ago I discovered that several movie theaters have free or dollar movies during certain weekdays in the summertime. This makes going to the movies quite affordable! Regal Cinema offers $1 movies  on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10:00 a.m. at participating movie theaters. Proceeds will partially go towards the Will Rogers Institute. Titles include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Three Stooges, African Cats, and Rio. Cinemark offers a Summer Movie Clubhouse . Tickets are $5 for a pass card to all of the summer movies if purchased in advance, or $1 per movie if purchased at the box office. Day, times and weeks of the series are determined by the local theatre.