Shelly Barnes: Summer fun. Ten easy ways to find free family activities

Well, it’s summer time again, it happens every year, and though the kids are thrilled with the freedom summer brings, they can also become easily frustrated with the amount of unstructured time they suddenly have to fill. Shrieks of joy and celebration quickly turn into “I’m so bored!” and “I can’t find anything to do around here!” Often parents become frustrated as well because providing engaging activities for kids can be tough, especially when dealing with a tight budget.
Jun 25, 2014
Shelly Barnes

Well, it’s summer time again, it happens every year, and though the kids are thrilled with the freedom summer brings, they can also become easily frustrated with the amount of unstructured time they suddenly have to fill. Shrieks of joy and celebration quickly turn into “I’m so bored!” and “I can’t find anything to do around here!” Often parents become frustrated as well because providing engaging activities for kids can be tough, especially when dealing with a tight budget.

Since summer camp and other activities can be quite expensive, parents are sometimes forced to find other alternatives. Fortunately, most communities provide opportunities for free and inexpensive activities kids and parents can enjoy during the summer months if you know where to look.

Splash pads, spray parks, and interactive fountains. Many communities offer water features in which kids are allowed and even encouraged to play. From splash pads, specifically designed for kids, to downtown fountains and sprays that are available for kids to run through, communities are increasingly becoming aware of the appeal of these types of water features. Kids will spend hours playing in water! Check your city or county website or your community’s Parks and Recreation department to see what facilities are available.

Summer movies. Some theaters offer free summer movies for parents and kids in the summer. Generally, the theater will open early one or two mornings of the week and offer G and PG rated movies. These movies are usually a couple of years old and concessions will not be free (this is how the theater generates the most revenue), but on a tight budget a snack can wait until after the movie. Contact your local theater to find out if there is a free summer movie program near you and be sure to contact them early in the summer to ask for a schedule.

Concerts in the park. Parks often offer space to musicians and musical groups in the summer to provide free public concerts. From Beethoven to Jazz to Classic Rock, almost every type of music is welcome. Bring some bubbles, some sidewalk chalk, a blanket, and snack and you have a perfectly entertaining evening for your kids and yourself. For a schedule of events, check with your local Parks and Recreation department.

Radio station events. Though concerts are often sponsored or cosponsored by local radio stations, many other special events and contests may be promoted during the summer. Local radio stations often sponsor events at fairs and festivals in the summer from contests and concerts to fireworks displays. Check your local newspaper and call or listen to your favorite radio stations to take advantage of any free special events or promotions.

The library. Always check out the library! Libraries do a great job of providing free summer programming for children. Summer reading contests, puppet shows, plays, story time, arts and crafts, and parent-child make and take projects; libraries do it better than anybody else! Often community businesses will sponsor a free children’s activity at the library. Just contact the library system or the local library in your area and ask for a schedule of children’s summer activities.

Animal shelter events. If you have a Humane Society or animal rescue group in your area be sure to watch your local newspaper, pet store bulletin board, or call them to inquire about special summer events. Pet walks, fairs, and special events are particularly common in the summer. Having a pet makes it more fun, but you don’t always have to have a pet to participate.

Senior center. If you have a senior center in your community be sure to ask if they have any special events that include children. Some centers host events such as family movies or story time at the center meant to include both grandparents and their grandchildren.

Take a trip downtown. Downtown areas often offer many cites of interest including self-guided historical tours, small free museums, historical cemeteries or ornate buildings and churches. Make it an event by adding a trip to the ice cream shop or lunch counter if your budget allows.

Community garden. Children love to watch things grow! If you have a community garden, consider joining. Gardening is a fun and educational activity for kids and can provide your family with fresh produce throughout the summer. If you don’t have access to a community garden, consider planting one yourself. Even a small garden can keep the kids occupied.

Picnics, hikes and bikes. Free old fashioned outdoor fun. Dust off the bikes or go for a walk…add some snacks and make it a picnic. Quality time with your kids doesn’t get any better than this.

So load up Fido, the kids, and grandma and check out your community resources. Be sure to bring your snacks instead of purchasing them; bring a blanket, outdoor toys, and books to the park; and, remember, great memories don’t have to be expensive.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.  UT Extension and TSU Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County.  Barnes can be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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