I can almost hear it now.  That staccato bell, the brazen metallic scream, telling children what they want to hear:  SCHOOL’S OUT! 

As the academic year drew to a close, my children—like yours, too, I’ll bet!—gleamed at the prospect of happy days spent doing wonderful new things.  The zoo, the ice cream parlor, the movies, the swimming pool, the mall…. 

I have a desk job now—but in those years of careful parenting, I was trying so hard to stay at home with our children; and that meant that money was tight.  The idea of buying treats or paying admission fees every day was just not tenable, but I really wanted summer to be FUN!

As children escape the classroom for new adventures in the Summer of 2011, perhaps some of my tried-and-true ideas will help you to keep

Costs Down


Good Times Up!

I taught part-time when our children were young; and after some bad experiences with babysitters, I concluded that I could do a better job!  For a few years, I supplemented the family income by caring for other people’s children.  I was determined that we would not depend on television, that we would eat healthy and creative lunches, and that we would enjoy the days we spent together. 

This is how we did it—Perhaps moms and dads out there will have other great suggestions for making the summer a time for fun AND learning.


Picnics – One day, I packed a lunch for our group:  peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple, a cookie and some juice.  Off we went to the nearby Henry Ford Estate, on the grounds of the University of Michigan Dearborn.  (You probably have such a fantastic and unexplored site in your neighborhood, too!)

Once there, we made a beeline to a nearby apple orchard, where low-growing branches spread their arms wide.  It was easy to lift each toddler into a tree, where he or she could sit happily on the lowest branch and eat a sandwich while enjoying a commanding view of the ground below.  Afterwards, we had time for a peek into Clara Ford’s playhouse and a short hike down to the river.  Cost:  $0

Water!—There’s nothing that says fun like water games!  Some options:

  • Splash in a garden sprinkler.  With a rotating or oscillating sprinkler, there’s no danger, even for the youngest children.  And all the games children can play in a dry backyard are even more fun when they’re wet. 
  • Wash rocks.  What, you don’t see the fun in washing muddy stones from the flower bed?  When they’re wet they take on a mysterious deep color.  And only the cleanest, shiniest stones can be turned into tokens for a good game of hopscotch. 
  • Squirt guns.  Not such a good idea if you’re pairing dainty little girls with gung-ho boys; but if the kids are evenly matched (and willing to endure a good soaking), this can be a lot of fun.
  • Obstacle course.  Left foot in the bucket; toss a water balloon through the hole in a cardboard box; quick through the hose!  Keep going—You get the picture.
  • Play in the rain!  This won’t work if there’s lightning, but a gentle shower is a great excuse for some horseplay.

Nature Experiments

  • Plant sweet peas, water them, watch them grow.  Practice math skills, using a ruler to measure the vines each week.   How long will the vine be by this time next week?
  • Find a caterpillar.  What will he eat?  The caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly is striped like a convict—but emerges as a beautiful orange/black butterfly in just a few weeks. 

Crafts – Here’s where popsicle sticks, buttons, paper and glue all come into play.  Getting ready for the Fourth of July?  You’ll need lots of red, white and blue glitter.  Got a cricket that needs a home?  A popsicle cage in a dark corner of the basement may be just the palace he’s looking for.

Summer Reading Club – Your local library probably offers storytelling, and certificates or prizes for children who read a certain number of books each week.  You can take them to these weekly get-togethers, or organize a Reading Club in your own home.  Add special elements:  bake cookies just like the ones in your favorite story, or write a letter to one of the characters.

Community Events – The city parks commission probably has a bunch of free things going on.  Learn about bird songs; hike through the “woods” at a local park; join a bicycle parade. 

One really great event that just happened to work out for us:  One summer day in 1984, the Olympic Torch passed in parade just a block from our home!  We walked over, youngest kids in a stroller, and watched as the mayor, city officials, local beauty queen, marching bands, and the Olympic Torch—en route to Los Angeles—passed by!


One year, we tried something different: After all the stay-at-home fun, I established a club, titled the Summer Hat Club.  We established certain rules for the Summer Hat Club—something like these:


  1. Our Club will be named the Summer Hat Club.
  2. The Summer Hat Club will have a weekly Thursday Field Trip to a surprise location.
  3. All Field Trips will be free of charge.  No admission fees will be paid.
  4. Club members will not argue with one another.  Refusal to accept this rule means that the excursion will end earlier than expected.
  5. Each member may invite one friend to Summer Hat Club activities.
  6. All participants—members and their guests—must wear a hat.  This hat can be homemade or funny or cute—surprise me!