I've always been a believer that you don't have to spend money on kids to have fun. In fact, I think there's MORE fun to be had on those days when you spend nothing (or very little) at all.
For some (like me), the summer presents a challenge - what to do with the kids? I work at home, their neighborhood friends will be gone for the most part all summer, and they're at that age where they're too young to go out on their own but old enough to get into trouble. Granted, they're going to have to entertain themselves for a good part of the day. But it's MY summer too - and I want to enjoy it with my kids without breaking my bank account.
I have to say - I am the self-proclaimed queen of finding cheap entertainment for my kids and me. Here's a list - maybe I'll run into you this summer!
1. Take a hike. Grab the trail across the parking lot at Forest Park Nature Center and follow it up to the top of Grandview Drive. (It's about a 45 minute walk.) If this is too much for the kids, park at the top of Grandview and hike until you think you need to turn around. Bring a snack - there's plenty of logs and downed trees to take a break on. Once back on Grandview, walk over to the Peoria Heights Tower. For a couple of bucks you can ride the elevator to the top and see a great view of the city. After that, walk down Prospect a bit to Emack and Bolio's and chill out with some great ice cream treats.
2. Tour the playgrounds. A few years ago, when my kids were younger, we decided we would see how many playgrounds we could visit in one summer. There's Detweiller, Grandview, Glen Oak Park, Mineral Springs Park in Pekin, any of the schools... really the list just goes on and on. I think we only made it to nine so I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to beat our record.
3. Hop in the car. Take a daytrip to Starved Rock State Park or Matthiesson. Tip: Wear old shoes and bring a change of clothes and flip-flops in the car. Hike down into the canyons, feel the cool spray of the waterfalls and wade in the waters below. Don't care that your kids are getting filthy dirty and soaking wet - they will have the time of their lives.
4. Spend an afternoon on the Riverfront. Go on a Saturday and visit the Riverfront Market. Or go during the week when it's less crowded and just stroll down the walkway along the river and end up at the Riverplex playground. Have the kids wear their swimming suits and on the way back to the car let them play in the fountain at Riverfront Park. Hint: Bring towels for the ride home!
5. Play a sport. Let them try their hand at tennis at one of the local courts. Or check out their swing or fast pitch on any baseball diamond. Have a foot race (I didn't think my kids could beat me - they CAN.) My son was reticent to try some of these sports for fear of not being "good". Trying them with mom in a casual setting made him realize he enjoyed some of them and that he was surprisingly good at them!
6. Bike the Rock Island Trail. Bring a backpack of snacks - there are plenty of places to stop along the way. If your kids are older, you can start at Alta Road and probably make it all the way to Dunlap. If you think they deserve a little reward after all that biking, check out Jane's Ice Box in town for a cool, sweet treat.
7. Check out your local library. This is old hat for us - we go once every two weeks - more in the summer when we sign up for the local reading program. Sometimes we go in, check out books and are done - other times we bask in the air conditioning and sit and read awhile. There's something about a cool library on a hot summer day...
8. Have a water fight. Sure, you can spend the day at Lakeview Family Aquatic Center or Splashdown Water Park. We'll do that, I'm sure. But for cheap fun, buy a big package of water balloons and invite the neighbor kids over. This has become almost a nightly party at my house lately, as evidenced by the confetti of colorful balloon pieces all over my yard. Have plenty of Popsicles on hand and you'll be the coolest mom in the neighborhood without even really trying.
9. Spend a day in the garden. This is done best earlier in the summer, but my kids can enjoy the rewards all season long. We have a small, fenced-off "edible garden" full of plants and herbs that are safe for them to munch on. Depending on what comes up from the year before, we've had spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, sage, chives and dill. We always plant tomatoes (that's for me, not them), and sugar-snap peas which they will eventually eat right off the vine. Same for the strawberries that multiply every year. And new this year? We're growing peanuts. Because we're nutty like that.
10. Enjoy those summer nights. Yeah, they end up staying up way too late, but it's worth it for the memories. Catch lightning bugs. Check out the constellations. Let them sleep in a tent in the backyard (you may have to, as well). If there are kids in your neighborhood, have them (and their parents) grab their flashlights for a couple of rounds of flashlight tag. Enjoy the warm night breezes and savor the summer smells.
We live in the Midwest. Summer is fleeting. Enjoy every day of it, but don't break the bank in the process. There's tons of cheap fun to be had and the memories you make will probably rival those that cost much, much more. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section!