This time of year is always hard on our wallets.  We’re trying to get ready for the holidays, entertain guests, and tie up loose ends before the end of the year.  Spending money purely for entertainment purposes is definitely not something I like to do right now.  If I can find a way to entertain my kids, treat them to something special, and not break the bank, then I’m thrilled!

Here are a few suggestions and ideas that will hopefully get your brain in gear for others…

  • Museums.  Many art galleries (especially small, local ones) and museums are free or offer special rates on particular days.  Take advantage of these and visit during non-peak times so the crowds aren’t as much of an issue.  Call around and see which ones have special rates or free admittance on certain days.  Our local Art League owns a storefront in town where they run a gallery, open 6 days a week, free of charge.  The exhibits are changed monthly, they run “showcases” and invite visitor artists as well.  Twice a year, they feature school-age children’s artwork.  It is a fantastic place to take children to learn about visual arts in a friendly and open environment.
  •  Parks.  Pack a picnic, take a few balls or a frisbee and enjoy the outdoors.  While back yards and neighbor’s houses are also fantastic, there’s something about visiting a park that is special for kids.  Just the open space to run and explore is enough to ignite imaginative play and some quality family time.  Our parks here range from playscapes to sand volleyball to ponds with ducks to feed, wading pools, hiking trails, bike paths and even skate ramps.  We even have a park with a little train that circles it.  We know we can spend all day at the park and have a blast – all for free (minus the $1 for the train ticket).
  • Take a walk – or a bike ride!  Just going around the neighborhood can be adventure.  Choose a different route, look for certain colors or objects, collect “treasures” along the way.  My boys are notorious for the rocks, “flowers” (aka weeds” and little nothings they find on our route.  Plus, walking and bike riding are nothing but great for your health, and teaching our children to take care of their bodies is one of the most important lessons we can convey to them.
  • Visit a neighbor.  Meet someone new in your neighborhood.  Have your children spend some time making a card or picture for a neighbor that doesn’t get out much, and bake them some bread or other goodies.  Show your children what a wonderful gift it is to care for others and give.
  • Train tracks make for GREAT parades (and noisy ones, too)!  If you are relatively close to train tracks, find a place close by to sit and enjoy the passing cars.  Make it a counting activity – count the engines, the yellow cars, the red cars, the tankers, or all of the cars together.  Feel the rhythm of the cars on the tracks, the clickey-clack, and make a song out of it. 
  • We’re lucky to live near a river, and even in the cold, it offers a plethora of activities for us.  Our clear water is perfect for watching water animals.  Skipping stones and floating boats are the two favorite past-times of my boys.  Water is a calming and commanding feature.  It is never the same as the last time we visited, and we all safely enjoy it whenever we can.

What are your favorite ways to keep the kids busy and happy without spending a lot of money?  Leave a comment and share your ideas!