25 free and affordable ways to spend the summer with kids

Posted by Amy Dunn on May 30, 2014 

Don’t panic, parents.

It’s true, summer vacation is almost here. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend endless amounts of money to fill those seemingly endless days.

Check out these 25 free and super cheap ways to wile away the summer months.

Save a little money and you just might save your sanity, too.

1 Let your local librarian be your summer activities director. In Wake County, librarians have scheduled an impressive list of performances, demonstrations and author visits and they’re all free. Your kids can get up close and personal with reptiles and raptors, watch magic shows, do science experiments and take part in an interactive theater performance. And that’s just for starters. Click HERE for a long list of activities.

2 One dollar will buy your kid a ticket to the movies this summer at Regal theaters throughout the Triangle and Stone Theaters’ Park West 14 in Morrisville. At Durham’s Northgate theater, the deal is even better. Kids and their parents get in free. Movies start June 17. Check theater websites for movie lists and schedules.

• 3 Teach your kids how to bowl. Kids 18 and under bowl one game free every day through Nov. 1 at Buffaloe Lanes locations in the Triangle. And the freebies don’t stop there. Kids who register for the free bowling program get free shoe rentals on Mondays, four free arcade tokens on Tuesdays, a free small drink on Wednesdays, a free second game on Thursdays and a free cookie on Fridays. Register online at BuffaloeLanes.com or stop by the lanes.

4 Take them on a field trip to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. Every day at the market is a lesson in farm to table but special event days are especially good for kids. Do a little free taste testing and recipe collecting during Blueberry Day on June 19. After that: Peach Day is July 10 and Watermelon Day is July 31.

5 Bask in the air conditioning at one of the many museums we have in the Triangle. The Museum of History and the Museum of Natural Sciences, across from each other in downtown Raleigh, are free. Or, If you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card, use it for free admission to select museums around the country on the first full weekend of every month. In the Triangle, get in free to Marbles Kids Museum and the Nasher Museum of Art. Don’t forget to take advantage of it while on vacation too. Head to museums.bankofamerica.com for a complete list of qualifying museums.

6 Take them to the hardware store on a Saturday morning to build a kid-friendly project. Call your closest Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement stores about their free workshops where kids get to wield a hammer and take home a new project each month. At Home Depot, kids ages 5 to 12 build a new project one Saturday a month. At Lowes Home Improvement, Build and Grow clinics are offered at 10 a.m. on select Saturdays.

7 Splurge a little and take your kids to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. A family membership will set you back $74 but that investment will buy you a year’s worth of family entertainment around the state and across the country. Not only are return visits to the zoo free, but your membership card will get the family in free to North Carolina’s state aquariums and nearly 150 other zoos and aquariums across the country. You’ll also get 50 percent off admission to Children's Museum of Winston-Salem, the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill and the Nature Science Center of Greensboro. Check the zoo and aquarium websites for full details on memberships and reciprocal agreements.

8 Read the classic book “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey and then go blueberry picking. Click HERE to check The N&O’s list of U-Pick farms around the Triangle.

9 Make a blueberry dessert with the fruits of your labors from No. 8. Search the recipe database on newsobserver.com’s Mouthful blog, where you’ll find recipes for blueberry buckle and blueberry betty, among dozens of others.

10 Instead of buying ice cream, let the kids make it at home. Check out the kid-friendly ice cream-in-a-bag recipe available on Spoonful.com. The ingredients list is short and there’s no equipment required other than a couple of zip-top plastic bags.

11 If the ice cream sounds too messy, make frozen pops with fruit juice or Kool-Aid. Don’t have any molds? Borrow them or improvise with craft sticks and Dixie cups.

12 Make s’mores in a back yard fire pit. Don’t have a fire pit? Make them in the microwave.

13 Put your kids in charge of making dinner. The website spatulatta.com is a great kid-centric resource with 350 step-by-step video recipes for things like corn muffins in the husk, macaroni and cheese, and chicken corn chowder.

14 In the early morning or after the sun goes down, go on a neighborhood treasure hunt. Let the kids take digital photos of their finds.

15 Turn the treasure hunting up a notch and try geo-caching. Register for a free membership on geocaching.com, plug in your ZIP code, pick a cache, enter the coordinates on your smartphone or GPS device and start hunting. If you take a treasure from the cache, be sure to bring along a few replacement trinkets for future geo-cachers.

16 Don’t just tell your kids what it was like when you were a kid, show them. Shoot marbles, catch fireflies, hula-hoop and play hop-scotch.

17 Enlist the kids’ help in choosing a watermelon, then have them guess how much it weighs. Cut the watermelon up outside and have a seed-spitting contest.

18 Go camping in your backyard, on the back porch or on your living room floor, depending on your circumstances – and the weather. Your kids will never forget it.

19 Reaquaint your kids with the idea that reading is fun. Take them to the library and let them check out as many books as they can carry. While you’re there, be sure to sign them up for the summer reading program, which entices them to read with weekly incentives and occasional prizes. In Wake County, the reading program launches Sunday with special events from 2 to 4 p.m. at the regional libraries. Details: HERE.

20 Barnes & Noble bookstores will also reward your kids for reading. Pick up a reading log in stores or print them from the store website. (The summer reading link is under the “kids” tab on the home page.) After reading eight books and writing mini reviews of each, your child gets to choose a free book to take home.

21 Schedule some one-on-one time for your child with a nearby grandparent or an older neighbor who may have an interesting background or hobby to share. Check out this great list on Grandparents.com.

22 Enroll your future filmmaker in a free camp courtesy of Apple. Apple Stores across the country – and we have two in the Triangle – will be hosting free three-day "Apple Camps" for children ages 8 to 12, where kids will learn how to shoot their own footage and set it to their own original music. Camp ends with a film festival. Sign up at http://www.apple.com/retail/camp/notify.html to be notified about upcoming dates.

23 Do a little star gazing. A perfect spot in the Triangle is Jordan Lake, where free monthly astronomy sessions are hosted by the staff of the Morehead Planetarium. The next session is scheduled for Saturday, June 28. Weather permitting, the kids may see the planets, constellations, moon and nebulae and learn about constellation myths and legends. The program starts at 9 p.m. in the Ebenezer Church Beach parking lot. If the weather is iffy, call guest relations at the planetarium at (919) 962-1236 to see if the show will go on.

24 Turn them into history buffs. The Museum of History in downtown Raleigh has a full summer schedule of story times, gallery hunts, crafts and other hands-on activities for kids ages 3 to 13. Many are free or as little as $1 per child. Check it out at http://www.ncdcr.gov/ncmoh/Summer_Fun_2014.aspx.

25 If science is more your child’s thing, take advantage of the variety of programs offered by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. There’s much more to it than wandering through the building in downtown Raleigh. The museum sponsors free and reasonably priced family programs at the museum, the Nature Research Center and at the 38-acre Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Activities range from outdoor walks with a naturalist to building barometers and learning about extreme weather. Details: naturalsciences.org.

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