Summer Fun on a Budget

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Theme parks and other common summer activities can be expensive, but you don't need to go broke keeping your kids occupied with rides and giant, furry cartoon characters. There's a ton of free or nearly-free summer fun to be had close to home. Here are some great ideas for keeping your family and your budget happy this summer.

Around Town

Take advantage of your community's free activities. Most museums offer free activities and free admission certain days of the month. To find museums in your area, check out the Official Museum Directory. You can also go to science centers, aquariums, gardens, arboretums, zoos, and historical sites.

Then there is your local library. Lectures, performances, exhibits, and more are likely going on right in your neighborhood. And of course you can check out books, but many libraries also have music, videos, and even jigsaw puzzles available for borrowing. Find your local public library at PublicLibraries.com.

Nothing brings a family together like helping others. Pick a place to volunteer for the afternoon! Your kids will learn the valuable lesson of giving back to the community and you'll all have the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference. With so many volunteer opportunities out there, it's easy to find something for everyone. Resources like VolunteerMatch can help you find non-profits that need help planting trees, playing with animals, cleaning up local parks, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Your kids will have fun and learn how to change their community and possibly the world.

See a movie without breaking the bank. Many movie theaters have summer movie programs with discounted matinees for kids. The AMC theatre chain has one called Summer Movie Camp. Here, kids can enjoy a $1 movie and all admission and concession proceeds benefit the Will Rogers Institute and Variety-The Children's Charity. You can also plan a movie night at home. Rent a fun movie, pop lots of popcorn, and set up the living room like a movie theatre with pillows and chairs. You can even rent some of your old favorite movies and share them with your kids. The kids will enjoy the movie-like experience and you will enjoy not spending a fortune on tickets and snacks.

And of course there's the local park or beach. Pack a picnic lunch and get the kids ready for a day in the sun. (Don't forget to pack sunscreen!) Include your kids in the food preparation by making sandwiches, packing a cooler, and finding sweet, healthy things for dessert. Once you are out and about, there are plenty of things to do. Play hide-and-seek, tag, or just throw a Frisbee around. Watch the clouds float by and point out the animals and shapes you see. If your kids like to draw, bring sidewalk chalk for their masterpieces.

Right at Home

Does your family like water parks? Set up a water world in your very own backyard! Have your kids water the lawn by playing in sprinklers and having water fights. Water guns, water toys, and buckets always keep things interesting. Don't forget to conserve water and money by making sure the water you play with is also watering your yard and landscaping.

Make summer fun and educational by starting your own mini nature center at home. Plant a small garden or a few potted plants; kids love watching plants grow and learning about how they "magically" come up out of the ground. Help your kids learn about nature by taking a closer look at the wilderness in your own backyard. With a magnifying glass, paper, and pencil to spot and record their findings, kids get the excitement of discovery without ever leaving home. Insects, birds, leaves, and spider webs have never been so interesting!

And finally, get the family going green this summer. Promote an interest in recycling by collecting cans, bottles, and papers. Then take the kids to the local recycling center to learn about how things are recycled and what happens to those cans and bottles after they're dropped off.

Summer fun doesn't have to break the bank. With a little creativity and research, your family can have a fun-filled summer and still stay on budget.