Thanks to parenting expert Bette Holtzman, vice president of consumer and family advocacy at The Goldberger Company, and Mom Since 1990 (MS’90) for sharing these recession-friendly activity ideas for your kids. She includes lots of links and recipes for homemade bubbles & clay – delicious, low-cost fun! Enjoy — Amy

A Dozen Summer Fun Ideas by Bette Holtzman

In today’s economy, families are watching every penny. That doesn’t mean family fun has to end! Here are some family-friendly outings that will get you outside this spring and summer—without breaking the bank!

1) Take a Trip to the Farmers’ Market. Farmers’ markets are unexpected family-oriented places that offer great stimulation for children. They present a fun learning opportunity where kids can experience various colors, shapes, sounds and smells. Kids can touch and taste. And there are plenty of freebies, which means mom and dad don’t always have to buy! Frequent visits allow a family to develop relationships with local farmers and vendors in their community.

2) Do a Little Gardening. This is an inexpensive way to teach your kids about nature. Buy a packet of seeds from a local hardware store or gather some leftover seeds from the fruits and vegetables you bring home from the market. Kids can plant flowers, fruits or vegetables in your backyard garden, a flower pot, or a widow box, and watch them grow. Plus, girls and boys love to play in the dirt!

3) Visit the Schoolyard or Playground. Head to an elementary school playground outside of school hours, or any local park or playground. When your kids have tired of the swings and jungle gym, go for a walk or take a bike ride.

4) Go on a Picnic. Pack up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and juice boxes and spread out a blanket at a nearby park. Meet up with other moms and dads and their kids. Feed the birds or ducks day-old bread—just watch out for those pesky squirrels! You can even bring the family dog or a favorite doll or stuffed animal along for the fun.

5) Make Your Own Bubbles. Whether you’re at home in the backyard or at the park, blowing bubbles is always a fun activity for kids. Take the fun one step further and make your own bubbles together! All you need is a shallow pan, a little dish soap, water and glycerin (available at your local pharmacy). A house fly swatter doubles as a wand for lots of teeny bubbles.

6) Hold a Neighborhood Bicycle Parade. Round up the children on your street and hold a bicycle and tricycle parade through the neighborhood! Use newspaper comic strips as handlebar streamers. Attach playing cards to the part of the bike that holds the wheels in place, and when the wheels turn, the spokes will make all sorts of noise.

7) Have a Garage Sale. Get rid of “stuff” in the house that you no longer want or need. Parents are always looking for “gently used” children’s things. Let your school age kids manage their own lemonade stand—always a big hit! Or, if you’re in the market, take your kids to a neighborhood garage sale. Let your kids pick out a “new” toy. Remember, another kid’s old toy is new to your child! Garage sales are also great places to find gently used books for all ages to read. Check your local community newspaper for garage sale listings.

8) Chalk is Cheap. Sidewalk chalk is a great invention. It’s thicker than blackboard chalk (easier for small hands to maneuver), it lasts longer, and it comes in colors and fun shapes. Any sidewalk or driveway becomes a canvas for “works of art” and will attract children of all ages. This is a fun mess that is easy to clean up with a garden hose or families can just wait until it rains.

And for rainy days or those days when it’s just too hot to be outside, here are some great indoor activities to try!

9) Walk the Mall. Many local malls open their doors for walkers before the stores open. Get a group of moms and dads together, grab the kids and strollers, and head out bright and early to get some exercise. Moms and dads can visit the coffee shop afterward and bring some juice boxes for the kids. Call your local mall to learn more about their walking program, as some require registration. Editor’s Note: I love this idea; also, ask at the mall info. booth if they have free kids’ concerts or activities; many malls are mega marketers and love to get you and your kids in the door!

10) Visit the Public Library. The public library is a terrific and often underutilized resource for families. Because early literacy is a huge part of the library’s mission, most libraries have a number of free programs including story times, author readings, reading contests, and even craft activities. Check your local phone book for library and branch information.

Editor’s Tip: Love the library! I agree that the public library is a precious and underused treasure in our back yard. Some libraries are trying hard to attract and retain kids as customers by adding comic novel sections, loaning music, and more. Get your kids their own library cards – it’s free, and a great way to encourage literacy. Another tip: many libraries and bookstores have summer reading incentive contests where your kids get rewarded for reading – check it out, maybe a great way to keep your kids reading throughout the summer with a reward in sight!

11) Make Your Own Clay!

1 Cup flour 1 Tbsp oil
½ Cup salt 1 Cup water
2 tsp. Cream of tartar Food coloring or beet juice or carrot juice

Combine flour, salt, cream of tartar in bowl. Gradually stir liquids into dry ingredients.

Stir in food coloring or juice (add small amounts at a time). Cook in saucepan over medium heat until a ball forms. Clay will darken slightly when cooked.

Remove from heat and knead until smooth. If sticky, cook for a few minutes longer.

Have fun – just be careful of the furniture!

Editor’s Note: We’ve made clay/play dough, and it’s really fun for the kids. Make sure a parent is supervising anytime the stove is on. Also, lay out wax paper on your counter tops while they’re playing/kneading to protect from staining.

Notes on Guest Author: Bette Holtzman has been a family therapist and children’s advocate for more than twenty five years. As Goldberger’s vice president of consumer and family advocacy, she interacts with parents, product designers and professionals to help clear paths of information and inspiration in the playthings Goldberger creates and in the concerns of parents for and about their children’s playtime.

The Goldberger Company is a 93-year-old family owned and operated toy company that specializes in dolls and playthings for children aged 0 to 3. The company prides itself on providing high play value toys at a low price point. Goldberger’s “Love it for Life” guarantee offers a lifetime guarantee on all their products.