Smart parents like me are always thinking ahead. We have no illusions that the kid's summer vacation will be a whine-free endeavor and take whatever steps necessary to minimize said whining.
Bad economy or no, I've always had an extreme fondness for all things cheap or free. And with three kids, cheap and free goes a long way.
I've spent the last few weeks compiling my list of free (or almost free) summer activities for kids. While I will not guarantee a whine-free summer, I'm almost positive there is something on my list to make even the most bored child forget, for a little while, that "there's nothing to do" this summer.
Library--If you don't know by now, your library offers a summer reading program for kids and teens. Even pre-readers can participate and take part in some fun prizes. Here in Washington County, our library's summer reading prize (along with various stickers, bookmarks, tattoos and pencils) is an unlimited rides pass to Oaks Park at the end of the summer.
Barnes and Noble--Barnes and Noble and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) have teamed up for a fun summer reading program. Kids grades 1-6 read 8 books, list them on a reading log and turn it in at their local B&N to receive a free book by September 7, 2009. Click here for the forms.
Borders--Kids 12 and under can read 8 books to choose from selected $4.99 reading challenge items. Items include an E.L. Konigsburg 3-book collection, Melissa & Doug 4 Wooden jigsaw puzzles in a box and a Super Doodle Kit. Click here for the reading log.
Scholastic--For the altruistic child, Scholastic is offering the chance to read for a cause. Kids can join a reading team, log their reading minutes, and the winning team will get to vote on which "Save the Children" foundation will receive a special donation from Scholastic. Kids can also play on-line games to earn more points for their team and there will be prizes and sweepstakes for the winning. Click here for more info and to sign up.
Chevy's--Call your local Chevy's and ask for the General Manager to arrange a tour of the Chevy's kitchen. Kids in the tour group receive free kids meals at the end of the tour! (Might want to invite a few friends along for this deal)
Bob's Red Mill--Located in Milwaukie, Oregon, Bob's Red Mill produces more than 400 products, including baking flours, hot cereal mixes, whole grains and mixes. Tours are offered Monday through Friday and start between 10-11am. They last about an hour. After the tour you can head over to the deli for a delicious lunch. Click here for more info.
Do you have public fountains where you live? Here are my favorites:
Bethany Fountain--It's close and the kids love it. Lots of seating for parents who don't want to get wet and even a nice shady bench up next to Blockbuster. Return library books or grab and ice cream cone after the kids are tired from running through the water.
Beaverton Library Fountain--The fountains at Beaverton Library have a nice grassy area to sit and picnic and watch the kids run through the water. There is also a nearby playground.
Salmon Street Springs--The iconic, downtown Portland public fountain that I've always wanted to go to, but when it comes right down to it, am too lazy to actually get in the car, drive downtown, find a parking garage and walk to. But someday I'm totally going there with the kids. Maybe this summer?
Rec Center--If you don't belong to a fancy dancy health club with monthly membership fees, check out your local rec center for a cheap swim alternative. Our rec center offers a 3 month family swim pass for $105. Not free, and maybe not cheap, unless you consider that covers your whole family for any of the 8 swim centers and can be used during open, lap or family swim times. A pretty low price that will keep the family swimming all summer.
Apple Camp--Kid's 8-12 can attend a movie, photo, music or presentation workshop at your local Apple store. Classes are on Saturdays in July from 9-12. And they're FREE! Kids don't have to have any Apple products to enjoy the classes, but the music and photo classes require the kids to bring music CD's, an iPod, photos or a digital camera along with the cables needed for hook-up. Classes are filling up fast.
OSU Extension Cooking--This just in on my kids school lunch menu: OSU extension services is offering free kids nutrition and cooking classes. The website doesn't have the information up yet, but here's the link you can check to see when information is posted. Classes will be held at a school cafeteria near you...if you live in the Beaverton School District.
Farmer's Market Kid's Cooking--Not free, and maybe not cheap, but definitely doable, the Portland Farmer's Market at PSU is offering kids cooking classes throughout July and August. The only downside is getting up early on a Saturday morning. Classes are 8:30 to 10am and cost $20 each, or $50 for 3 classes. Kids 7-15 can learn to cook with "groovy grains," "veritable vegetables," "fantastic fruits," "dynamic dairy," "perfect proteins," and "healthy desserts." Click here for more info.
Bowling--Participating bowling centers are offering 2 free games of bowling, every day, all summer long for kids. All you have to pay for is shoes. A family pass can be purchased for as little as $23.95 so parents can bowl too. All summer! It's a pretty good deal. Unfortunately there are no participating bowling alleys near me, but maybe there are some near you?
Movies--Participating Regal cinemas show selected G and PG movies free for families at 10am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the summer. Seating is first come, first served, so you need to arrive early to get in. Click here to find a theater near you.
County Fair--The Washington County Fair takes place from July 30 through August 2, 2009 and has free admission every day. I know, kids will be miserable with out going on the rides, but maybe, just maybe, they will be interested in the exhibits if they enter something in them.
Have you ever entered something into the county fair? I have. It's a little geeky, but fun. There are plenty of things kids can enter in the fair: cookies, photography, poetry, scrapbooking, card making, HOMEWORK, gingerbread houses and a lot more. Click here for the 104 page exhibitor open class handbook to see all the different things you can enter in the fair. Come on! Do it! There's cash prizes...