There’s still time for some budget-friendly family fun this summer

SONY DSCHoly cats it’s August 6th.

When I worked in hospitality, we had a saying for the last week before school started: guilt week. In a nutshell, guilt week was when parents went “oh my goodness where did this summer go!” and, with guilt at an annual all-time high, decided to call our resorts to book “one last family trip.”

As a mom of three, I started to think about what I could do, on a budget, to make this summer memorable and meaningful. With only four weeks to go before one child heads off to Kindergarten and my twins to 4k, there’s still time left to make some things happen.

Here is my list of fun family date night ideas, but let me also give you one piece of advice: leave your phones at home (bring a camera if you need to) and use this time to really connect as a family.

Camp out at home. Grab some marshmallows and sit around the fire pit or the grill for an evening of s’mores and spooky stories. When it’s bedtime, pitch a tent in the yard or head back in for some “tent-making.” Use card tables or large corrugated boxes as the frame for a bedsheet tent. Throw in some sleeping bags, along with a few flashlights, and you have a do-it-yourself camp out. If that goes well, you can take the little ones camping in the wilderness the next time.

Kick it, old-school. With the popularity of Dancing With the Stars (and all of the other dance shows on TV), why not plan an old-school dance-off? Fire up the music and teach the kids the Bunny Hop or the Electric Slide. Search Spotify for “KidzBop” playlists and let them listen to their favorite songs but edited appropriately for kids. Great for fitness and an evening of laughs.

Plan a cook-off. Get dinner on the table and build cooking skills for the whole family. Assign or have everyone choose a meal element (salad, main dish, bread, sides, or appetizers). The person in charge of the dish has complete control over preparing (parents can still supervise young kids) and serving. Have the family judge the appearance and taste of each food. At the end of the meal, award prizes for best presentation, best effort, most creative, most likely to be requested again, or other fun categories. Then you can move to the main event: the bake-off!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARediscover old movies. If you’re like many families, you probably have a treasure trove of home movies, old MGM musicals, or videotaped vintage cartoons that the kids may not have seen. Create a theme night. Is it Western flicks, spy movies, Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, classic musicals or family favorites? Create your tickets–and a ticket booth–to fit your theme. You could even add some competition to the mix. Have a quick trivia game or history lesson about some aspects of the movie you’ll be seeing. Superhero knowledge, facts about special effects, sketches of your favorite characters, these can all make for a fun intro to the flick (and work in a little bit of education, too). Or maybe have everyone chose a character and dress like he or she does in the film.

Take a quick trip. If your preschooler is constantly singing about the wheels on the bus but has never had the opportunity to ride one, take her on a bus ride. She’ll find actually getting on and seeing the wipers go swish, swish, swish and hearing the horn go beep, beep, beep a real treat, even if you have no place to go and just ride round-trip. Ditto for trains and ferries. Recently I took my own kids to the police and fire stations for a tour of how they work and why they are here. I highly recommend introducing your kids to our community service folks. Mine had an amazing time and were thrilled to sit in the police cars and fire trucks. We took some homemade muffins to the stations as a thank you.

The perfect pullover. Some of the best places to go are right on the side of the road. You can spend a good hour pulled over at a construction site watching gigantic machines dig, dump, and lift. And if you’ve got train lovers–but no trains to ride–park near a crossing to watch them roll by (ask at a business near the tracks what time the trains pass through). When you’ve watched at one crossing, scoot over to the next one and watch again. Sitting on your car near an airport to watch the airplanes fly overhead is another exciting outing. In between takeoffs and landings, you can watch the contrails and the shapes in the clouds.

license plateGo on a scavenger hunt. Look for the longest bridge, highest building, or the tallest tree. My daycare taught me a trick: on family walks look for things that start with certain letters, colors or numbers. Bring a camera and record images of your kids in front of their finds. The father of a friend of mine used to take his kids on drives with the sole mission of finding double X’s on license. My friend still remembers the drives with her dad 35 years later.

Have the children teach you. What interests your kids? Let them play teacher and you play student. Learn about their video games while you wait for home-baked cookies to come out of the oven. My kids are all too happy to explain every aspect of the Wii and how they play baseball on this game system. Often, this is a key way to connect with the younger, tech-savvy generation.

What are your ideas?

Coming next week: tips for creating, and keeping, a household budget.

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