Cheap Thrills: Surviving Summer with Kids

View from the dunes

I’ve been on the struggle bus trying to survive the second half of summer. The big kids are fighting more than ever, more as a pastime than out of malice. The baby is happy but into everything, and needs a lot of attention which previously would have went to older ones. With the structured glories of VBS and Safety Town a fading memory, we need ways to have fun without hemorrhaging money on kids’ outings.

Sure, we could shell out $500 for a pool membership, and sprinkle in amusement parks, ninja warrior gyms, trampoline parks, Chuck E. Cheese, the movies, mini golf, and all sorts of other activities. But with two kids, these things add up, and with a baby, certain outings are impractical. And no amount of money can make summer with 3 kids less exhausting.

Swimming has been one of our main pastimes. We’re not spendy enough for the nearby pool just yet. Instead we opted for a $80 family pass to the local lake. We also received 3 free family passes to the pricey pool, and have generous friends and family who have invited us to swim in their backyard pools as well.

VBS, Safety Town, the library reading program, and the 4th of July parade have all provided prizes such as free kids’ meals and treats, the pool passes, and SkyZone passes. I just love when free fun generates more free fun! And of the course the air conditioned library is itself a wonderful activity.

Swim lessons and soccer mercifully wrapped up by the end of June. Evening activities are not my favorite.

Playgrounds, splash pads, and playing with friends are the other mainstays of our summer days. We also went to a minor league baseball game, hosted a Hawaiian-themed cookout, went to a picnic in the national park, a 4th of July party, our nephew’s grad party, and celebrated our baby’s first birthday. Next up is our son’s birthday. We gave him the choice of a gift or taking a small group of friends to SkyZone. He chose the latter.

At the blueberry patch

We also visited another city for an annual church conference and visited friends. We went to a large science museum with our Science Museum Reciprocal pass which we purchase for $63 annually through the McKinley Presidential Museum. I highly recommend this or a similar pass to all families, as it functions as a reciprocal pass to 250 science centers and 300 history museums across the country. If you can’t purchase it through McKinley, find a museum or science center near yo that offers reciprocity benefits through the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) and/or the Time Travelers program. We purchase membership through a lower-cost museum; admission to many of the reciprocal attractions would cost more for one day than we pay for the annual pass.

We ran out of energy before making it to the zoo while on our trip, which would have been half-off from our local zoo pass our daughter won from the library last summer. We did visit our zoo a couple times as well. We haven’t even made it to area wading pools, interactive fountains, large playgrounds, or nature centers because we’ve been so busy!

We just returned from a vacation to Michigan, where we rented a house with 3 other families. We visited the beach, saw the dunes, rode bikes, went to a small water park, picked blueberries, and watched the sunset a couple times. Sleeping with the baby in the room was less than ideal; our normally good sleeper kept waking up and wanting us since we were in sight. Our week away felt more like a month, as all the parents there agreed. Reminiscent of Rip van Winkle. But with much less sleep.

Blueberry baby

We’re planning another small trip before school starts. With the condition that the baby sleeps in a separate room. (Watch, we’ll end up tent camping.)

With two and a half weeks left till school starts, the end is in sight. I honestly can’t imagine only having one child in tow for 7 hours a day, and one that still naps, at that. People ask if I’m emotional about my middle one starting school. Yes. I’m ecstatic. She is so ready and so am I. The baby will probably be a different story.

Until the magic of public education resumes, I’m trying to pace the fun and take a bit of time for myself, reading fiction and exercising at home. Cheap thrills indeed.

How do you get through summer with kids? Does it get any easier when they’re older?

2 Responses to “Cheap Thrills: Surviving Summer with Kids”

  1. Linda says :

    We were lucky both as kids and as parents in that our local parks offered free, daily programming. Mostly just recess type activities along with board games. Plus, for a few pennies we could buy plastic lacing to learn to make bracelets and necklaces. Once a week a truck would come pick us up and take us to a state park for an outing that included swimming in a creek, eating our packed lunches and learning activities like capture the flag. At home we played jacks, marbles, hopscotch, and croquet. And traded comic books with neighbor kids. And we roller skated and rode bikes. Wow! Listing those things makes me realize what a wonderful childhood I had. It helped that we lived on a street only two blocks long so it was a safe place to play.

  2. Shannon says :

    I didn’t know anyone thought like me. We have four little kids in a rental neighborhood. It’s 1400 sq ft but after years of working hard to be frugal and wearing myself out, we are hoping to buy a much bigger house. I am still frugal, but giving up on searching thrift store has been a huge relief.

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