Fun and Free things to entertain your kids

Raise your hand if you have kids. Keep it in the air if money is tight. Raise your other hand if you need ideas for some inexpensive or free (YET FUN!) things for the family to do. I've raised three kids, now all teenagers. I have been known to take my own kids and all their friends on excursions that lasted the entire day and have spent anywhere from nothing to just a few dollars. I live in rural Michigan, not exactly the capital of entertainment, so if I can do it here, you can do it anywhere!

Some great things to do this fall:

1. Check your local paper for free events!

Thats my biggest tip. It doesnt matter if its a health fair or a child ID event, or a book store signing. Many communities advertise their free events in the local paper. They will hire clowns, or magicians, and have free snacks and drinks. They often get the local fire dept. to bring in some big trucks, or a helicopter. If its a book signing, the author will show up and for children's books they may have a character from the book. Events like these also give away door prizes or have other raffles, and there are usually tables from different companies or agencies that give away candy or other goodies like stickers.

2. Fall film festivals.

Many movie theaters offer FREE movies for several weekends every fall. They are older movies aimed at kids, and the parents are usually $1 to $5 for tickets. NCG cinemas in my area do it, as do many cinemas. Usually its one adult required and they dont restrict the number of kids. So if your area has it, you can choose to go just as the family or be the hero and take the kids and their friends. Whether you buy the popcorn is up to you. I usually buy a combo with a free refills and they share!

3. Apple Orchards and Cider Mills.

They do not have to be expensive outings! There are places that hype it up so the kids start whining and expecting the cider, the donuts, the pumpkins, the pony rides and the mazes. Your best strategy is do a little research on the ones near you. We have the over the top ones and we have the bare bones basic heres your cider ones. It costs nothing to go and watch cider being made. What you spend afterwards has to become a matter of your priorities. Go to the place that has maybe the pumpkin patch and a straw maze and buy a gallon of cider rather than a few cups full. Find one that offers wagon rides to the pumpkin patch. Usually the wagon ride is free if you buy a pumpkin. Don't be afraid to call and ask them specific questions before you go.

4. Craft Fairs

Yes, I said craft fairs. They can be extremely family friendly. Often kids admission is free, and if they charge for adults its $2 or less. Again, call ahead if possible and ask questions. Many of the ones scheduled in November and December make the extra effort to have activities for kids. They may have a craft table for them to color or make a project, they may have Santa Clause, and are less likely to have the long wait to see him! Take along your camera to snap a picture of them with Santa! They will usually have a bake sale table, and you can purchase something from there and bring your own juice boxes or drinks rather than buying from their food service area. Depending on the ages of the kids, this is the perfect place to help them pick out a special gift for someone. They often have ornaments for less than $1 or other little mementos that kids seem to love.

5. Greenhouses and garden shops

Both during the fall and at Christmas time, greenhouses and garden shops often try to drum up business. They will have open houses, scarecrow decorating contests, straw mazes, classes on making flower arrangements for the kids, pumpkin drops, wreath making classes, etc. They will decorate a ton of trees in different themes and bring in Santa.

We have a place called Perkins in our area that does all of the above. There is sometimes a nominal fee for the classes, maybe $2.50 or less for the kids. Usually the straw maze is free, and they will have free popcorn. When they do the pumpkin drop the radio station comes and they give away prizes. You may not have the exact same thing where you live, but fall is becomming a big draw for these types of businesses as more and more people are decorating for Halloween.

6. Museums

Whether its an art museum or a children's museum, check the websites of anything near you. Many areas have free museums, or special days where its free. Even the more adult museums will often have days that are kid centered. We have a small free museum that usually doesnt interest the very small children but my teenagers think its pretty cool. A few times a year they bring in kid art. Paintings, drawings, pottery, and sculptures done by young kids. They serve free refreshments and introduce the kids to the feel of a gallery. Kids enjoy seeing what they consider real artwork being put on display like that.

7. The library

Does your local library have storytime or puppet shows? Check out their website and their list of events. If you can coordinate your visit to one of their events, the kids not only get to pick out a book, or borrow a movie, but they will get a show. Some libraries bring in live animals or have other events. They do a bigger production of it over the summer but many libraries try to plan atleast one event every month, year round.

8. Ice skating, roller skating

If you have a rink in your area, again check out their website. In this economy, many entertainment venues are trying to cut costs and get more customers in the door. They may have a family package deal with four admissions, popcorn and drinks for $10. Or they may have days where its $1 admission, or days with free admission and then they charge a skate rental fee. If you have skates already, you dont have to pay for that. So if its something your family enjoys, look for skates at garage sales, or ask for them on freecycle.

9. Use Freecycle! Go to this website, find your local chapter, join it and put it in your favorites! If you haven't heard of it, its completely free, with an emphasis on reducing waste and recycling useful items rather than putting them in landfills. If person A gets a new stove, instead of throwing away a perfectly good but old stove, they offer it on freecycle. Person B needs a stove, so they go pick it up. Person A saves on having to haul it out, person b gets a better stove than what they had. All offers must be free with no strings attached. You can also request items if you need something.

This is a great way to get rid of your outgrown toys, clothes, old appliances, etc. If you dont live in an area that makes for a convenient garage sale, this is a great way to clear out your clutter. In turn, you can ask for clothes or movies to entertain your kids, or outside toys, or household items, or ice skates or whatever! I've seen offers of kiddie pools, tickets to concerts or events, you name it! You will get a better idea of what it is and how to use it once you familiarize yourself with the one in your area.

10. Area Churches

You do not have to be a member of any church to take part in the events held by local churches. Again, check your local paper, as many churches post a notice of their weekly or monthly events. Some examples of things in our area, are superbowl parties, weekly game night, free movie night, concerts, and kid's clubs. Usually these events are free. You may be asked to bring a snack to pass, but thats about it.

The kid's clubs allow you to drop them off for an hour or two depending on age. They may watch a movie or do a craft or play games along with a very simplistic blble lesson, usually on something like manners or being nice to people, not necessarily overly religeous. Although there are churches with a stronger focus so you may want to stay with them the first few times and help out so you know how they do things.

The free movie night and family game night usually require the parents stay unless the kids are in upper elementary. The object is to increase family time, but make it more fun by having a party like atmosphere. For some reason the kids seem to enjoy watching the movies in a different setting, even if its one they have at home.

So those are just 10 ideas on how to save a little money and still have outings with your kids. Your area might have a 1000 more available options, you just have to take a few minutes and plan it out. The weekend you choose to go somewhere like the cider mill or to pick out a pumpkin could very well be the difference between spending $3 or $20. It takes a little patience and little effort. It might mean putting off a trip to the museum for several weeks, or doing it early. You have to be flexible to save money, but then I guess you have to be flexible to be a parent!

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