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University of Minnesota Extension

Summer family fun on a budget

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As a school year comes to an end, you’re probably thinking about ways to keep your kids busy and active in the summer. This is especially challenging in the digital age.

According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, youth ages 8 to 18 spend an average of more than 7½ hours a day, seven days a week, engaging with media. This includes television, cell phones, computers, and video games.

This kind of screen time far exceeds the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media and Children recommendations. They call for limiting media use to no more than one to two hours per day. Instead of using media, kids should play outdoors, read, and do hobbies. Above all, encourage kids to use their imagination in free play — whether outdoors or in.

Activity ideas

If you limit the amount of time your children are allowed to use media this summer, you’ll probably hear the familiar complaint, “I’m bored!” at some point. How can you help your kids avoid boredom without spending a fortune on activities in the summer? Here are a few ideas:

  • Be a tourist in your own town. Look into tours of local attractions, special events, and other activities happening in your town or the surrounding area. 
  • Make an activity jar. Download and print the Let's Move Activity Cards (English | español) from the Extension website. Put them in a jar, and pull out a card any time your kids need an idea for something to do.
  • Gather free or low-cost playthings. Encourage kids to use their imagination by playing with safe objects from around your house. (This is especially fun for younger children.) Empty boxes and bed sheets are great for making forts . Empty milk or laundry-soap jugs can be used for indoor bowling or bean bag targets. Or cut jugs to make scoops for digging in a sandbox. For more ideas, check out Nearly Free Family Fun (English | español)
  • Go to your local city park. Parks offer something for everyone. Playground equipment, sports fields, pools, lakes, trails, and other natural elements are just some of the things you can find at a park. Local city parks are usually free to use.
  • Go to your local state park. If you need a change of scenery, check out a state park. With more than 75 state parks and recreation areas in Minnesota, there are plenty to explore. As a bonus, most state parks also run free or low-cost kids programs and loan equipment for fishing, bird watching, and geocaching. And you can fish at state parks without a fishing license! Find the state parks near you. Use the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources State Parks ParkFinder or LakeFinder web pages.
  • Cheer on a local community sports team.
  • Check your local city, park, or community education websites for special summer offerings in your area. Many communities sponsor free concerts, movies, festivals, and other entertainment throughout the summer. For example, the Minnesota Orchestra offers a Symphony for the Cities at several parks throughout the Twin Cities area.
  • Take in the sights at your local county fair. Most county fairs offer free entertainment, interaction with animals, and lots of people watching. Find your local fair on the Fairs and Fair Dates by Name web page of the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.

Wherever you live, there are many more free or low-cost activities you can do with your family in the summer. For more tips, see the related resources listed below.

Laura Perdue, Extension educator in health and nutrition


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