Sunday, July 21, 2013

Camp Awesome

     I've mentioned before I'm an ex-teacher.  I also have some control issues, so the idea of spending my summer without a concrete plan sounds more like torture than a vacation.  With that in mind, I make a calendar, complete with themes and activities and, yes, field trips, so that I can keep my sanity and still enjoy the time with my children.  In life I use my last name, but for the purposes of anonymity, I'll call it Camp Awesome.
     In years past, we had two paychecks coming in, and while mine was no whopper, it paid the bills.  This year, we have a new baby (Rose), and since it costs more to send her to daycare than I would make, it makes more sense for me to stay home--hence this blog, because I suck at that.  I don't like not having a little money for vacations, or extras, or sometimes, even groceries! So how do I plan a bunch of activities with little to no cash?
     The first thing I do is look up the Highland Street Foundation, and its Free Fun Fridays.  If you live in the Boston area, or even in Massachusetts, this is an invaluable resource.  You can take a look here:
but basically, you get six free attractions to choose from every Friday throughout the summer.  Nice ones, like the Museum of Science, the Museum of Fine Arts, Franklin Park Zoo, Buttonwood Park Zoo...I plug one of these free visits into each week of my schedule, because I know that way I have someplace to take the kids that will only cost me gas (I will go over how to avoid the "gift shop trap" at a later date.)  
     Next I go to my community website.  Most towns have a "Wicked Local" or a community news source, a recreation center website, etc.  I check these out, because there are numerous free events your town offers, and since your taxes are paying for them, you should make full use of them.  In my town, there are free movies outside at night at town hall once a month in the summer.  There are community events at each of six parks, including cookouts (being gluten free, I pack myself and Punkgirl a GF sandwich, but we get the chips and soda or water that they offer free.  Coffeeguy and Happyboy can enjoy a nice glutenous burger or dog--and it costs me nothing!)  
Now, before I go on about other sources of free fun--like lakes and beaches--I should mention that I never let Punkgirl and Happyboy just go someplace.  They have to complete what I lovingly term "challenges."  It might be a simple one like designing a recycled dollhouse (see my last post), or it might be a ten-minute triathlon of running, using the elliptical, and getting six dishes loaded in the dishwasher (see how that last one works for me?), but they have to complete the challenge to go anywhere.  I try to make challenges where they have to work together, but the most important part is that they are doing something.  You would be surprised how much time even a quick challenge can take, and it makes them feel like they've gotten double out of their day--even if you get rolled eyes at first, I guarantee it will be something they're talking about to everyone they know for days.  Be consistent--if they don't do the challenge, they don't get the reward.  One time of missing out on the special activity or special trip or even special dessert, and they will be clamoring to complete each challenge.
     Now, we've talked about free activities, but there are some small investments that I recommend which will result in "free" activities for the rest of the year.  Memberships, memberships, memberships!  Now, memberships aren't super cheap...but once you pay for them, you have a free place to go all year long, not to mention deep discounts on exhibits or special events.  What most people don't know is that you can also save money on memberships.  Yes, you can.  There are two ways.  The first, is phone a friend.  That's right, you can share a membership with a friend!  Usually you have to get a higher level membership to do this (anything that allows you to have another cardholder from a different household), however, when you split the cost with your friend it still costs less than just a regular membership!  You and your friend each get the benefit of the membership, and as long as you don't go on the same day you can each take your whole family (because generally the children on the membership do not have to be named, and only one cardholder must be present.)  The second way to save a few bucks is to check out the cost of a membership at a reciprocating museum, and buy it there if it's cheaper.  The Capron Park Zoo is probably a little cheaper than the Stone Zoo, but if you can get into the Stone with your Capron Park membership, buy it there! (Disclaimer: Memberships change all the time, so actually check the membership reciprocals before you buy.)
     This is just how I start my Camp Awesome lesson plan.  I take any memberships, free activities and events, and plug them in.  Stay tuned for how I come up with activities to fill in the rest.  Suck at home do you fill your summer?  How do you save a few bucks?  How do you challenge your cherubs?

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