Thursday, January 29, 2009

Inexpensive Family Fun

One of the things I quickly learned after relocating to the Midwest is that people who live here have an affinity for the state of Florida. I’ve lived on both coasts, north and south, and have never known so many who make an annual pilgrimage to our orange juice capital.

After giving this some thought, I’ve decided it’s a combination of factors that create this phenomenon: Midwesterners tend to be down-to-earth (St. Barts where?) and frugal (flights cost how much?). Add to these traits the long winters we endlessly endure, and suddenly appeal of driving to Florida becomes clear.

However, even if we drive, we still have to pay for gas, hotels, food, and probably some dreadful theme park. And this is a tough fiscal year—most of us are trying to keep more money in our pockets and give less of it to Shell stations and Holiday Inns.

So if we’re not jaunting off on a big holiday, how can we find fun closer to home? For starters, you can check out the blog of one of our other writers, minnemom. Her blog has tons of tips and ideas for Travel with Children. Because they live in Minnesota, many of her day trips aren’t accessible to those of us in other Midwestern states. But get creative! The ideas are good—put them to use in your own town. If she does an article on taking her kids to a puppet show, for example, and you think, “Hey, I wish we had that here,” do a little research. Maybe you do.

Even if you don’t, there are still plenty of creative, inexpensive ways to have fun with your family. We tend to enjoy three types: inside fun, outside fun, and fun-at-home.

Inside fun away from home

· Peruse books and music and Barnes & Noble. Spring for treats at the end, or make some when you get home.

· Walk in the warmth of an indoor horticulture garden. Pretend you’re far, far away among the palms and coconuts.

· Visit an aquarium. Look for buy one/get one entrance tickets before you go.

· Museums often run weekly specials. Find out which ones offer a discount on certain days or nights & visit them then.

· Play Mario Andretti at an indoor race track. The kids will easily beat you, so don’t take it personally.


· Game Night. The trick here is to change the scenery. Make popcorn, serve cream soda, light the fire—do a few things you usually don’t, to make the night feel special. A few of our favorites: Yahtzee, Rummikub, Life, Blokus, Clue, Monopoly. (Remember, we're currently a Wii-free family.) Sometimes we have to pair our youngest up with one of us for a “team,” but he gets to make the decisions.

· Darts. I have long been fearful of sharp, pointed objects flying around our home. But my younger brother has no such fear. For Christmas, he bought the boys a fancy dart board, complete with aforementioned sharp objects. And guess what? They love it! We love it! Everyone can do it. Sometimes younger brothers are right, I guess.

· Homemade Pictionary and Charades. Not my fave, but the kids love it. Enough said.

· Cooking night: Make homemade pizza together, including the dough. Our kids absolutely love this and can’t wait for these nights. Sometimes we make cookies, too. We're crazy like that.

· Movie night: Every now and then we rent two—one for us to watch with the kids, and one for us to watch after they’re in bed. My husband is a much bigger movie-buff than I am, so he loves these nights.

Outdoor Fun

· Tubing. Look for specials or this won’t be inexpensive. Sometimes the Entertainment book or local magazines have a buy 1 get 1 free for this kind of place. It’s worth looking around.

· Sledding. To make this an adventure, get out of your backyard. We drove 35 minutes, which seemed like an eternity to me, to try out a hill at a state park. It was huge! The kids absolutely loved it & the fact that it was new to us made it an adventure. Whip up a batch of hot cocoa when you get home and you’ve had a lot of fun for a few dollars in gas.

· Ice-skating. Each winter, our downtown creates an outdoor rink at one of the parks. If we bring our own skates, it’s free; or, we can rent them for $2 a pair. Totally fun. Check for something like this in your area. Sometimes the indoor rinks have special rates, too. Ask!

· Winter hike. Hit a nature trail at a park you don’t typically visit. Take time to search for tracks, berries, and other signs of winter life. Watch out for bears!

· Cookout. This sounds crazy, right? We used to live in Wisconsin, and the winters were nearly unbearable, especially for a girl who spent her high school years in North Carolina. But every December, we headed out to the Nicolet National Forest with a group of about 15-20 friends. Somebody brought a grill, we brought burgers and hot dogs, fruit salad, pasta salad, warm beverages in thermoses, and all sorts of games: footballs, Frisbees, etc. The kids loved it and, truly, the parents did too. It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but isn’t that just the right ingredient for creating lasting family memories?

Summer will come again, thank goodness. In the meantime, enjoy creating winter memories with your family!

photo credits: Jenah Crump, LinksmanJD


Heather said...

These are all great ideas. We have game night almost every Friday. My kids love making their own pizzas too!

Dominique said...

One thing locally we really enjoy doing during the winter--going to the Zoo. Detroit has a great zoo with a fab and extensive Arctic animal exhibit (I've posted about this a couple of times on my blog). There are some animals that are more active in the winter, and it's easier to get nice photos of some of them because there aren't as many people crowding around the exhibits during colder weather.
Cold? You can always duck inside of the indoor Reptile or Penguin exhibits...or spend some time inside of the tropical aviary and butterfly house. They keep one indoor concession stand open during the winter, so you can stop to get a hot chocolate and warm up during your zoo visit.

So, I'd suggest checking out your local zoo to see if it's a good cold-weather option.

Linda said...

These are all great ideas (and thanks for mentioning my blog as well).

Something else we've done is to take an adventure in our own (very small) town. We walk up and down main street, going into all the business (except the bars) and saying hi. Who knew the hardware store, appliance store, bank, and antique shop could be so exciting? Of course, ending at the bakery makes it a real treat.

Great ideas!

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susiej said...

I'm TRYING so hard to keep the winter spirit up... but I'm sick of cold weather. But, you're right about the aquarium. It's warm, and soothing... Conservatories are also incredible. Ours has a tropical rain forest. I should make a point to take the boys there this week.

Reinvent Dad said...

Great topic - although I live in CA, I've lived in Missouri and Connecticut and I think the answer to winter blues is "Get out and do SOMETHING" We try to patronize locally owned businesses to better connect with our community (& hopefully keep everyone in business in these lean times) yes, stay active and don't sit around alone.