Having the grandkids over is great. It can also be expensive. A trip to the movies for a family of four can easily set you back $80 or more after the tickets and snacks. Entrance fees to water parks and amusement parks are just as expensive, and even a meal at a local restaurant can empty your wallet. But if you get creative, you can give the grandkids a great time without fretting about the cost.
1. Head to McDonald’s
There’s always an outcry from a select set of people when you mention McDonald’s. Whatever you think of the golden arches franchise, it’s hard to deny the convenience and wonder of the PlayPlace. It’s completely free, it’s well-maintained, and the kids love it. It’s bright, it’s full of other excited kids, and grandparents can watch the grandkids from a comfy bench. You don’t even have to order a meal to access it. Split a coffee or bottle of water and watch the kids have a blast.
2. Check out a local playground
Most suburban housing areas have a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) that takes care of garbage, snow removal, and the upkeep of a safe, secure playground. They usually have some kind of climbing frame, swings, monkey bars, and lots of room to play.
You can often find several of these playgrounds within a few minutes’ drive from each other, so take the kids on a kind of playground treasure hunt. Drive around the neighborhoods, and when they find a park they like, go play! There are usually benches right there at the park for the parents and grandparents to take a load off while the kids run around.
3. Visit the local public library
Your taxes have paid for this essential resource, and over the years public libraries have become modernized multimedia learning centers. You’ll find all kinds of books, movies, and CDs that the kids will enjoy. Libraries also offer free activities for children, including readings by authors, movie screenings, puppet shows, crafts, science corners, and even poetry jams. Many libraries also offer refreshments at very reasonable prices, and have used books, DVDs, and CDs for sale at low prices. (See also: 7 Modern Reasons to Visit Your Local Library Today)
4. Take advantage of free days at national parks
While it usually costs a small fee, either per car or per person, visiting a national park on certain days of the year is actually free. Those days in 2018 are January 15, April 21, September 22, and November 11. So pack a picnic and go see the sights at a national park for $0. (See also: How to Save on National Park Visits in 2018)
5. Try a free craft session at Home Depot or Lowe’s
Hardware stores know that by offering these free crafts for the kids, the parents will visit the store and end up making a purchase. But you don’t have to buy anything. Simply visit your nearest Home Depot or Lowe’s when they next have a kid’s craft session, and watch the grandkids have an awesome time assembling a bird feeder, or wooden car, or play with sand and special tools. Whatever the grandkids make, they get to keep and bring home. It’s a fun, free activity that takes up a few hours, usually on a Saturday morning.
6. Take them to a free concert
Free summer concerts are usually hosted by counties looking to help increase trade at malls, farmers markets, or other shopping venues, and it works. People come out for the free music, and spend money on food trucks, toys, rides, and more. Again, you don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to. Get online and search for “free concerts near me” and just watch the results come flooding in. They’re usually outdoor, rain-or-shine events, and you will have to provide your own seats and blankets. But it’s a great way to spend a few hours watching the grandkids dance and have fun, while getting involved in something positive for your community.
7. Go bowling for free
Bowling centers in towns and cities all across America are participating in a program called Kids Bowl Free. Register your grandkids and they will each receive two free games of bowling each day over the summer, a giveaway valued at over $500 per child. Find out which centers near you are involved in the initiative. If you want to join in, many bowling centers offer discounted rates for seniors, and you can also find great deals on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
8. Have a picnic
Kids spend way too much time indoors these days, so get them outside to a local park for a family picnic. You don’t have to do anything fancy, all you need are a few blankets, folding chairs, some snacks, and maybe a few balls and Frisbees for the kids to throw around.
Before you head out, have the grandkids help with the food preparation. It’s a great way to get them feeling more independent, and they’ll be invested in the whole experience. Making sandwiches, bagging up fruits and veggies, and making lemonade or ice water is another fun activity for them. (See also: 20 Cheap, Fun Things to Do This Summer)
9. Visit a museum on a free day
Kids hear the word “museum” and they think of dusty sculptures, old paintings, and tired fossils. However, modern museums are jam-packed with the most incredible interactive exhibits, often showcasing great pop culture events. The recent Star Wars and the Power of Costume traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian was a smash hit, and kids everywhere flocked to the museums with their parents and grandparents.
Most museums offer free days, and offer discounts for seniors, so plan a trip to a museum (they get busy on free days, so go early) and introduce your grandkids to the many wonders of the world. (See also: How to Visit Museums for Free)
10. Get them working in the garden
Don’t make them do backbreaking work, but the kind of fun gardening that kids love to do. Have them help pulling weeds, plant flowers, prune bushes (with adult supervision), water the plants, and other gardening tasks that can be a chore for you, but a good time for them. (See also: 13 Simple Gardening Skills Anybody Can Master)
11. Turn the sprinklers on
While you’re out in the garden, if it’s a nice sunny day and the watering restrictions in your area allow it, get the sprinklers going. The grandkids can put on their swimsuits and run around in the water for hours. You can find cheap attachments at most major stores for hoses that are specifically designed to sprinkle out water in fun patterns, and you can also pick up a Slip ‘n’ Slide for about $20.
12. Go fly a kite
Make a kite, and then go and fly it with the grandkids. There are instructions online for many different types of kites that you can make for pennies, using items you’ll find around the house, or, you can pick up cool and colorful kites for $10-$20. Then, go to a local park or a place that has plenty of space, and watch the grandkids go berserk when the kite hits new heights.