A Big Thank You to Jennifer Moss of BabyNames.com and author of Town Red, for providing this great list of activities that are free or low cost, build creativity and skills for kids, and are bonding experiences between parent and child. She did forget to mention how much fun it is to look up names on her site and find things like character tips for writers, what are cool names now and in the past, and games for baby showers.
1. Your local library – get your child his/her own library card, it makes them feel very important and introduces them to the awesome library system. Make it a weekly trip and allow them to pick out 3 books at a time. Some municipal libraries even have bookmobiles that may be in your neighborhood! The library is also an inexpensive place to rent videos. At the Los Angeles Public Library they are usually free!
2. Your local recreation center. Many rec centers (like Westwood on Sepulveda) allow you to swim for a couple dollars per person. Hours of enjoyment for little money! Rec centers also have affordable summer programs for kids, since they are sponsored by the city.
3. After school day care: LAUSD public schools have a free after school program called “YS” (Youth Services). Take advantage of this if you can’t pick up your child and don’t want to pay a babysitter! YS coordinators are usually teachers from the school and they do outdoor activities with the kids they know.
4. Make your own restaurant! For dinner one night, make it fancy without going out! Type up a little “menu” and play restaurant with your kids. Decorate your table with candles and let them make a centerpiece. Take turns being the “waiter!” Variation:While eating dinner, let your kid pretend they’re you and you pretend to be them. It is very revealing what they say, how they act and how you’re seen from their eyes! You can also use this opportunity to point out some of their bad habits (like whining or chewing with their mouth open).
5. Have “pioneer night” where no electricity is used. This is harder for the adults than the kids! Can you go one whole night without power? No internet, no tv, no videos! Be creative and spend a whole evening with your kids in the dark! Stock up on candles and flashlights before you do this. It saves on the electric bill AND prepares your kids for emergencies!
6. Don’t have bikes? Rent them! Many of the L.A. beaches have bike rentals. If you don’t have bikes of your own, take the kids down to the beach for the day and rent bikes. For less than $10 you can have a great active day that they’ll love.
7. Bowling! Remember bowling? There are still lanes out there and you don’t even have to keep score anymore! Bowling alleys have many “off” times that are only a couple dollars a game. Check out your local bowling alley and ask for the bumpers for the kids!(Bumpers guaranteed to improve your game too!)
8. Baking. Bake with your kids. It’s fun for them to be part of the creative process and only costs a couple dollars for cake mix and frosting (or cookie dough).
9. Walks, parks and playdates. Take advantage of walking in your neighborhood and local parks. Walk slowly and point out flowers and interesting landmarks to your child. If they are younger, practice colors and counting (“what color is that flower?”, “How many red cars can you count during our walk?”). Barter play dates with your kids and their friends. Play dates are a great way for parents to get “alone time” without paying for sitters. Take the kids and their friends to the local park! Better than video games and they won’t get bored as easily! Take a picnic lunch or snacks so they have some downtime between running and jumping! Bad weather? Take them to the mall — most malls have child play-places for free.
10. Share your picture/video camera with your kids. Most kids pick up on electronics quickly, so show them how to use the video camera and tell them to make a TV show all by themselves–with commercials!! It keeps them busy for hours and the result is usually hilarious!
If you don’t have kids, many of these activities are fun for adults too!