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Saving your sanity (and your budget) this summer vacation

I am writing this article in silence, thanks to my kids' 7 pm bedtime. And tonight is the last early bedtime night because - sob! - tomorrow is the final day of school.

While I love my children, I admit to some qualms about summer vacation. How do I keep them entertained (that means out of trouble)? How do I keep the lid on my grocery budget? (Last summer, I felt like the refrigerator door was open every time I walked into the kitchen.) Which inexpensive (free, preferably) activities can we find? And how am I going to work from home with these two little distractions?

So picture me planning every minute of my last free day and periodically wiping my sweaty palms and taking deep breaths.

Entertained, but still learning

Even though I am scared for all the reasons I mentioned above, I have big ideas for this summer. First, you know, I want the kids to avoid summer brain drain. But it's got to be inexpensive and, ideally, incorporated into real life so the kids don't know they're still learning.

1. The Kitchen. The kitchen is a great place to practice skills. Both my kids enjoy helping me in the kitchen, so I plan to talk about doubling or tripling recipes, fractions, estimating volume measurements, and calculating the least expensive food options. We'll probably even do a few experiments in the kitchen. These activities should not add anything to our budget since we have to eat anyway.

I think a lot of refrigerator-opening has to do with boredom, so -- in the interest of keeping my food budget (and boredom food consumption) under control -- I am considering having designated snack/meal times. Otherwise, the kitchen is closed.

2. Writing/Reading. My daughter is learning to read and write sentences, and her teacher said that she should practice writing and sounding out words ten minutes every day. I have some partially used notebooks and markers/crayons left over from the school year that she has already put in her desk at home. Another essentially free activity that she enjoys. Of course, most of her notes involve who is/is not allowed in her room, but we have to start somewhere!

Each evening, I read aloud from chapter books for about 30 minutes before bedtime. The kids love this, and it offers a great opportunity to talk about history, vocabulary, and culture. We will definitely be continuing this tradition for as long as the kids are willing. Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook gives some fantastic reviews on books that make great books to read aloud to your kids.

And you know the frugal place to get books, right? The library, of course. But more than offering free books, the libraries have summer reading programs. Our library offers prizes for meeting reading goals as well as other activities like inflatables, pool parties, and other presentations. And the best thing is it's all free!

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