This year's surging gas and lodging prices might put
the brakes on some families' warm-weather travel.
But, don't despair. Although AAA says gas costs 34
percent more now than it did this time last year -- a $0.75 hike
per gallon -- and overall vacation costs are up 5 percent, there
are plenty of free activities, close to home, for families looking
for ways to entertain the clan.
In fact, experts insist many of the free, fun festivities
will strengthen family bonds and keep your little ones in shape
and on their educational toes during the heat -- all without costing
you anything but your time.
Rae Pica, a children's physical activity specialist
in Center Barnstead, N.H., advises families to spare themselves
fuel costs by getting creative and exploring local offerings, "without
putting lots of miles on the car."
"Often we don't visit places nearby that others
travel to get to," says Pica, author of several books, including
"Your Active Child" and "Great Games for Young Children."
"Why fly a kite or go bike riding or Rollerblading
in somebody else's town? Do it at a park or beach nearby,"
says Pica, who lives on a lake and seldom travels in search of fun.
"My husband and I rarely go anywhere."
|Try these places for free activities in your area
Planning outdoor activities will help keep family
members fit and promote camaraderie. "Family fitness is a very
big deal right now. We do have a childhood obesity crisis,"
says Pica, director of Moving and Learning, which offers products
and services related to physical activity for kids.
Pica says the most active children are the ones whose
parents encourage them to run, jump, play tug of war, play volleyball
or do other physical activities. Being active, Pica says, will benefit
the body better than a vacation that requires the child to "sit
on a plane or wait in line at an amusement park."
Often, with parents juggling work plus their children's
growing to-do lists, families don't spend enough fun time together,
Pica says, blaming tight schedules and technology.
"Parents enroll kids in so many organized activities,
and they only see them when chauffeuring them around and then the
DVD is on," she says.
Searching for free summer outings or simply playing
outside, can give a big boost to family time.
"We love our machines and have gotten far away
from our values," she says, recommending no-tech games for
families. "Hopscotch and tag and hide and seek and blowing
bubbles seems too simplistic to people these days.
"The family that plays together, stays together."
Jill Murphy Long, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., is an enthusiast
when it comes to play.
Long says you don't have to limit yourself to organized
activities -- make up your own. This summer, she plans to create
her own backyard games.
"I'm making a grown-up version of pick-up sticks.
I'm making it out of bamboo in the yard. We have horseshoes, croquet,
Whiffle balls and bat."