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Frugal ways to entertain your kids

Summer is a time of joy for children who trade book bags and homework for bicycles and trips to the local pool. But summer also turns up the heat on parents who wonder how to keep their children entertained for weeks on end.

This summer, parents will face the additional challenge of keeping costs in check as the economy slows and food and gasoline prices rise. Many typical summertime activities are expensive -- day camps, movies, shopping and outings at theme parks can drain your wallet well before Labor Day.

So, what are you going to do with your children this summer?

Bankrate has gathered a list of suggestions that are creative, educational and fun to help pass the summer hours. Best of all, these ideas are designed to minimize the damage to your budget.

Frugal fun
Keep your children entertained this summer with these free or low-cost ideas.
4 cheap ways to entertain your kids
  1. Set up a backyard camp
  2. Plan theme days
  3. Start a kindness club
  4. Get educational

Set up a backyard camp

For many parents, camp is the ultimate summer money drain. According to a 2006 survey by the American Camp Association, most of their member camps charge between $100 and $299 per week for summer camp.

Just 10 percent of day camps offer programs at less than $100 per week, according to Peg Smith, ACA chief executive officer.

If traditional camp is too expensive, cut costs by setting up your own backyard camp. It only takes three or four families to schedule a minicamp with a handful of energetic children.

Median weekly camp fee by region
Mid-Atlantic$275
New England$193
Mid-America$160
Southern$100
Source: 2006 American Camp Association

Think carefully about how to plan your camp. It is often best to schedule activities to run three consecutive days -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That prevents camp from being interrupted by family-planned three-day weekends, according to Silvana Clark, author of "301 Bright Ideas for Busy Kids."

Each family involved can host one day of camp activities. Clark also suggests picking camp times that work well with busy schedules. "Families have had success setting up camp between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.," she says.

Once the children arrive, make sure you're ready to jump into an activity immediately. This will set the tone and let the children know it's not a typical play date, says Clark.

Camp activities can be "as simple as tracing their shadows with chalk on the sidewalk every two hours and seeing how their size changes," Clark says.

You can also draw a huge circle in your driveway with chalk and divide it into sections like a pizza. Each child then gets a piece of chalk to decorate his or her "slice of pizza."

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Clark also suggests decorating cookies to be eaten at lunch, engaging in craft projects and hosting spontaneous car washes.

"Gather up buckets, rags and soap and walk to a neighbor's house and offer to wash the car in their driveway for free," she says. "Kids have a great time getting wet and your neighbor gets a clean car."

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