smart spending

Frugal ways to entertain your kids

As the founder of what she calls the kindness club, Sandroff has organized many projects -- with input from children -- that have helped others.

You can start your own kindness club at a minimal expense. If enough children participate once a week, $25 dues per child for the summer should pay for the supplies. One or several parents can be involved in these projects for children as young as 6.

"Look around your community and you'll think of many other ways to spread kindness," she says.

Sandroff's club has worked on many projects, including the following.

Ideas for spreading kindness:
  • Thank neighborhood heroes. Have each child make three medals to present to their heroes -- people like the clerk who was nice to them at the store, the librarian who helped them select a book or the school crossing guard.
  • Give back to the community. Plant flowers at the local school or help shelve books at the local library
  • Help those who are ill or lonely. Visit a dollar store and buy toys you can bring to a children's hospital. Or go to a nursing home and play bingo with the residents.
  • Raise money -- or spirits. Host a car wash to give money to someone who needs it for an operation. Or, make necklaces for women who are in a domestic abuse shelter.

"These are just a few ideas that you can do this summer," Sandroff says.

Get educational

Although regular school may be out during the summer, learning never ends. Many school districts offer summer school classes for periods of four to six weeks. For a nominal fee -- or in some cases, for free (scholarships may be available) -- your children can improve their reading or engage in sports, music, or arts and crafts. Classes typically last for 40 minutes to an hour.

Don't ignore another free resource -- your local library. About 95 percent of all public libraries in the United States offer summer reading programs, according to National Center for Education statistics.

"These programs help children to develop a lifelong love of reading, and help children to continue to improve their reading comprehension and vocabulary skills during the summer vacation months," says Andrea Johnson, youth services manager of the Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, Ill.

For example, this summer, the Northbrook Public Library will invite children and teens to "Get in the Game: READ." This program asks participants to join a team for a fantastic relay game in which teams compete by reading.

The program also features contests, weekly raffles, daytime and evening story times, workshops, family programs, and films. Last summer, 1,900 Northbrook readers earned prizes ranging from local restaurant coupons to stuffed animals and paperback books.

The computer inside your home can also be educational tool this summer. KidSites.com allows parents to select educational sites from such categories as math, history, science and more. Once you decide upon a site in a category, set a timer and allow each child 15 to 30 minutes to explore some of the educational information.

Vicki Gerson is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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