When I was growing up, my folks struggled to pay bills. I look back now, however, and there is no sense of missing out. My parents were both bright and highly innovative. My mom could make a buck stretch for a week and she was continually coming up with fun games and activities for us, even on a budget.
I learned a lot from my mother and during my years as a single mom I learned even more. I learned to reduce, reuse, recycle and re-purpose. I’m grateful for the times I’ve lived on a tight budget because I was forced to be more creative!
A few ideas for games you might not have already considered:
- Pool noodle marble run: It’s summer time again and those pool noodles are showing up in local stores. Besides swimming, what can these noodles be used for? Marbles! Cut a pool noodle in half, long ways. Tip the noodle at an angle and whallah – a marble run. This is a fun way to re-use noodles after you’ve finished using them for summer pool days.
- Basketball in a can: Can’t afford a nice basketball hoop for your kiddos? Not to worry. Clean out (or buy) a large garbage bin/can from the store (the big black ones are best). These garbage cans make a great basketball hoop. Simply place a heavy rock inside to keep the bin standing up. Move the can closer for small children and push it away for older kids.
- Teaching colors: There are some terrific games and materials on the market for teaching colors but many of the products can be spendy. Take colored construction paper and cut it into large strips. Write the correct color on each strip: Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink, Purple. Tape the papers around your child’s bedroom with the corresponding colors (on pictures, toys, painted items, etc). This simple and inexpensive teaching tool is highly effective. Talk with your child about the colors each day: “Look at that blue ball! Oh, I really like that red truck. Wow – that pink shirt sure is nice. That green doll is so soft!”
- Tarp waterslide: I once had a friend who told me that her folks could not afford to buy the nice waterslides from the store each summer. They improvised by using a tarp. They purchased a $5 tarp from the store and placed it on the ground in a safe location. They secured the tarp with camping stakes. They wet the slide with soapy water and the slip sliding fun began!
- Sprinkler: When I was a single mom I could not afford to buy a fancy name brand sprinkler from the toy store. My son and I agreed to use a cheaper model (you can find regular lawn sprinklers for just a few bucks) and create our own fun with additional toys. We used bath toys, kitchen gadgets and rubber toys from his toy box. I also purchased new dish sponges from the Dollar Store to squeeze and un-squeeze the water while playing (great motor skill and sensory activity). We had so much fun using the ‘boring’ sprinkler along with toys and sponges. He is 13 now and has never mentioned feeling as though he missed out during childhood because I didn’t buy him a name brand sprinkler. In fact, all he remembers is that his childhood was fun.
- Bowl in the savings: Are you looking for a quick and fun indoor game? How about a home-made bowling set? Buy a set of disposable cups from the store (a sleeve of them runs about $2). Don’t get the styrofoam cups – find something thicker. Turn them upside down on the floor and you now have bowling pins. Use a tennis ball or baseball as your bowling ball. Re-use the cups over and over again.
- Seek and Find: Last year I designed a scavenger hunt for my kids. They loved this game! I typed up clues for them to follow. We started in the house, went out to the yard, drove into our small town to find more clues at the local market and eventually ended up at another house. They walked down the hill to find shoe boxes full of little treasures: bubbles, sweets, craft items and more. I spent about $10 on each child. If you don’t have $10 to spend consider filling your shoebox with items from home, something you have baked or made or home-made coupons for your kids to cash in at a later date (for extra TV or computer time, a late curfew, additional book reading time at night, a family game night, etc). You might also find some nice treasures to use at your local thrift shop or yard sale.
Shara Lawrence-Weiss has a background in early childhood education. She's the editor of Early Childhood News and Resources, as well as several other web sites. She's also a proud parent, avid game player, and a Library Board Member.