1. On a hot day, put the kids in bathing suits, give them a hose and buckets and sponges, and pay them a quarter apiece to wash the car. The car won't end up looking too good but they'll get soaked and have a ball and feel like they did something important.
2. Let your child save and organize grocery-store coupons and shop with you. The child gets to keep the money saved with the coupons. Older kids can be given all or most of the responsibility for grocery shopping. A great exercise in budgeting, nutrition and "what Mom/Dad goes through."
3. Take the heat off yourself by having your child or children make supper for the whole family once or twice a week. They can start this at a younger age than you might think _ even a 5-year-old can make peanut butter or ham and cheese sandwiches. And adults CAN eat sandwiches once in a while, to give a kid that important sense of accomplishment.
4. Use multicolored pasta to string a necklace or bracelet.
5. Most cities have several parks; nearly all have swings and other playground equipment. Take the young kids and let 'em climb on the jungle gyms (early morning, before it gets hot, is best for this) while you read your newspaper or whatever. Make a project of deciding which one in your area you and the kids like best.
6. Cover their eyes and let them pick a spot on the map or globe that you can "visit" _ then do some research at the library and let them help make food native to that area and create a "book" made of construction paper about the country, using photos from old magazines.
7. Count the number of grass blades in a square inch.
8. Stage a neighborhood talent show.
9. At the airport, ride the tram and watch planes take off and land. The only cost is parking.
10. Find a good spot for stargazing, even if you have to drive a few miles from the city to see the stars well. Take along a flashlight and a star chart to guide you.
11. City recreation centers have inexpensive classes in dance, gymnastics, karate. The necessary special clothes can be found cheaply at thrift stores, or secondhand from parents of other kids in the class.
12. Most libraries have summer reading programs. Many give free movie tickets and other incentives for reading a certain number of books.
13. Keep a diary of someone else's life _ it's kind of like being a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys detective. Choose someone in the news _ a singer, actor, sports figure _ track them and, by the way, practice reading and writing skills.
14. Learn magic tricks (check out a library book on the subject). Impress your friends and family.
15. Take evening walks and make a project of meeting your neighbors, even if you have to knock on doors and say, "Hi, we're Susie and Stevie Jones, and our summer project is meeting our neighbors."
16. Find out how many words you can make from the letters in "summer vacation" or "Mom, I'm bored" or "There's nothing to do."
17. Measure yourself in pennies. End to end, are you $15 tall?
18. Test how long your wet footprint takes to disappear from the driveway on a hot day, different times of the day with different temperatures.
19. Learn a new skill with your child, and go for the less traditional: Father-daughter sewing, mother-son auto mechanics. You'll be amazed at the things you'll learn about each other, and you'll have something new to talk about. Again, check the class schedule of your nearest city recreation center.
20. Find out what famous people were born on your birthday and then read about them. What would their 10th, 11th birthday have been like?
Ages 12 and up:
1. Help teenagers start a cottage industry _ babysitting, lawn mowing, pet sitting. Make fliers with rates and hours and distribute them to neighbors. Those who sew can do minor alterations, mending. Those who cook could arrange to deliver one meal a week to that harried working couple down the block. Besides neighbors, other people you know, in church or temple, for instance, can be your child's first, "safe" customers.
2. Give them an incentive to help you clean out closets, garage, attic this way: Cast-off items will go in a garage sale they set up, advertise and staff, and they keep the money. Unsold items go to charity.
3. Get them started redecorating their rooms. Teens can paint, make low-cost curtains from sheets bought on sale. They can sort out their drawers and closets and donate unused/outgrown things to a charity of their choice (letting them research charities will educate them about the less fortunate). All this MIGHT encourage them to keep their rooms tidier.
4. Have a "mini-party" on a flimsy excuse. ("Twenty years ago today, your dad cut his hair for the first time in five years.") Serve ginger ale instead of champagne, cook the kids' favorite food, play charades or Monopoly and forget your usual routine _ hey, anything beats another night in front of the TV.
5. Make your own weight-training equipment. Buckets filled with wet sand are good hand barbells, for instance.
6. Plan the vacation of your dreams, then read the travel pages to help you price it. Then figure out what else all that money would buy.
7. Read the history of your town or area and then go find some of the places where important events occurred.
8. Volunteer. You're too young to drive, don't own a car and need to show teamwork and leadership activities for your first resume. Call the United Way Volunteer Information Service. This office has opportunities for volunteers as young as 13. And many for those age 14 and older, including reading to nursing home residents, tutoring young children and more.
9. Dollar movies are cheap and the show takes several hours.
10. Interview your grandparents about their jobs, hobbies, favorite memory, life during World War II. If your family has a video camera, tape these interviews. Or use a cassette recorder to preserve the words. This makes a great family keepsake or present to your parents. (And some day, when you inherit the tape, you and your children may appreciate it, too.)
11. Set an exercise goal and keep a daily log to achieve it.
12. Ask teens to write their own mystery stories featuring family members and friends. Emphasize that clever whodunit twists are more acceptable than gore. Mom and Dad can write them, too, then all can be read aloud later at a family gathering.
13. Let the kids look through boxes filled with the old LPs you listened to at their age. Kids are often surprised to see their parents liked the same artists they do _ or else they fall over laughing when they learn Dad once boogied to Sit With Guru by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
14. Students in the later years of high school can start researching where they want to go to college or trade school, and write "practice" letters of inquiry, or do "practice" job interviews or entrance interviews, complete with the requisite attire.
15. Get them involved in local youth theater if one is available.
16. Encourage them in a grown-up hobby in which they show interest: photography, sewing, woodworking.
17. Lend them a video camera to "make a movie or music video."
18. Take them to a used CD store to exchange CDs they are tired of for different ones.
19. Put them in charge of the family recycling effort.
20. Turn off the lights, draw the curtains, light a few candles, and ask them to read aloud the scary short stories and poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. If they haven't heard of him before, they'll always remember him afterward. (The Tell-Tale Heart is especially recommended.)
Children 6 and younger:
1. Blow bubbles in front of a fan and let the kids count them and chase them.
2. Young children love to help _ harness that energy. Let them fold towels, sort and match socks, line up shoes in closets, empty small wastebaskets, brush the dog, dust tables, water plants.
3. Story hour at your local library is great for preschoolers.
4. Organize a Saturday play group for four or so youngsters in your neighborhood. Each Saturday, it's one parent's turn to have the kids over to play and eat lunch. The other parents can run errands or whatever they need to catch up on. A babysitting co-op can work the same way, for Saturday evenings, say.
5. Give your children a cardboard box. Let them decorate it and transform it into a car, a spaceship, a playhouse or whatever they want.
6. Let them dig in the sand at a local park. Mom or Dad can sit in the shade and read a paperback while the kids dig.
7. Take them bumper bowling. Call ahead to ask if the bowling alley does this. Most do. You might need to reserve a lane. It's not very expensive, and the bumpers, which prevent gutter balls, build their confidence.
8. Go to the local botanic gardens for a picnic.
9. Hand them a mirror. Tell them to count their eyelashes.
10. Organize a parade of kids on the block. Each can carry a favorite toy or homemade musical instrument.
11. Write away for free stuff, like from sports teams or tourism departments in other states, and sign the child's name. Kids love to get their own mail.
12. Check out videos, cassette music tapes and books on tape at the library.
13. Buy a tub of sidewalk chalk ($3 to $5) and let them go to it on the sidewalk and driveway.
14. Go to local science museum.
15. Have an overnight "camp-out" _ in the safety of the back yard. Make a tent by draping a quilt over tree branches. Roast wieners and marshmallows.
16. Plant an herb garden. Take an egg carton, fill each compartment with dirt, plant the seeds, water and place in a plastic bread bag (to seal in humidity). Place on windowsill until seeds sprout. Remove bread bag and watch herbs grow.
17. Have a picnic at least once a week, even if it's only in the back yard or neighborhood park.
18. Take your kids to a dollar store or junk store. Give them $1. Let them choose.
19. Save old bread to feed the backyard birds, or go to a duck pond.
20. Let them plant and nurture a vegetable or flower garden.