This post was written by Alexandra Martinez. Photo: Will Martinez
So, you're tight on cash (aren't we all) but you still want to get the kids out of the house? No problem: A fun and educational day out doesn't have to mean spending a month's worth of fun money on tickets to the aquarium, the zoo, or that traveling Sesame Street show.
As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for cheap and simple ways for my kids to learn new things and be engaged in our community -- but any parent, homeschooler or not, can use these ideas to teach their kids about local businesses, safety, and more. Bonus: You might just learn a thing or two yourself.
1. The Fire Station
Cool uniforms, flashing lights, and a truck that's five times the size of your kid -- it all adds up to one great day. Kids will learn about fire safety and prevention, the role firefighters play in the community, and they may even get to sit in the big red truck during the tour.
Most local fire departments welcome visits from community members: Call and schedule an appointment or visit during an open house day. And after you get home, have your kids write thank you notes and bake cookies to show their appreciation for these hardworking men and women.2. The Cemetery
If you think the creep factor of visiting a cemetery outweighs the educational benefits, then your kids may be missing out on easy and fun ways to explore history, art, math, and more. For a lesson on your town's past, look for the tombstones of servicemen from different wars, from the Depression, or from other major historical moments. Add some math by asking them to calculate the ages of the people buried in the cemetery or working together to find the oldest person buried there.
If your kids are interested in geology, help them identify the different types of rock used for the headstones and point out evidence of erosion, corrosion, and weathering. Discuss the evolution of headstone design for a simple art lesson, and have them practice reading the epitaphs and inscriptions. One note: if you're spending the afternoon surrounded by graves, be ready to answer questions about death, the afterlife, and what happens to kids when mommies and daddies die.3. The Animal Shelter
Kittens, and puppies, and reptiles, oh my! Holding a frightened kitty or petting a neglected pooch is one way for kids to learn about the needs of these abandoned animals -- and may inspire them to take action by raising money, collecting used blankets and towels to donate, or, if your kids are older, volunteering on the weekends. Of course, if your family isn't ready to adopt a pet, then avoid those on-the-way-out meltdowns by making sure the kids understand in advance that you won't be coming home with a new family member, no matter how cute those kittens and puppies are.
4. The Grocery Store
Sure, to you the grocery store is just another chore -- but for your kids, it can be an endlessly entertaining scavenger hunt. Make a list of countries, colors, or ingredients, and give kids an allotted amount of time to find all those items: While your tween searches out tomato sauce imported from Italy, your toddler can look for a green apple. Older kids can also improve their math skills by comparing prices and looking for the best value. (Hint: Choose foods that are already on your list to cut your shopping time.)5. Local Businesses
Talk to your kids about different kinds of businesses and see what interests them -- whether it's the butcher, the baker, or any other shop in town. Then call the store to see about getting a behind-the-scenes tour where you can ask your questions: Where does the butcher get his meat from? What time does the baker start baking? How much ink does the printer use in a month? What's the most expensive piece of art ever sold at the gallery? Taking local trips can help you see your town in a whole new way -- without spending a dime.
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