If you're like most people, you're probably trying to save money these days, by eating out less, cutting coupons and putting off big-ticket item purchases. That also means you might stay home for spring break this year because you simply can't spend the money. The good news is that you and your kids can still enjoy a fun spring break at home.
You've heard of the "staycation," and we've got some ideas for yours.
Set up tents in the backyard and have a backyard camping trip! Pack up your sleeping bags, fire up the grill, and grab a couple of flashlights and lawn chairs. Don't let anyone back in the house -- except to use the bathroom, of course. And leave your laptops, cell phones and handheld games behind. Remember, you're camping.
For dinner, have a cookout on the grill, and don't forget the s'mores for dessert. Once night sets in, organize some games with the kids. Try flashlight tag, tell ghost stories and even play board games by candlelight. Be creative! If you can, invite some of the neighbors and their kids over to camp as well. The more, the merrier.
If the weather makes it impossible to get outside and you have a video game system, host a "video games Olympics." Choose video games that are short -- not long adventure games; otherwise, the people who aren't playing will get bored. Pick games like bowling, ski jumping and tennis.
If you plan out your video game Olympics in advance, you can set up tournaments and give out prizes or trophies to the top three finishers in each category. If you have a lot of people participating, you can even break everyone up into teams and wear team colors. Make it even more fun by setting up "fueling stations" with sports drinks, protein bars and fruit, so everyone feels like a real athlete!
Another great indoor activity is a movie marathon. Plan your movie marathon beforehand. Will it have a theme, like alien movies or slapstick comedies? Or will each family member get to choose a favorite film? Since you're on "staycation," you could even choose movies that feature family vacations.
Then, go Hollywood for the day. Set up a red carpet in the TV room (you can use a red vinyl tablecloth). Hang up stills of classic movies and actors. Dress up as your favorite movie star or character and take "red carpet" photos of each other. To kick off the movie, toast each other with sparkling juice or cider. Settle in with lots of pillows and comfy seating. And don't forget the popcorn.
Have you ever noticed that many big-city dwellers have never really gone sightseeing in their own backyards? Have your New York City friends ever walked up the steps of the Statue of Liberty or stood at the top of the Empire State Building? Sometimes, day-to-day life gets in the way and we forget what gems are right around the corner.
Whether you live in a big city or a small burg, every town has a department of tourism. Send away for a pamphlet about tourist attractions in your area. Sit down with the family and choose the spots you all want to visit. Then, spend a day or two getting to know the area in which you live. Historical sites, museums, landmarks -- you may be surprised to see what kind of history surrounds you.
Turn your home and backyard into an African safari. Treat the kids to a viewing of "The Lion King" beforehand to get them in the mood. Next, decorate the house. Make paper bag vines from old brown paper grocery bags by cutting the bags into strips of three, then twisting them together to look like vines. Hang them throughout the house with green paper leaves attached.
For food, make Moroccan-style chicken kebabs and other silly snacks for the kids, like dried cranberries or raisins (call them "dried ants"). Seedless grapes become "snake eggs." Potato chips become "beetle wings," and any colored fruit juice can become "jungle juice." Set up an arts and crafts table and make beaded jewelry, paper elephants, giraffes and lions -- anything safari-inspired. Play traditional African music in the background.
Maybe you can't afford to fly across the country and stay in a nice hotel, but who's to say you can't have a nice hotel weekend in your hometown? It might sound silly, but it's actually quite relaxing. Pack up the family and check into a local hotel for the weekend. Many hotels now offer "staycation specials," so make sure you ask.
Get a hotel with a pool or spa. The kids will love it. And take some time for yourself to get a well-deserved massage or beauty treatment. Think about a local day trip, and enjoy coming back to a clean and tidy room that evening. Tuck everyone into bed with a movie, and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and renewed.
Scavenger hunts are lots of fun and bring out everyone's competitive sides. Depending on how adventurous you're feeling -- and how many adults you have for supervision -- your scavenger hunt can be limited to your backyard, your block or even your entire town.
Use your computer to print out clues, maps and goodies, and hide them places. The clues can be straightforward or written as puzzles or poems. A scavenger hunt is actually a great teaching tool for children because clues can contain simple math problems or local history questions. Leave little prizes along the way (candy, small toys) with one big prize for the eventual winner(s).
Hold your own culinary war, right at home. Here's how you do it: Sit down as a family and vote on a special ingredient. Then, everyone has to plan a dish that features that ingredient. For younger children, give them a parent or older sibling to work with, or offer ideas that don't require cooking or knives. For example, if the secret ingredient is "cheese," your child could make a cheese ball with crackers on the side, while a more mature member of the family might choose to make grilled cheese or even fondue.
For added difficulty, give each person a budget to work with and then go grocery shopping as a family. During the afternoon, everyone can take turns creating their culinary masterpiece. Enjoy the dishes together, and then fill out "secret ballots" on which dish was the most successful. Reward the winner with a fun apron or chef hat.
If you have your entire family all together in one place, put them to work. This time of year is a great time to do some spring cleaning. Set up a family "Spring Cleanout Challenge." Give each person a goal -- perhaps you need your tween to get rid of the old toys he or she doesn't play with anymore. Maybe your kids have outgrown clothes and need to prune their closets. Or you might have a lot of old paperwork that needs to be filed or shredded.
Once everyone has a goal to achieve, let them loose with trash bags, boxes, cleaning supplies and whatever else they need to get the job done. Set a time limit so it doesn't drag on all day and all night. At the end, reward everyone with some pizza and plan a family garage sale. The kids will be much more willing to pitch in knowing that they might get some cash at the end.
Spring is also a wonderful time to get started with your garden. If you're lucky enough to have a backyard where you can plant a big garden, get the soil ready in advance. If you live in an apartment or don't have a big yard, plan a "container garden" where you can plant smaller things like herbs, cherry tomatoes or peppers.
Over the winter, go shopping for seeds with the kids. Let the kids choose one or two things they'd like to grow -- help them out to ensure they choose something appropriate for where you live so they don't become discouraged. Start your seedlings in egg cartons or special seedling pots. The kids will delight in watching the seeds sprout and begin to grow. Then, on Gardening Day, everyone plants their seedlings in their own plot in the garden. And throughout the spring and summer, each child is responsible for his or her own plants. Enjoy the rewards of your work, through fresh salads or pretty flowers in bud vases throughout the house.
For more ideas on family fun, check out the links on the next page.
Spring break is a great time for a family vacation. Follow these spring break tips for families while you're on vacation.
- "Around the World: Stay-Cations." DisneyFamily.com. 2011. (Feb. 21, 2011)http://family.go.com/travel/pkg-vacation-ideas-staycation/
- Kinnear, Stephanie. "How To: Plan the Perfect Staycation." Re-Nest. Aug. 13, 2008. (Feb. 21, 2011) http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/inspiration/how-to-plan-the-perfect-staycation-059635
- "'Staycation' Ideas for Families." Family Education. 2011. (Feb. 21, 2011) http://fun.familyeducation.com/staycation-ideas/family-travel/61891.html