As a kid growing up in rural Indiana – and now as a broke college girl – I have figured out how to have fun without spending much, if any, money. I grew up in a house that had dial-up internet until I was a freshman at Purdue. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was sixteen, and my family still doesn’t have cable TV. My house is surrounded by woods and corn fields, and going to the movies or to the closest mall takes at least 40 minutes of driving. Because of this and other factors, my parents believed that kids should go outside to play and that creativity makes children become humble and appreciative. Here are some of the ways we made low-cost fun. Give any of these items to your kids, and they’ll know what to do.
Give your kid a cardboard box
When I was just starting my senior year in high school, my parents had to leave town for a while. They allowed me to have my best friend, Erika, over for those two days to keep me company. After school, we became exceptionally bored and went looking for something to do. In my garage sat a refrigerator box; my parents bought a new one a few days before. We decided that it needed to become a princess castle. After lugging it out into my driveway, and gathering paint cans, brushes, and a hack saw, we started creating our masterpiece. You may not want to give your kids the hacksaw, but with a cardboard box, some paint or markers, and imagination, they’ll be occupied for hours.
Give your kid a camcorder
I was in eighth grade when I discovered the family camcorder. Though this was the year 2007, the camera was a huge, cumbersome circa 1994 model that recorded on VHS tapes. Erika and I put her little brothers and cousins to work as actors in our movie, a tribute to the late Steve Irwin called The Clucky Hunter. I was the director and Erika was the star; Erika and her brothers spoke with a bad accent and tried to catch chickens in the yard. We still have those tapes.
Kids will come up with hilarious things, and video cameras today are a lot sleeker than the 1994 models, so let them borrow the video camera and be prepared to be impressed.
Give your kid a dirty sheep (a dog works well too)
My family owns a farm, as many do in Indiana. We own mostly cattle and sheep, and I was involved in a youth organization called 4H for ten years. Every summer, as part of my sheep project, I took care of a lamb – I taught it walk with me, I fed and watered it, and when it came time for the 4H fair, I’d wash it too. Sheep generally don’t react very well to washing; they jump and shake, drop to the ground and roll in mud, bleat loudly and somehow slip out of the halter. After chasing them down, tackling them to the ground, and slipping the halter back on, they will shake off the water. I hated washing sheep, but looking back, it was kind of fun.
I expect that washing the family dog will be less intense, but dogs look funny when they’re wet, so washing a dog should be just as enjoyable for kids.
Give your kid a cook book
Last semester, I was hanging out with my boyfriend and roommates on a Friday night. We were getting hungry and I was browsing Pinterest, when I saw this beautiful recipe for making apple pie, complete with the woven crust, inside of a hallowed out apple. We immediately went to the grocery store and bought some supplies. Being college kids living in a dorm, we didn’t have many cooking utensils and only pans were available in the basement kitchen of my dorm.
My roommate Claire did have a pink tool kit, and we used various (washed) screwdrivers, drill bits, scissors and spoons to hollow out the apples, cut the innards into pieces and make the pie dough into a woven crust. After we put the apples in the oven to bake, we got bored and began playing with the extra dough, forming balls and throwing them at each other.
While you may not want your kids to get in food fights (unless they’re going to clean the kitchen later), letting them take charge in the kitchen allows for creativity and innovation, especially if your only kitchen utensils belong in a tool box.
Emily Thomas is a beijijngkids intern from Indiana, US. She is a junior at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Emily enjoys desserts, animals, and writing funny blogs.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Author Dan Parsons