You want your kids to have the best in life, but in the mean time, you’ve got to pay the bills. And while you wish you could send them to the water-park, summer camp, or Disneyland, it simply may not be in the budget just now. Besides that, you would love for them to continue learning over the summer so as not to lose every bit of information they gathered throughout the school year. Luckily, there are all kinds of ways to keep your kids busy (and engage their minds) for less than you’d expect. In some cases, you don’t even have to spend a dime.

1. Summer reading. Most kids love to read if they can just find material that sparks their interest. To that end, there are many summer reading programs that not only set up book lists for kids (which they can get for free at your local library), but also gives incentives to motivate your children to succeed. A couple of notable offerings are the Scholastic Summer Challenge, which urges kids to log their reading hours to try to beat a world record, and the Barnes and Noble program that provides a free book for every eight your child reads.

2. Field trips. If you want to spend a little time with your kids and engage in educational pursuits, take advantage of the natural splendor of your region (for free!). Pick up some plant and animal guides and see if you and your kids can identify some native species while you enjoy a day in the sun! Of if you want to beat the heat, check out local museums. Many offer family discount days and classes for kids.
3. Activities. If you want to enroll your child in some summer programs (art, writing, theater, technology) without the hefty price tag, contact your local community center or the Department of Parks and Recreation. Both will often facilitate classes, activities, and sports for free or at substantially less cost than private programs.

4. Online games. If your child spends hours mesmerized by the latest shoot-‘em-up games for the Xbox or PS3, why not make their favorite activity educational? While most consoles have yet to offer academic fare, you can find plenty of online games in every subject (math, reading, science, geography) for kids of all ages. Simply do a Google search for educational games plus the age or grade of your child. You’ll be overwhelmed by the wealth of options available to help your child maintain (and expand) their knowledge.

5. Summer camp. It’s not hard to find educational summer camps in your area, especially with websites like my summer camps that allow you to search by zip code, camp name, and a number of other modifiers. And while it can get pricey to send your child for days or weeks to a sleep-away camp specializing in the arts, science, or technology, many facilities offer some type of scholarship program so that kids from all walks of life can participate.

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