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Is your family sticking close to home this summer? Plan a Family Stay-cation and have all the fun you could have in another town and spend a fraction of the cost, right in your own locale. Here are some tips and some suggestions for things to do.

Begin by blocking off a week (or two) for your stay-cation, just as you would if you were going to Disney World instead. Put this on your calendar, don’t accept competing appointments, and take the time off from work. This is a stay-cation, not just random things to do. Put yourself in the mood for fun by letting life go to vacation mode.

Then plan each day’s activities. Keep in mind that even at a theme park, you would eventually want a quieter day, so don’t commit to one “big” event after another. The best vacations have a rhythm of high-interest and lower stress activities.

Keep in mind the ages of your children and their stamina levels. Teens will feel the pull of their friends and may want to skip out of the family plan some days. Decide ahead of time how you will handle this: a reluctant, unhappy teen can smother the fun for everyone but so can worry about what your teen is doing on her own while you’re out with your other children. Consider bringing along your teen’s best friend, so your kid has someone to be with.

At the same time, remember that little kids need their naps. Plan your activities to have the best chance of making everyone happy.

Finally, feel free to skip the high-priced tourist destinations in your area in favor of low-cost or free destinations. Depending on the ages and interests of your children, choose from this list of ideas or be inspired to come up with your own.

Playground tour. Spend a day visiting four different playgrounds. What could be more fun? Be sure to take along a book, so you don’t get bored, but remember to “Look at me!”

Factory field trip. In my town, a bread bakery offers a tour of their factory. What businesses in your town do something similar? Reserve your family’s tour now, since these do fill up.

Backyard camping. Pitch a tent in the backyard, gather up the flashlights and sleeping bags and have a wonderful time. If you can start the evening with a campfire and toasted marshmallows, so much the better!

Farm visit. Many farm families supplement their incomes by offering barnyard tours during the summer. These can be a bit of an expense but less if you bring your own picnic. Find out what farms near you offer this.

Hard Hat Hangout. Scope out a local construction project with as much heavy equipment at work as possible and with a good view from a safe distance. This can create an exciting and memorable day for bulldozer-obsessed kids.

Recycle Action Day. This is pretty easy: get some small-size trash bags (quicker to fill and not so large that they trip children), some child-size work gloves, and get to a park or beach that needs a bit of a clean-up. If you’re concentrating on trash, you can make super long tweezers with strips of wood wrapped together at one end around a slice of cork (to create the hinged end). If you’re looking for recyclables, have separate bags for cans and plastics.

Room Re-do Day. This is great when outdoor plans are rained out. Pick a room – maybe the playroom or garage – clean it out, rearrange the furniture, and even paint the walls! You’ll need trash bags, paint, rollers and paint shirts. Great fun!

Library tour. This is another good rainy day activity. Visit four or more local library branches in your library system. Spend time in each children’s room, checking out the toys and puzzles. Bring along your card and check out good things to read or DVDs to watch later.

One more thing. Observe these basic rules as seems good to you:

Remember the fun starts before you leave the house. Make your departure unstressful, unhurried and pleasant. Vacations are fun and stay-cations even more so!

Have a wonderful summer!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.