Now that the summer solstice has given us more time between sunrise and sunset, Americans are officially in summer mode - using the extra daylight hours to spend with the family. But unemployment rates are above 10% in many states and the recession isn't showing signs of an early end. A lot of us are cutting way back on expenses. The Auto Club estimates that the traditional vacation costs an average of $244 per day for two people just for lodgings and meals. With plane fares, the kids' expenses and other costs thrown in, the price of a weeklong family vacation could reach $10,000.

With the effects of the recession hitting government agencies as well as individual families, are you wondering how to entertain your kids this summer? Many cities are cancelling summer school, county governments are cutting down on various services and some state parks are closing. So if you need to engage your children this summer, here are some tips to help you take advantage of free and low-cost alternatives to expensive summer activities - the emerging trend of "staycations:"

1. Make good use of your local library. The hours may be cut back but the library is still a good source of fun for the kids. With a library card, you can take out DVDs and CDs, as well as books, rather than buying them. And many libraries are still sponsoring programs that are informative and interesting for the whole family. Why not create a summer book club for your children, teens or yourself? You can decide to read "beach books" or some classics, settle on best-selling non-fiction, beautifully written novels or award-winning titles. The choice is up to you. Your weekly discussion groups will be engaging and fun for everyone.

2. Check out the museums in your area. Many of them will likely have admission-free days, particularly for local residents. Plan your schedule around these days so that you can introduce your children to art, history, nature, music and crafts. The bonus is that you, too, will learn something from these visits and enjoy the time you spend there. Visit a water park, zoo or aquarium that offers shows for the kids. They'll find out first hand about the habitats and lifestyles of many species.

3. Enjoy free concerts in the park, community festivals and low cost theater productions. Check the local papers for notices about events near you. You and the kids can informally experience all kinds of ethnic celebrations. Search out public tours of civic buildings and corporate businesses. Educational day trips to government offices and companies give you the chance to view beautiful art work and learn about what goes on behind usually-closed doors. Community playhouses often have revivals of classics, musicals or innovative avant guard shows at reasonable costs. You can explore small theaters in your city or line up for rush, discounted tickets at more well established ones.

4. Go outside with the kids. Locate maps of your community and hike in the hills, walk in areas you haven't explored before or bike in the flats around a lake. A trip to the community swimming pool is fun for everyone. Plan to picnic on the grass at home or camp out overnight in your own backyard. Take in a baseball game, sitting in the bleachers. If you can, take a drive to a lake or the ocean and spend time with the family enjoying the vastness of the waterscape, the warmth of the sand, the sound of the waves crashing, the smell of sunscreen, the open blue sky. Or drive to the hills or mountains for full days of hiking and camping in the simple beauty of nature. Park Rangers may be available to give you informative talks about the flora and fauna you are seeing.

5. Do some cooking or baking together. It's always fun to hang out in the kitchen together, even in the summer. Make some tried and true favorites like chocolate chip cookies. Teach the kids some of your old family recipes or try out an interesting new one. Summer can be the time to schedule potluck evenings with family friends. Everyone can pitch in to keep down the costs and create a diverse menu. Bring the recipes to share and you have new dinner ideas to use during the coming year. Cap off the evening with charades and team games or you can set up tournaments for board games, based on your children's ages.

6. Explore a new area or hobby with the kids. Summer might be just the right time to finally get going on that interest that has been percolating on the back burner. Have you wanted to start a family tree? Now, take the time to get on the Internet and start researching. Organize your snapshots? Get out those photos and arrange them in an attractive scrapbook or e-book. Learn about the universe and star gazing? Visit a planetarium, observatory or the library. Buy an inexpensive fish with the kids - and then teach them how to clean the bowl, how often to feed their pet and even about the life cycle of fish.

7. If you can, include some staycation plans solely for adults. Schedule a joint massage for you and your partner at a local spa. Take a day cruise or a short train ride - just you two. Splurge and stay at a nearby bed and breakfast. You'll find that the time alone for a romantic getaway refreshes you and your relationship.

Planning and taking a real staycation gets you out of your everyday rut and creates memories for your family to share throughout the year. Now that you have heard lots of good ideas for taking a staycation without draining your funds, get out there and enjoy yourselves! And don't forget to take lots of pictures so you won't forget any of the delightful details.

© 2009, Her Mentor Center

Author's Bio: 

Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. & Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are co-founders of, a website for midlife women and, a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about baby boomers' family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.