School’s back in session, and after long summer days spent swimming, playing and running around, some kids may be falling back into an after-school habit: grabbing a snack, maybe doing homework, then vanishing into the glow of a screen.
Sometimes kids need a nudge to keep the creativity flowing and the blood pumping, and that nudge doesn’t have to break the bank. Now that enrollment for extracurricular activities is in full swing, here are some ways to enrich the after-school hours without busting your budget.
Sports and athletics
Team sports teach many things—athletic skills, self-confidence, cooperation—but joining a team can be expensive. If your child wants that team experience, check out town programs, which are often more affordable than private leagues. School teams are another excellent and often more reasonably priced option. You may also be able to find a team through your local Boys & Girls Club, church or YMCA.
Finding affordable lessons for individual sports such as gymnastics or martial arts is more challenging, but not impossible. Your local community school or a “college for kids” program at a nearby community college might be able to provide a budget-friendly solution.
Sports also often require expensive equipment. For a price break, explore yard sales, consignment stores, Freecycle and Craigslist.
Music, arts and education
Playing an instrument, dancing, painting and other artistic activities help kids develop creativity and self-expression. The challenge, as with sports, is to find affordable instruction. Private or even group lessons can be pricey.
You may be able to find free tutorials online, but also check whether your child’s school offers after-school band, dance or art clubs for a low fee. Community school programs are another affordable option with short-term programs so kids can sample new interests. And don’t forget community theaters, where kids get the chance to sing, dance and act in legitimate public performances.
If your child wants private lessons, consider hiring a student from a local college to teach. The lessons may be more affordable than at a private academy, and the student teacher will benefit from the extra income.
Fun and affordable things to do together
You don’t have to sign your kids up for formal activities to give them a great after-school experience. Consider these sustainable ideas:
- Random acts of kindness: Bake cookies together to bring to a nursing home, volunteer with kids at your local soup kitchen or design holiday cards for soldiers overseas. Acts of kindness cost very little and spark happiness and personal growth.
- Nature scavenger hunt: Go for a hike on a wooded trail or at a local park. Create lists of things to be on the lookout for: acorn, maple leaf, squirrel, sparrow. The first child to spot everything on the list gets to pick where everyone goes for an ice cream or hot chocolate afterward.
- Recycled inventions: Pluck something out of the recycling bin for kids to transform into something useful. A milk container can become a bird feeder. A huge box might become a fort. Kids will learn about sustainability while having a great time.
- Design a graphic novel or comic strip: With your kids, brainstorm characters for an original comic or graphic novel. If they’re too young to write, you can fill in the caption balloons for them.
You may find that once you start looking for affordable after-school activities, more and more opportunities appear. Expose kids to a few fun ideas and a little structure, and watch them run with it. They may come up with more creative pursuits than you could have imagined.
Music class image via Shutterstock.