This article is by staff writer Lisa Aberle.

Are you frantically trying to smother the “I’m bored”s at your house too? Most of the country is knee-deep in their kids’ summer vacation now, and our house is no exception. Keeping our children entertained and out of mischief is a full-time (and, if I’m honest, a little overwhelming too) job. When I start feeling frazzled by sibling fights and whining, I want to cope by going somewhere and doing something that costs money.

But that’s not always necessary. I mean, when I was your age, I was never bored — Oops. Sorry about that. I got confused about who my audience was there for a second.

What I really mean to say is that these ideas are for when you either can’t get out right then or your budget can’t handle another outing. So basically, these tips might help you save your sanity as well as save some money the next time you start hearing “There’s nothing to do!” Pull out some of these tricks, and keep everyone happy … for two or three more hours.

Make your own paints

Sometimes making the art supplies is just as much fun as using them, so here are a few ideas that pull double duty.

  • Cornstarch finger paint. Boil 4 c. water in saucepan. Dissolve ½ c. cornstarch in the boiling water and stir. Let the mixture come to a boil again. Cool. Add food coloring, if desired.

  • Flour and water finger paint. No cornstarch? Try this one: Mix 1 c. flour and 1 c. cold water. Add 3 c. boiling water and bring to a boil again, stirring constantly. Add food coloring if desired.

Customize the art experience

To increase the sensory experience, add coarse materials to the completed paint, such as play sand, cornmeal, oatmeal, rice, salt, tapioca, or glitter. Also, change out the type of painting instrument. Your child can use fingers, of course, but don’t overlook crumpled paper used like a stamp. Other ideas are cotton balls, feathers, leaves, small twigs, empty roll-on deodorant bottles, paint rollers, Q-tips, sponges, string, even old toothbrushes. Instead of painting on paper, try swirling the paint on foil.

  • Cut and paste picture fun. If your child is learning colors or letters, try this free activity. Gather up old catalogs or magazines, tape, scissors, and paper. Have the child cut items out of the printed material and tape them on the paper, using different themes. For instance, cut out 10 items that start with A; or one item for each letter in the alphabet; or only items that are blue.

  • Coffee filter snowflakes. Fold a round coffee filter into fourths or eighths. Cut snowflake designs, being careful not to cut through all the folds. Mix food coloring and water. Dip one corner of the snowflake in one color, then another, until it is completely colored. Open the snowflake and lay it on a newspaper to dry.

Twist it toward science

  • Instant volcano. Fill the bottom of one small paper cup with baking soda and set it on a plate. Place red food coloring on top of the baking soda. Poke a dime-sized hole in the bottom of a second paper cup and place it upside down over the first cup. Pour vinegar into the hole until the volcano starts to erupt.

    (Note: My kids loved this, but it wasn’t exactly successful. We used Styrofoam cups and, as I poured the vinegar in, the “lava” poured out between the cups as well as the top. We’ll try taping the cups together next time or use stiffer cups.)

  • This activity gets you bonus points because you have to enjoy fresh air and exercise to find a bunch of Queen Anne’s Lace. Once you have your flowers, add water to several clear vases or jars. Put a different drop of food coloring in each jar. Add the flowers to each vase and watch what happens!

  • Measuring materials. Empty uncooked rice or dried beans into a bowl. Set this bowl and other empty bowls, along with spoons, and soup ladle, and measuring cups on the floor (or outside). Let the child pour and measure the rice. Of course, make sure the child is old enough to know not to put these things in his or her mouth.

The active life

  • Button basketball. Have each child decorate one paper cup with crayons, stickers, or markers. Once decorated, make a small hole near the lip of the cup. Tie one end of a piece of string to the button. Tie the other end of the string through the hole in the cup. The child holds the cup, swings the button up, and tries to get the button in the cup. (Another version of basketball, the sock toss. Toss rolled-up socks in a bucket or basket for points.)

  • Create a squishy ball by placing a balloon over the end of a funnel and fill it with ½ c. sand, salt, flour, rice, or cornstarch (or make different squishy balls with different fillers and make the child try to guess which filler is in which balloon). Squeeze out any air and tie the balloon shut.

  • For a game made up (I think) by yours truly, use sidewalk chalk to draw a huge circle on the concrete next to your garage. Fill this circle with other concentric circles and add points to each of the circles. Toss a ball on the roof of the garage and try to get the ball to roll off into one of your circles. First one to 500 wins! I call it “Bulls-eye,” no patent pending.

  • Puppet show. Have the children decide on a story and then make a puppet for each character of the story. Use paper plates, crayons, scissors, tongue depressors (or popsicle sticks?), and glue to create each puppet. The children can then present their story. One person will need to hold a flashlight so it shines on a bare wall as the children hold their puppet in front of the light to act out the story.

Boredom has a funny way of striking at the least convenient moments — but this summer, you can slow down for a couple of days by offering some of these activities instead of looking for the kind of entertainment that costs. If these fail to provide you any relief, you can always fall back on my favorite standby: a fort made by couch cushions, blankets, and sheets! And there’s always the community pool if you have one…

Is boredom (from your kids or you) one of your triggers for spending money outside your budget? How do you cope with your new summer schedule?

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