As the father of three children between the ages of seven and two, I’m always on the lookout for ways to keep the little ones occupied and having fun without spending a fortune.  Talk about easier said than done!  Even a trip to the movie theater costs an arm and a leg these days.  But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the day at home staring at the walls.

With a little creativity you can think of several fun ways to have some family fun without having to tap into your 401k account.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Board Game Night.  There are so many different board games to choose from that just about anyone can find one they’ll enjoy.  The challenge is trying to find something that kids from different age groups can enjoy equally.  For example, my oldest daughter loves the Disney version of Monopoly, but that’s obviously a little too advanced for my two year old son.  He prefers Whack-a-Mole where he can just swing the hammer like a wild man.

Picnic in the Park.  What kid doesn’t love going to the park?  Let them have a good time on the swings, slides, and monkey bars and work up a good appetite.  Then find a cozy spot to lay down a blanket have a nice picnic.  Sandwiches and juice boxes make an inexpensive and convenient meal to enjoy together.

Nature Walk.  Kids are naturally curious and they love to explore so why not encourage that with a fun and informative nature walk?  Depending on where you live, it can be as simple as walking into your backyard.  Worst case, just hit up the nearest park or trail and make a list of all the different plants and animals you see along the way.  And don’t worry if you aren’t an expert on nature.  When you get back home you can sit down with the kids and do some research to learn more about what you saw on your walk.

Get Crafty.  My kids love doing arts and crafts stuff.  But many of the project “kits” they sell in stores can be pretty expensive, especially when you only get one use out of them.  So most of the time I just give them a bunch paper, markers, crayons, scissors, and glue sticks so they can really get creative and make something original.  They usually end up creating a big mess in the process, but the end product is always worth it to me.

Cooking with Kids.  Children love helping in the kitchen, even when you don’t really want them to!  So rather than getting mad at them for trying to make you scrambled eggs on the kitchen floor, take some time and teach them how to cook at home the right way.  Obviously, you should never let small children near raw meat, sharp knives or a hot stove.  But you can let them mix ingredients, wash vegetables, and set the table.  Plan ahead and choose a simple menu that the kids can prepare mostly on their own and they might just learn to have a little more respect for your cooking too.