Affordable Options for Summer Fun

I never went to sleepaway camp. To ensure I still enjoyed an active summer, my parents encouraged me to be physically and mentally active during those three months outside the classroom. My parents, both teachers, truly understood the importance of seeing this “vacation” not as a break from activity but as a redirection of my energy. As a child, my summers were filled with taking trips to the beach, playing games of wiffle ball with my brother and reading stacks of books taller than me.

Many families are aware of the perks of summer camps, which offer children mental stimulation and physical activity while fostering independence and confidence. However, for many families, summer camps are too expensive to be a reality.

A recent New York Times article, titled “The Families That Can’t Afford Summer,” attributed the lack of a summer camp experience to the socio-economic achievement gap. “Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills,” the article said.

Here in Grand Rapids, several organizations have committed to helping all kids – whatever their economic background – enjoy stimulating, exciting and affordable activities. We have compiled free or low-cost options for summer fun, in addition to the classic suggestions of parks, beaches and renting library books.

The Grand Rapids Public Library has partnered with area attractions to provide visitors the opportunity to use their library card (you can get one for free!) to check out a free membership to museums, zoos and botanical gardens. Participating organizations in the “Check it Out” program include Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and more. These memberships allow up to six people to visit the organization once within a six day period.

Your free library card can also admit you to hundreds of destinations throughout Michigan. The Michigan Activity Pass grants free or discounted admission passes to Michigan state parks, campgrounds, arts and cultural destinations and more.

Consider attending Grand Rapids’ museums on their discounted days. For instance, the Grand Rapids Art Museum holds Meijer Free Tuesdays and Free Thursday nights. These special offers occur every week. Also, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum offers a discounted entry price of $1.75 on Thursdays after 5pm.

For outdoor fun, visit Millennium Park, a 1,400 acre park on the Grand River. Most of the park is available for free use, but a small entry fee grants access to the beach and splashpad. There are also boats and kayaks available for a very reasonable rental price. Consider attending one of six Maranda Park Parties throughout the summer. These free parties are filled with games, music, food and other surprises, such as a zip-line or inflatable obstacle course. Finally, Grand Rapids has several public pools and water playground locations that cost no more than $1 for children to use.

Undoubtedly, summer can be a challenging time for working parents. It takes thought and creativity to compile a list of engaging and budget-friendly activities for children. Hopefully these suggestions provide a sense of relief that you can offer your children, grandchildren or younger siblings interesting and affordable outlets for their persistent energy. 

For more information on the suggestions listed above, please follow these links: