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SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is in full swing, and many parents are already tired of those three all-too-familiar words, "Mom, I'm bored."
The good news is, summer activities don't have to cost money to be fun. Here are 10 free boredom-busting basics to keep the kids — and mom — happy.
1.) Splash pads (ages 0-14)
Utah has more children per capita than any other state — and cities are starting to realize the need for low-cost, kid-friendly entertainment. Our state boasts 15 splash pads from Providence to St. George, and more cities are scrambling to keep up. These free water playgrounds are luring families who are desperate to escape the heat, but don't want to pay water park prices. Don't forget the sunscreen. For a list of locations, click here.
2.) Bike trails (ages 5+)
Visitors flock to Utah's remarkable bike trails, and unfortunately, many Utah residents don't take the time to explore them. Although many bikers are adults, there are hundreds of kid-friendly bike trails for families to explore — and they don't cost a cent. For a list of easy trails, click here. If you're feeling ambitious or have teenagers, try these trails, recommended by a seasoned biking professional. Don't forget the helmets.
3.) Outdoor summer concerts (ages 5+)It just isn't summer if you haven't attended a summer concert, and Utah has plenty of them — many occurring at parks where admittance is free. Don't forget the blanket and/or chairs. Click here for a list of locations and dates.
4.) Utah fairs and festivals (ages 0+)
Cities across Utah are throwing their budgets into fairs, festivals and carnivals this year, and some of their events are free and low-cost. These events range from educational — such as farming- and art-related activities — to downright silly, like Green River's watermelon seed-spitting contest. There's something for every age. Don't forget the camera. For a list of locations and dates, click here.
5.) Hiking (ages 3+)
Another favorite summer activity is hiking, partially because there are so many options. This activity can be as long or short as you'd like, and it can involve a picnic, friends and possibly even swimming, depending on where you go. With the recent heat, though, it may be a good idea to choose a shadier trail or begin your hike in the cooler hours of the day. Don't forget the water. For a few trail ideas, click here.
6.) Neighborhood water fight (ages 1+)
You don't have to spend money to have fun this summer, but you don't have to necessarily leave the house, either. Invite your neighbors and friends over for a gigantic water fight with hoses, water balloons, inflatable pools and all the trimmings. It involves your kids' two favorite things: friends and water. Just make sure it happens on the lawn to protect bare feet and water your grass while you're at it. Don't forget to wear your swimsuit, because despite your threats, your children will find a way to get you wet.
7.) Movie night (ages 3+)
While some parents go as far as setting up a sheet with a projector, all you really need is an iPad screen to have a movie night outside (and some popcorn, blankets and mosquito repellent, of course). For extra flair, give your kids cardboard boxes to transform into cars, and have them "drive" their cars into your backyard drive-in movie.
8.) Park marathon (ages 0+)A park a day keeps the boredom away. Rather than visiting the same park once a week, why not explore your city? Most cities in Utah boast several parks, and some of them aren't well-known. You could find a new favorite park and satisfy your children's need for exploration. Don't forget the sunscreen. For a few Salt Lake-area parks, click here.
9.) Mom groups/playgroups (ages 0+)
If you just don't know where to start, check out a local playgroup. You can find a few online or on Yahoo, or you can start your own. It's a fun way to entertain the kids and get out of the house, but it also means catching up with other parents like you. After all, summer should be fun for mom and dad, too.
10.) Reading board (ages 3-16)
For parents who prefer a more educational approach to the summer, a reading board can be a great boredom buster. Start a chart (think posterboard and corkboard). Each time your child reads a book (or a certain amount of pages), they can mark off a square. When the chart is filled, create a fun reward for that child, whether it means one-on-one time with a parent, or choosing the activity for that day.
A fun way to incorporate what children learn is to have craft time each day when they can cut, paste and color something that relates to what they're learning. And of course, make room on their reading board to show off what they made.
Well, there you are — 10 ways to curb those dreaded three words, and hopefully, have fun yourself in the process. Happy summer! Rebecca, author of "How to Have Peace When You're Falling to Pieces," has written for Schooled Magazine, KSL.com and Deseret News. She has three children.