Grand-Parenting (or Parenting) Summer Fun on a Budget

Jun 16, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Entertaining grandchildren is a challenge. Time is limited. Because of the times, frugality is called for. It is not that we are cheap; it is just that it does not cost that much to have a great time.

Riding the Train or Bus

Amtrak for specific ticket information.

Train ride

Almost two years ago, we picked up 5 round-trip tickets from Fresno to Hanford for about $45.00 for two adults and three children. Train rides are fun. Once in Hanford, we had lunch in one of several parks and played on rustic equipment. Then we had ice cream and came home. The cost of the day will be overshadowed by the value of the memory. We were on the wrong day for the merry-go-round in the park or any other attractions, but no other attractions were needed. Contract

If you can’t afford the train, try taking a ride on a city bus. On a trip to Richmond, Virginia last year, a two mile ride was one of the highlights of the week.


If your grandchildren are small, your best friend might be a fellow named Ronald. McDonalds has a number of locations with “Play Places” where other parents and grandparents bring happy children for happy meals. They may not want to eat because the real attraction is the fun and games. Therefore, for the cost of a $1 salad or a senior coffee, you get to watch your children’s children have great fun and socialize in a very safe, friendly, and compelling environment while reading, surfing the internet with free Wi-Fi, or talking with other adults who have made the same discovery.

George Brown Fitness Center

George Brown Kids

My local fitness club, George Brown III has one of the finest child-care facilities anywhere. Lots of caring, well-trained child-care workers, imaginative equipment, activity stations, wholesome entertainment, and kids to play with characterize this outing. For $2, the GB3 staff will watch your youngster for one and a half hours and will charge a small additional fee for each child. On Saturdays and Sundays, George opens the doors to the kids for swimming with adult supervision. It is well worth the cost of a monthly family membership. Contact GB III for more information or call (559)298-2778.

This option is so popular with our middle grandchild, who lives with us, that our “spelling game,” where we try to spell words to keep the kids from knowing what we are saying, stopped working when the first word he learned to spell was “g-y-m.” For over a year now he asks almost daily, “Are we going to the g-y-m today?”

Parks and Walks

There are city and county parks. There are also interesting places to park your car and walk a half mile through a new neighborhood. As long as you are excited about what you are seeing and allow children to be excited about what they see, they will stay fascinated. Think of places you can simply walk:
• A parking lot – I’ve tried it successfully more than once. Invent walking games and be willing to look and feel silly.
• Trails along irrigation canals – There is a very good one that is open off Shaw between McCall and Academy on the North side of the road. It goes behind the old cemetery.
• Cemeteries – They are wonderful walking places with all sorts of interesting things to stop and see with many stories to tell.

Public and Open Venues


A farmer’s market such as The Clovis Old Town Farmers Market, May-September on Friday nights provides entertainment, education, and exercise.

Bluegrass in the Park is a free Friday night concert series in Clovis at Veteran’s Memorial Park next door to the Veteran’s Memorial Building, from 6:30 p.m. till dusk, May to September. People bring chairs, food, and blankets for happy music, socializing, and entertainment.

Sun Maid Raisins has a nice tour, a fun store, and most of all, free raisins for testing. It is a drive for most families from almost anywhere on Bethel Ave. in Kingsburg.

Simonian Farms is open Monday-Sunday from 9:00 a.m. It is a farm and a market with food to buy, but also much to look at with no obligation to make a purchase.

The San Joaquin River has some accessible places, but the River Parkway is wonderful educational resource for families. Visit their website. Any place where waters flow, children go. Find safe places to observe and safe activities that do not require much equipment or effort. Skipping pebbles may be enough. Even pretending to fish might work.

Check out Play Fresno for a very nice list of places and include the kids in planning. Planning is an activity in and of itself.

Public service

Last year, I took Kaibian on a food drive. He met some children and even ended up on television. He got a taste of helping other people and made a memory that we visit often though pictures. It cost me nothing and paid plenty.

Out Back

Your own backyard is a great source of entertainment. Ours is big with lots of safe room to run. We have some of the most interesting bugs, frogs, gopher holes, and strange weeds in the world.

Then, we have rocks. My wife likes moving rocks from one part of the property to another as her landscaping priorities change. Rocks have to be dug out of the dirt. Our grandchildren went through a stage where they enjoyed discovering, digging, and transporting them. I have seen them spend large blocks of time in this activity while I sat and supervised.

We have trees. One tree is especially useful for climbing. We have hung a rope from one of its best branches and, for the cost of that rope, created hours of entertainment, camaraderie, and physical activity.

I have a garden. I have to weed and water my garden. 3-6 year olds love to look and help. Let them put on something that you don’t mind getting dirty and let them water something you don’t mind getting muddy. I set aside a spot where the little ones could plant their own crops and dig indiscriminately. I tend the garden and they get to do whatever interests them.

We never get many refusals to an invitation to go outside, to go for a walk, or to help with a project.


Breakfasts are a big attraction at our house. We cook to order and we cook plenty. Mostly, we cook in concert. There is almost always at least one grandchild in the kitchen for meal preparation during visits. The secret is to find work for the kids to do and be patient while they do it. You are not making food; you are making memories. Kids seldom complain about eating the food they have made and it may turn out to be the most wonderful dish in the world.

Conclusion: Spend less; remember more.
We have games, projects, books, and lots of paper and scissors, but we don’t keep much that is fancy, expensive, or complex. It is not just that cheaper is cheaper; it is usually more fun. If an activity costs you more in imagination than in dollars, it is more likely to be more memorable.

The less you spend entertaining your grandchildren, the more often you will be able to do so.

Would you rather have a few major extravaganzas or lots of consistent times together?

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.



  1. Thank you and we love you and your family. we thank God for the work you are doing in rwanda.yours pastor ndayisaba onesme

  2. What a great article! Thank you for all the wonderful ideas to keep my little one busy. We no longer live in the area, but I can adapt all of this to where we do live. I especially like the McDonald’s suggestion. So simple, yet it had never occurred to me. I am going to bookmark this article. Thank you!


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