Last time, in Part 1 of this series, I shared some ideas for implementing Montessori in your home that cost nothing more than your time and commitment. If you missed that post, you can read it here. While writing that post, I sometimes felt like I was misleading readers by titling the post “Montessori on a Budget” because, really, most people want to know how to afford the materials that they see being utilized in Montessori homes. I get it. I’ve been there. But if there is one thing I wish I would’ve learned earlier, it’s that Montessori is less about materials and more about a way of living. I think Brittany Peters summed it up best with an Instagram post, saying “Please do not consider Montessori in the home as a list of to-buys but instead a list of to-be’s.” And if you’re still really wanting to know how to find affordable materials, then I regret to inform you that you’ll have to wait until Part 3 of this series. 😉
Here, in Part 2, I’d like to focus on experiences for your child. As a minimalist, I realize I may be a bit biased towards prioritizing experiences over materials because experiences don’t clutter my home. However, I recognize that experiences also provide my daughter with unique sensory input, language and vocabulary opportunities, and cultural education, which is valued in Montessori homes and schools alike.
Experiences encompass a wide range of time commitments, planning, and cost. However, for the purposes of this post, I will focus on experiences that I’ve found affordable for my household.
Here are the top five experiences I’ve shared with my daughter this year so far:
- Market – This is a sensory treat for sure! N gets to see so many different types of food, she observes the exchange of money for goods, and often chooses a healthy treat for us to prepare together once we return home. Our only expense is the food itself, which we would need to budget for anyway.
- Library – This is an excellent resource to take advantage of if you have one close by. Of course, the books are the reason we go, but the experience itself is worthwhile. N experiences the whole process of checking out books, keeping track of them at home and returning them (though she can’t quite reach that book drop yet!). She even has her own library card, of which is is quite proud. This experience is absolutely free, assuming you don’t wrack up any overdue fees.
- Touch-A-Truck – N LOVES vehicles of all kinds, so this was a wonderful experience for her. From my understanding, it’s generally organized by the community or a local school and costs only a few dollars to get in. I had never heard of them before, until Amy at Midwest Montessori mentioned taking her children to one. N was able to explore farm machinery, construction equipment, a school bus, and community rescue vehicles. A simple Google search for my area turned up a few dates and places for us to choose from.
- Parks/Playgrounds – these are wonderful gross motor outlets since we don’t have a lot of gross motor equipment in our home. But N also has the opportunity to get outside, observe other people, get dirty, and explore. And they are free. 🙂
- Community garden – we spent $35 for a community garden seasonal plot this year, started all of our plants from seed and easily recouped our costs in the food we harvested. Our plot provided N with real work to involve herself in as a way to contribute to our household. She genuinely enjoyed cutting flowers for flower arranging, shelling peas, pulling weeds and adding mulch. It was one of the outings she requested most, even on days we didn’t plan to visit our plot.
Other ideas that we have experienced or are planning in the near future:
- Local Fairs – this could include county/farm type fairs as well as cultural and art fairs.
- Camping – we do tent camping, making things quite inexpensive. Often tents can be borrowed from friends or family if you don’t have one.
- Zoo – check around your area for smaller, local zoos in addition to the larger, more well-known ones. The Baltimore Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, and National Zoo in Washington DC are all accessible to us, but we also find just as much enjoyment in the smaller area zoos such as ZooAmerica and Lake Tobias Wildlife Park.
- Theatre – depending on your child, they may enjoy high school and university programs, plays and concerts.
- Nature Center – many state or national parks have nature centers geared toward children. Often these nature centers also have themed days with hands-on experiences for children.
- Local Attractions – some of these might be open to the general public and some might not be. Our local veterinary clinic holds kid-oriented Saturday programs once a month where kids can experience something animal related. We have gotten to know a bird rehabilitator who specializes in birds of prey. We visit her facility routinely to get a look at and help care for birds that many people don’t get to see up close and personal. In the photo below, since N loves vehicles and machinery, we took her to an event to watch a large apple be placed on top of a building. Start asking around about child-friendly experiences. You might be surprised at what you discover.
- Aquarium – this is a fantastic experience for children and adults alike. Depending on your child’s tolerance level for stimulation, I would suggest going on a weekday shortly after school starts. You’ll miss both the summer rush and the school field trips.
- Pet Store – what’s not to love! It’s a mini zoo that’s completely free! (As long as you don’t walk out with a new pet!)
I realize that not all of these experiences are exactly inexpensive. For us, visiting the zoo was the most expensive outing. There are, however, options for lessening the cost of some of the above ideas if you are willing to be flexible or have the time to do your research. Often, tickets to zoos, local attractions, theaters, and fairs can be purchased for a discounted price using memberships or subscriptions you already hold. We’ve used AAA membership and our grocery store bonus card to get discounted tickets to our local fairs and attractions, as well as to a zoo and nearby aquarium. Some experiences offer specials if you subscribe to their Facebook page. My favorite way to make many of these affordable, however, is to find out when a particular venue is offering a family day. We have visited a zoo, local attraction, and an aquarium, all for no cost, using this option. The downside to this money-saving method, though, is that these days are often offered only in the off-season (i.e. winter), sometimes making the weather challenging, and can be very crowded as many other families take advantage of the cost savings as well.
One more option to consider for making experiences affordable is to simply ask for them to be given as gifts. We have family members that genuinely enjoy giving gifts but, given our minimalist lifestyle, are somewhat limited in this. Providing a list of experiences they can purchase tickets for or memberships to, and even join us as they are experienced, is a nice compromise for all.
What other money-saving tips do you have for experiences? Are there other experiences your children enjoy that you find easy on the budget? I’d love to hear about them!