I probably should have started this series at the start of the summer, but I guess it’s not too late to do it now. We are, after all, only halfway through summer. I would assume that if you have kids then you, like me, are perpetually looking for ways to keep them entertained without breaking the bank. Over the next few blog posts, I will share some of the thrifty ways I have come up with to keep my kids entertained either for free or on a dime. I should warn you that my kids are three and five years of age, so it is quite a bit easier to keep them entertained with all the ‘free stuff’. Heck, if I keep handing my three-year-old 99 cent bottles of bubble soap to dump on the driveway, he’ll be busy all day. I do appreciate that my ten- and thirteen-year-old nieces and ten-year-old nephew are exponentially more expensive to entertain, but I feel that that hidden gem- the local library can satisfy the whole family for that wonderful little price tag of FREE!
Now obviously when we think of the library we think of books, that’s a given. These in and of themselves can appeal to the entire family. The library will have everything from board books for baby to ‘learning to read’ books for your kindergartener to teen and tween drama series to all sorts of fiction and non-fiction books to appeal to mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. Don’t have time to ‘sit down’ and read a book? Did you know most libraries have an extensive collection of books on tape? I have ‘read’ more books on tape during road trips and my morning commute to work than I think I have read in print.
Alright, so there’s books. Whoop de doo. What else? Well, I’m glad you asked. For the little littles most libraries have a play area. Some of my favorites in my neck of the woods include the Elgin Library which boasts a large indoor wooden playground, a playhouse, and a Lego wall (which draws the eight and up crowd too). Saint Charles library was recently renovated and is set to re-open sometime soon in July here. Before it was closed for renovation it sported a giant circus themed train car which was converted into a food truck later, a fish tank, an entire section of holiday themed kids’ books, a play kitchen, and an impressive ‘Melissa and Doug’ four story doll house. There was also a puzzle table, an infant sensory area, a Lego table with hundreds of different Lego sets, and a computer and I-pad area. Glenside library had a really fun magnet tiles and light table area, a Lego wall, and a Velcro felt wall which was super fun and super creative. My daughter loved sticking various foam and felt blocks and shapes to the wall to make things like snow men or cars or houses or just plain old abstract toddler art. They also had a magnetic gear wall, and, in the spring, they had tadpoles and baby chicks on display.
Did I mention story time too? Most libraries have a free story time that is ‘drop in’ (just show up and enjoy) and appeals to kids from infant to about six years old. Again, the story times will vary, but I have seen a lot of creativity demonstrated from bubble machines to old school overhead projector reading rainbow films to interactive music activities to art projects that work into the theme of that day’s story. I know a lot of libraries are also offering ‘Sensory’ friendly stories for our buddies who can’t handle the overload of music, shouting, and bubbles.
For the older kids there’s internet access and video game rentals. There’s ‘teen night’ where the kids get together and hang out at the library and play video games and talk. Basically, it’s a safe hang out place for them. Most libraries will also offer classes that appeal to older kids and teens like video gaming and coding. There’s also classes for us old timers too on investments and technology. A word of warning- some of these classes cost an extra fee and most of them require pre-registration so make sure you read the fine print in your library mailer.
Looking for something to do on family night? Most libraries will also lend out puzzles and board games in addition to video games and video game systems. They also lend out DVD’s!!! I know it’s ‘Block Buster Video’ old school in the age of Redbox, Netflix, amazon prime video, Hulu, etc. but it’s free! No hidden ‘Disney plus, plus an access fee’ deals. No ‘free when you sign up with a thirty-day trial’ strings attached. As long as you aren’t going to die if you don’t see it the minute it comes out the library is THE free video rental go to place.
So what are you waiting for?! Grab the kids and head out to your local library! It’s totally free! Your tax dollars are funding your access to your library so you will get your library card immediately with proof of residency- just stop by the circulation desk and they will hook you up. Also, don’t feel that you can’t head out and visit another library. You don’t have to prove residency to participate in story time or access play areas in ANY library. So if you have thoroughly explored your local library, then take a day trip to another town’s library and see what’s new!