All right, so we’ve taken a look at free, minimal, and low cost gym and exercise options. We’ve also explored all that our local library has to offer us for free. But Marie, the summer is only half way over and we’re out of things to do! What now? Fear not, for I have compiled a list of some of my other fabulous and free ways to entertain my children. As Covid virus is still not getting the hint that we would like it to crawl away and implode already, I ask you to keep in mind that I am currently only embracing outdoor options where it is possible to social distance. Also keep in mind that I am primarily appealing to the zero to seven age range here so my apologies to parents of the older kiddos, but a lot of these ideas may not be totally appealing to them. So, without further introduction, here is my fabulous and free list of kids entertainment ideas.
First fabulous and free idea: book boxes. I don’t know if you’ve seen these little gems in your neck of the woods, but they have become an epidemic in the neighborhoods around me since, well, the start of the epidemic. I don’t know that there is a list of free mini library boxes published anywhere, but try going on a walk through a neighborhood (it doesn’t have to be yours) and I bet you will see at least one little wooden ‘house’ on a pole filled with books. This is your free little lending library…on a stick. Don’t be shy, most of them are nicely decorated and very inviting with little paved paths and flowers leading up to them. Go ahead and open the door and inside you will find a ‘potluck’ of books ranging in various topics and appealing to all different age groups from board books for babies to early reader chapter books to summer reading novels for adults. It’s kind of fun because you never know what you will find in there. My kids have found two of their favorite books in our local box: Billie and the Mini Monsters by Zanna Davidson and The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow by Andy Griffiths. Definitely two titles that we would never have found any other way. You can take as many books home as you want, read them, savor them, keep them, or if you are done with them- bring them back to the book box and exchange them for some different fun books. Got some books you aren’t going to read anymore? Drop them off at the book box for someone else to enjoy.
Next fabulous idea: take a walk. I know this sounds like a no brainer, but I honestly forget about this one all the time. A family walk is a great way to get some exercise and explore together. Boring? Then give your walk a theme! We’ve gone on ‘rainy day walks’ with our umbrellas, rain coats, and rain boots (pending no lightening of course). We hunt for toads and worms, splash in puddles, watch the water run through the drainage areas and down to the river. We find ducks, geese, turtles, and one time even a hawk sheltering under a pine tree. We’ve gone on night time walks where we arm each kiddo with a flashlight and those light up gym shoes so we can find them in the dark and we look for constellations, shooting stars, lightening bugs, owls. Sometimes we’ll dress up in glow sticks and glow bracelets. In the fall we take a walk and collect colorful leaves and acorns to take home and make into artwork. We’ve also gone on holiday themed walks to check out our neighbor’s decorations. In our neighborhood the park district puts on a haunted house decorating contest so we pack up some hot apple cider and check out all the Halloween decorations. For Christmas we switch over to hot chocolate and snow pants and go out after dark to see all the light displays.
Fabulous idea number three: parks, playgrounds, and splash pads. Again, I don’t know how your neck of the woods is, but we are blessed with a plethora of playgrounds, forest preserves, and even a splash pad within walking distance. All of these places are FREE and are open basically from sun up to sun down, no reservation required! I remember back when I was a kid playgrounds were basically a couple of swings and a giant death defying metal slide that made you glad that tetanus shots were mandatory. That is NOT how parks are anymore. Our local parks boast a pirate ship, a white water raft swing, a zipline, a two story merry go round, a four wheeler on a spring, a NASA rocket ship complete with giant rubberized planets that the kids can run up and down, a real live working windmill, a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired mansion complete with Japanese garden, a nature center with an outdoor play area made entirely of rocks and tree trunks, and frisbee golf course. Too hot for the park? Cool off in the free splash pad- fun for toddlers who can sit in the sprinkler and play in the puddles and fun for the older kids who like to paste each other in the head with the water sprayer cannons and run through the freezing cold water tunnel. For the older kids each park also has a tennis court, soccer field, and basketball court. Bring your basketball, tennis racket, soccer ball, or frisbee. Can’t find a park in your neighborhood? Your local park district or village website will have a list of them, complete with Google map directions. Don’t like the parks in your neighborhood? Take a field trip and check out the parks in another neighborhood.
My final fabulous and free idea: the park district. If you haven’t thoroughly checked out your local park district, then do so this summer! Each park district will publish an activity guide or have activities listed online. A lot of the activities will require pre-registration or a small fee to cover materiel costs, but we have found a lot of ‘just show up and enjoy the free stuff’ options too. Our park district does a ‘big trucks’ show every fall. As the name implies they park a bunch of big trucks- fire trucks, construction trucks, ambulances, fleet vehicles in a parking lot and the kids are allowed to enjoy and explore them. Our park district also runs a historical farm and they hold free seasonal events there like ‘Springtime on the Farm’ or our favorite the ‘Fall Festival on the Farm’. The kids get to explore the animals and watch demonstrations like how to shoe a horse, beekeeping, how they used to do laundry or shuck corn in the settler days. There’s usually a free craft like pumpkin painting or decorating your own flower pot to take home as well. For adults and older kids all summer long our park district puts on ‘concerts in the park’. On a predetermined day at a set time a cover band plays a totally free outdoor concert in the park at the center of town. Be on the lookout for free movies in the park too- all summer long most communities will project an oldie, but goodie movie in a park or even at the pool. Bring your blanket or camp chairs, your popcorn, and some bug spray and enjoy a free movie with your whole community!
So, as always, with these thoughts in mind, have fun exploring your neck of the woods! Enjoy all the fabulous and free things your community has to offer!