City Life: 6 Ways to Make the Most of Free Activities for Children
Urban families — squeezed into tiny living spaces — don’t have the luxury of sending their children to play in the yard. Even so, kids need to get outside and run around. So how can you do that on the cheap?
You don’t want your kids to get cabin fever. But when you live in a city, you may not have a back yard for them to play in. Thankfully, there are some great ways to find fun, free activities for children, even in big cities:
1. Make Friends
Most cities offer a bunch of free events, including museum days, festivals, community plays, and outdoor movies. If you can find other parents to go with you, all the better.
Of course, making friends with other parents in a city isn’t easy. Caitlin Reyes, a mother in Minneapolis, says that she found friends through a church-based organization called Mothers of Preschoolers, or MOPS. Sarah Houser — a mother of four living in Pyeongtaek, South Korea — made connections using a Facebook group for parents.
You can also find friends through sites like Meetup.com or BigTent. Or just do it the old-fashioned way — introducing yourself to a friendly looking parent at the playground!
2. A Library Full of Possibilities
Libraries are growing beyond books and internet connections to become hubs of free cultural events.
Elizabeth Priestly — a mother of three in Chicago — says that, “With a Chicago Public Library card, residents can get free passes to museums, zoos, and gardens.”
Local libraries host many events for kids, such as storytelling sessions for toddlers. Older kids can enjoy Lego or game clubs, free crafts, comic and fantasy book clubs, and even coding camps.
Don’t just read the fliers at the library — talk to the librarians. They can tell you about free events going on all over the city.
3. Take Advantage of Your Memberships
Meggie Simmons, a mother of three in New York City, says that “buying an annual aquarium membership as opposed to paying for individual trips is a big money-saver.”
Amanda Kelly — a mother of four in Charlotte, North Carolina — took that a step further. “Reciprocal programs are a cheaper option if you take advantage of all the possibilities,” she says. “For example, the Association of Science & Technology Centers includes more than 300 centers nationwide, including zoos and aquariums that are free or discounted. The Association of Children’s Museums has a network of more than 150 museums across the U.S.”
Family memberships for the Association of Children’s Museums cost between $100 and $250 for a single year, depending on the institution you buy the pass from. The association’s museums are nonprofit centers that focus on play-based learning. It sounds fancy, but you’ll quickly find out that this translates to tons of toys, raucous play, and an excuse to get out of the house even in bad weather.
Most parents find value in purchasing family memberships. “I’m new to this mom business,” says Lisa Ofstedal, a mom in Minneapolis, “but we asked for a state parks pass for Christmas and have been getting a lot of mileage out of it!”
4. Know Your Neighborhood
Many parents think that children crave novel adventures, but most kids feel content visiting the same playground again and again.
Get to know your neighborhood. Find the best dog parks, basketball courts, and park benches in your area.
Neighborhood Facebook groups can keep you up-to-date on block parties and other events. Mommy Poppins, a kid-focused website, has a “100 Things to Do With Kids” feature for most cities. Select a few favorites from the list that are within walking distance of your house.
5. Plan Your Transit
Even when you’re going to free events, getting around in big cities isn’t cheap. So Brenton Leanhardt — a father of three in Raleigh, North Carolina — bought a cargo bike that allows him to transport his kids and their bikes.
Elizabeth Priestly, a Chicago mom, plans her trips ahead-of-time. “The only thing that’s not free is parking and food, so we pack a lunch and plan to walk a bit.”
With proper rain (or snow) gear and decent shoes, a family can walk or bike to a fun event. “Of course, you’ll need to pack a stroller for babies and toddlers who can’t walk very far on their own,” she says.
6. Pack a Snack
I once made the mistake of bringing my son and my nephew to a free zoo event without packing a lunch. I came back $15 lighter after buying overpriced bottled water and ice cream. Adults can manage a few hours without eating, but hungry and thirsty kids are bears. Coming prepared with snacks and water bottles can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.