Summer is nearly here, but summer break isn't what it used to be.
Plenty of kids will spend long days at the pool, beach or around the neighborhood, threatening the "I'm bored" refrain. For others, summer break means early morning wake-ups to get to camps or grandma's or the babysitter's house. And then there are all those year-round kids at school.
I've put together a little summer guide with all of those kids and families in mind. It pulls together some of Go Ask Mom's more popular resources and highlights special happenings at the region's museums and elsewhere.
1. Free and cheap movies: We've compiled a big list of movie deals at local theaters and other venues, which offer free or very cheap movies all summer and, in some cases, year round. Many movie theaters have special summer series for kids on weekday mornings. Screenings are typically around 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and feature G or PG-rated movies from the last few years. Tickets are often free or just a buck or two. There often are deals for drinks and popcorn. It's a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. But local community centers, the N.C. Museum of Art and libraries also offer free movies. And, for working parents and kids at camp, they are not all on weekday mornings. Check our Free and Cheap Movie Database for the details.
2. Public pools: We have a bevy of private and neighborhood pools in our region, but for those of us without a pool membership, there are some great public pools where you can cool off. We have them all listed in our public pools database. New for this summer season: Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center in east Raleigh. The complex with a three-story water slide, vortex and play area for tots will be busy this season. Get there early to beat the crowds.
3. Summer reading programs at local libraries and bookstores: Research has shown that kids lose up to one month of instruction during the summer ... commonly called the "summer slide." But reading all summer can help kids retain the knowledge they picked up in the previous school year. Libraries and some stores are here to help keep those noses in books with special activities, prizes and giveaways. Many libraries even have programs for us adults. See my earlier post with details about summer reading programs across the region.
4. Check out the region's family destinations. I've written about nearly 60 family destinations across the region and state in the last few years. They include historic sites, museum exhibits, stores, zoos and more. And it grows nearly every week. Go through our list with your kids and pick a handful that you want to check out this summer and make your plans now.
5. Parks and playgrounds: When I'm not reviewing a local destination, I'm writing about a park or playground in the area. Our parks and playgrounds database is up to 72, so far, and growing. There are so many great places for picnics and general running around (which is key to my sanity during any kind of school break). I know it gets hot here in the summer, but on the weeks when my kids aren't at camp, we'll head out to a playground as early as we can. I've been known to pack a picnic breakfast. By 9:30 a.m., my kids have played outside for a couple of hours and are ready for one of those free movies.
6. Play outside: We have had two big outdoor play areas open up in the region in the last year. Three Bears Acres in northern Wake County will start up its summer hours on June 13. It will be open from June 20 to Aug. 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays. And Go Play Outside Now in Garner is generally open from dawn to dusk seven days a week. Both offer fun options for kid and parents ... oh, and giant slides. I featured Three Bears Acres earlier this year. I'll have more on Go Play Outside Now soon (it's a lot of fun!).
7. Museums: We are very lucky to have some great museums around here. Most have something new for the summer season that families will enjoy. The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences has opened Dinosaurs in Motion, a wonderful exhibit featuring 14 life-sized metal dinosaur sculptures. See my earlier post for details, including a caution that it is not recommended for kids under 5 because of the sound and lighting effects (disclosure: Go Ask Mom is a sponsor).
Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh just reopened its popular Around Town exhibit with a new farm themed area and other big upgrades. They include a spot where Marbles is testing exhibits for a new kindergarten readiness space that will open later this year. And it updated its Power2Play exhibit with the "workout zone" in the last year. In July, Marbles is scheduled to open a new restaurant - Pogo. And, this summer, Marbles will be open from 9 a.m. to noon, Mondays, for visitors, but no school groups allowed.
On June 15, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham will open Blast Off!, a new exhibit where kids can learn more about aerospace and design and create their own flying objects. I'll have more about that next Friday.
The N.C. Museum of Art's Saturday series for grade schoolers and their adults continues this summer, along with the start of a summer movie series for kids on Wednesday afternoon (see that free and cheap movie database for more).
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is open for its summer hours with shows, exhibits and demonstrations. Kidzu Children's Museum, which is getting ready for a move to University Mall, is open at its space in University Square on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill all summer. The N.C. Museum of History's Art in Clay exhibit includes a hands-on area where kids can create their own designs, learn how pottery is made, and more.
And the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University has free summer make and takes for all ages on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings starting June 18.
8. Free bowling: Some bowling alleys offer free bowling to kids during the summer months. Click here for information about a program that offers free bowling at alleys in Raleigh, Clayton, Sanford, Wilson and Fayetteville, among other places. Buffaloe Lanes has a summer program for kids. Click here for information about free summer programs at AMF alleys.
9. Speaking of free ... our Kids Eat Free database lists dozens of local restaurants with deals. While many are at dinner time, others are offered all day. And, in some cases, the restaurants pull out special activities for kids and families.
10. Vacation Bible School: Churches are making plans for their Vacation Bible School and summer camp programs. Many are free or very inexpensive and open to the public. In most cases, you will need to pre-register, so be sure to check with the church. See my earlier post with information about nearly 40 VBS programs around the Triangle (be sure to check the post's comments too).
11. Go inside: We have some great indoor play spaces in the region, from bounce house warehouses to a trampoline stadium. Check our indoor playgrounds and inflatables resource page for more. If you have preschoolers and younger and are looking for something low key, visit the Stay & Play Snack Cafe, opened by a Durham mom this year. It offers a place for young children to play while parents sip coffee, chat with other adults or get some work done. You can do it all while still keeping an eye on your child.
12. Take them out to a ball game: It's summer and that means baseball. The Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats play all summer. Each have special promotions throughout each week offering deals or special activities. Click here for the Bulls and here for the Mudcats. The Carolina Railhawks soccer team's season winds down in a month, but there are a few games left in June too.
13. Send them to camp: If it's the middle of July and you've realized that maybe you should have signed up those kids for one or two more camps, never fear, some camp will have spaces open. Check our camp database for ideas.
14. Just be: I'll include this, as I did in last year's guide, in part, because I need to remind myself that it's good to have lots of summer days of doing absolutely nothing. I'm looking forward to evenings catching fireflies, ice cream cone treats and just having my girls around more than usual. They'll probably say they are bored at some point, but that's good for them. It forces them to be creative ... at least that's what the parenting experts say and I tend to agree.
By the end of the summer, I'm sure we'll all be ready for school to start again. For now, I'm excited to see what this summer holds.
And keep your eye on Go Ask Mom for more information about summer fun. We'll be here all summer.