Summer vacation has started for some and is about to start for kids in public schools across the region.
Summer looks different for all of us. Some might get to spend good chunks at the beach. Some look forward to long days at the pool. Some are in year-round schools so don't have months to fill. Others juggle work schedules with a combination of camps and playdates. And for many, summer isn't much different from the rest of the year except the kids go to camp or grandma's or the babysitter's when mom and dad head to work.
With everybody in mind, I present to you our 2014 Summer Fun Guide. You'll find weekend, weekday and everyday activities, often free or very cheap, to pass the time and avoid a few of those refrains of "there's nothing to do." Because, around here, there's plenty to do!
Free and cheap family movies: Local movie theaters, museums and other venues offer free and cheap movies in the summer and, in some cases, all year long. Weekday summer movie series at theaters begin around the week of June 16. While many of the options are offered on weekday mornings, you'll find others offered on evenings and weekends. Check our free and cheap movie database for details.
Public pools: The temperatures are already hot, but local parks offer an inexpensive way to cool down. Outdoor public pools are open for the summer, including the renovated Holding Park Pool in Wake Forest. And indoor pools, including the very popular Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center in Raleigh, are open all year. Some parks also have spraygrounds, which dump and spray water on you. It's hard to beat on a 90-plus degree day. Check our public pools database for a pool or sprayground near you.
Summer reading programs: Libraries are a great place to visit and park it for some cool, quiet summer activities. It's hard to overstate just how many free activities that libraries offer for all ages around here - from storytimes and book clubs to crafts and educational programs. Among the summer offerings are summer reading programs, which encourage kids to keep reading all summer long. Summer reading also can prevent the learning loss that researchers say happens when kids don't pick up a few books each summer. It doesn't take much for kids to stay on track. Check our summer reading program post for details about local programs.
Try a new summer treat: I spent last summer finding yummy places for treats. From fresh peaches and you-pick blueberries to homemade ice cream and donuts, the Summer Treat series covers most sweet teeth. So if you're stuck visiting the same old ice cream shop each summer, take the opportunity to try a new one. Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center
Travel to the rainforest: OK. I know this one wouldn't be cheap if you were actually going to the rainforest. But Raleigh's N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences has Rainforest Adventure, an exhibit that's all about the rainforest. Visitors walk through a maze and must answer questions correctly to move forward. Kids will love the monkey bars, spider web to climb, short zip line and other active pieces as they walk through. Once you're done, spend some time in the classroom where you'll find books, puzzles, games, microscopes and other pieces to add to your new knowledge about the rainforest. Tickets to Rainforest Adventure are $7 for adults, $5 for kids ages 3 to 12 and free for museum members.
Explore the power grid: Not the real power grid, but the pretend one at Marbles Kids Museum. Kid Grid opened in June thanks to a $1 million grant from ABB. This active exhibit requires kids to move power pucks around from the generation station to the power center to the smart home. They'll love the indoor climbing piece, electric car that needs to be plugged in and all of the buttons and levers to push. It's free with admission to Marbles, which is $5 per person.
Become a scientist: Of course, Into the Mist will be the popular place to cool off all summer at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. But you also can enjoy some indoor science experiments during extended hours at the museum's lab from June 15 to Aug. 23. The lab will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays and 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays. Kids can join the Super Scientist Club and get prizes for every five experiments they do. New themes will be explored each week such as zoology, food science and engineering. And on Wednesday afternoon Summer Science Shows, visitors can do things like cook with liquid nitrogen ice cream and watch glowing reactions of luminescence.
See children's art outside a book: Raul Colon is an award-winning illustrator for children's book and many of his pieces are on display in a special exhibit called Tall Tales and Huge Hearts: Raul Colon at the N.C. Museum of Art. Families can explore this free exhibit and then get cozy in the chairs in the middle of the exhibit where a table has some of the books featuring his art. The exhibit runs through July 27. And don't forget that the museum also hosts a Wednesday afternoon kids movie series featuring all kinds of films geared toward kids, including shorts, foreign films and more. We really enjoy this series, which will start in a couple of weeks, which gives kids a chance to take a look at films they probably wouldn't otherwise see.
Watch the stars: In Chapel Hill, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's summer schedule runs through Aug. 24. The center, which is open Tuesday through Sunday in the summer, features planetarium shows, including some with popular children's characters such as Jack and Annie from the Magic Tree House series and Big Bird and Elmo from Sesame Street. I also highly recommend the great free Science Live presentations for kids.
Plant, sprout and climb at Kidzu: Kidzu Children's Museum in Chapel Hill moved to University Mall this year for bigger digs before it makes its final move atop Wallace Plaza in downtown Chapel Hill in a few years. This summer, Kidzu will offer a special hands-on exhibit that focuses on how plants are grown, harvested and prepared for meals. This original Kidzu exhibit is combined with a traveling exhibit called "Magic Beans and Beanstalks," which includes a climbing wall. Admission is $5.50 for visitors older than 12 months.
Make and take some art: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University will offer regular free make and takes from June 17 to Aug. 14 for all ages. They are 10 a.m .to noon, Tuesdays, and 5 p.m to 7 p.m., Thursdays. These are fun, hands-on activities that often are related to the Durham museum's exhibits. Children 15 and under are always free at Nasher.
Go wild: At the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro about 90 minutes from the Triangle, the new KidZone was as popular as the animals with my four-year-old. Here kids can make masterpieces in a mud kitchen or wade through a pretend creek. There are opportunities for arts and crafts, animal encounters and more. And there's a maze with big fabricated stone rocks that looks a bit like Stonehenge. The zoo also has giant animatronic bugs as part of Bugs: An Epic Adventure. KidZone is free with admission. Get one of the zoo's Fun Packages to see bugs.
Vacation Bible School and church camps: Many churches in across the region host free or nearly free summer camps for kids. Some are offered weekday mornings. Others take place in the evenings. Check our list to find a program near you.
Go outside: We have 82 reviews of parks and playgrounds across the area in our database, which identifies parks with shady playgrounds. And we have some new playgrounds that have opened in the last year or so. They include: Knightdale Station Park, Millbrook Exchange Park in Raleigh, Apex Nature Park, Oakwood Park in Durham and Umstead Park in Chapel Hill. Also be sure to check out the summer programs for kids at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.
Bowl for free: Some alleys offer free bowling for kids. Click here for information about a program that offers free bowling at alleys in Raleigh, Clayton, Sanford, Roxboro, Wilson and Fayetteville, among other places. Buffaloe Lanes has a summer program for kids. AMF also offers deals.
Cool off inside: Head inside for some intense jumping time on inflatables or trampolines. Or, if you have young ones, just hang out at the Stay & Play Snack Cafe in Durham, which is a great spot for babies to preschoolers and their adults, who want to be able to enjoy some good coffee and a chat and watch their kids play with all of the toys.
Have fun on the farm: You can pick strawberries through mid-June or so and blueberries and blackberries after that. Check our fresh produce database for local you-pick farms. And Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville, which so many of us flock to in the fall for pumpkins, is open just about all year. Go for the giant slide, jumping pillow, train, moon bounce, farm animals and more. On Wednesdays, visitors get one free adult admission with the purchase of every child's admission.
Go to the ball game: Summer means baseball and the Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats are in full swing, so to speak. Home games often feature special promotions, giveaways and activities for kids. Click here for the Bulls' promotions. And here's the link for the Mudcats' events. The Carolina RailHawks start having regular home games on July 12 in Cary.
Check out a new storytime: Library storytimes are popular, but there are lots of other regular programs around here. A few new ones in the last year include the weekly storytimes at the N.C. Museum of History and Prairie Ridge Ecostation and the monthly program at The "teach me" Store, all in Raleigh.
Explore: Have you been to the Duke Lemur Center? Did you know Historic Stagville in Durham has an American Girl doll connection? Do you know how to order a butterbeer at Starbucks? Have you explored the outdoors at Go Play Outside Now in Garner or Three Bears Acres in northern Wake County? Did you know there's a place to play indoor mini golf in Cary? Check our posts about Triangle family destinations to get the answers to all of those questions.
Have a free lunch: Check our kids eat free database for some inexpensive family dining.
Send them to camp: Because sometimes that's the only answer. We have a database for that too.
Let them be bored! This post is all about having fun and avoiding the complaints of boredom. But let's all make a pact to just let our kids be bored. Let them just stretch out on the grass to discover the fireflies. Or hang on the couch, no TV or video games on, to just breathe. They might complain, but they'll survive and maybe even come up with something pretty terrific. If they don't stop complaining, just start listing chores around the house that they can take care of and see what happens.