Does it seem that everything costs money?… That there is nothing fun to do as a family that won’t require a bank loan? If your entertainment budget is low ( or non-existant) , it can be really disheartening! But fear not, here is a fool-proof list of events and places for you to enjoy, at little or no cost, no matter where you live!
Before you begin researching these ideas, make or purchase 3 calendars: weekly, monthly and year-at-a glance. On your weekly and monthly calendar, write in all on-going activities: school schedules (days off) work schedule, practices and events, lessons, club meetings, etc. Then add individual activities: doctor/dentist appointments, school events, and meetings.
Then choose the places that interest you. Most places have a website and a calendar of events. Pick up or print out a calendar of events. If there is a general website with individual state listing, I’ve included it. You can go to your city or county Chamber of Commerce website and print out a compilation of community activities, also.
When you visit in person or online, ask to receive their newsletter or e-mail alerts. Check for any activities that require registration. On your year-at-a glance, add events which interest you. Even if you are unsure about the event, add it so that you will know in advance and be able to choose to participate or register on time if necessary. About a week before the next month, begin adding events to the monthly and weekly calendar.
4H – This group offers many animal demonstrations: sheep shearing, milking a cow, horsemanship, and much more. Check out their annual fair! www.fourhcouncil.edu
ART MUSEUMS – Along with their lovely collections, many offer activities and classes for children. Ask a docent for assistance; they love to share the collections and their wisdom.
ARTS COUNCILS – You can find theater workshops and productions, musical events, art gallery exhibitions, dance presentations in all different kinds of styles!
BOOKSTORES – These have a wealth of resources: speakers, book discussions, contests, poetry readings, reading programs, and classes. We like Barnes and Noble @ www.barnesandnoble.com
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE – in your city or any nearby. They compile lists of events, festivals and places to visit. Ours hosts a sand-castle building contest (as much fun to watch as to enter!) street dances and a lovely downtown carnival.! Locate any Chamber of Commerce here: www.chamberofcommerce.com/chamberofcommerce/index.cfm?
CHILDREN’S PARADES-According to the season, many communities hold smaller parades in which families or children are invited to present entries based on a particular theme. We’ve entered these with simple little homemade floats using bikes and wagons.
CHILDREN’S MUSEUMS- These are great activity places with hands-on, interactive stuff galore! Bubbles, magnets, dress-up, sand, clay, mirrors, legoes, climbing walls, instruments… the choices are literally endless!
CHURCHES-Many Catholic churches sponsor a community picnic or festival annually. Other churches have picnics, carnival, and festivals as well. And almost every church runs a Vacation Bible School open to the community in the summer. They are free or low-cost.
COFFEE SHOPPES AND BISTROS – In our small town, about 6 restaurants offer live music and open mike nights, where amateurs can play and sing. They also host poetry readings and art exhibits.
CONCERTS IN LOCAL PARKS-these are generally free and feature local artists playing Big Band, Blues, country-western, jazz, alternative, pop, symphony…you name it and you can probably hear it at some time in our town
COUNTY PARKS – You may have to pay for a county park sticker, but they are valid all year and well worth the small investment. Parks may offer trails, historical sites, nature centers, picnic areas with grills, playgrounds, beaches, and planned activities. Use www.statelocalgov.net to search.
CRAFT SHOPS AND FAIRS -We’ve watched demonstrations, obtained free instructions for at-home crafts, and found inexpensive classes. Search out ceramic painting and firing shops, bead boutiques, and any medium you are interested in!
COLLEGES-The opportunities here are endless! Check your phone book or on-line for the different departments or the community activities director. Theater, dance, music, historical re-enactments, summer classes, science festivals, await you! www.colleges.com is an online search engine for college websites.
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: This is a great source for outdoor events, classes, etc. You can google your state DNR or use : www.statelocalgov.net. You can click on your state and find gobs of links to agencies.
DOWNTOWN MERCHANTS ASSOCIATIONS-These guys keep us busy with carnival discount coupons, trick-or-treating, holiday light displays, sidewalk sales, and lots of neat stuff!
ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS-The Parent Organizations often offer school carnivals, book fairs, and rummage sales, as fund-raisers.
ELKS, LIONS, or KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS LODGES – These host a large variety of community events. www.elks.org , www.lionsclub.org , www.kofc.org
ETHNIC CLUBS (SONS OF NORWAY, ITALY, POLISH FALCON HALL) – Depending on the history of your area and ethnic groups present, you might find a real variety of fun stuff! Latino Fiestas, German Oktoberfest, Polish Polka Days… We have visited FESTIVAL in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several city blocks are closed off and stages set up for a huge variety of music, art, dance and ethnic food booths line the streets! (I can still taste the Lebanese Shwarmas, the Greek Souvlaki, …yum!) www.firstgov.gov
FARMERS’ MARKETS- These are a learning experience in themselves: good food, interesting and fun! The farmers generally love to answer questions. Many are located near parks or other areas of interest. Pack a picnic lunch! www.usda.gov is a good first step to locating these.
FLEA MARKETS ANTIQUE SHOPS: They are a great place to learn new things!
FINE ARTS GROUPS: most all drama, music, art, and dance venues have their own organizations and website. You can find the different kinds that you like as well (opera, hard rock, ballet, etc.)
FIRE AND POLICE STATIONS: These offer field trips, open houses and fire truck rides or a parade at local community festivals or in the first week of October which is Fire Prevention Week. The Police may host open houses, safety and screening, bicycle checks, and classes in public safety. Use the www.statelocalgov.net site to get started.
GENEALOGICAL SOCIETIES: They offer information on tracing your family history and often bring in speakers and re-enactors to talk about the history of your area. You can also have free internet access. Go to http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ for the national group.
GARDEN CLUBS, BOTANICAL SOCIETIES OR NURSERIES: These offer classes and free tours(especially at Christmas). www.gardenclub.org , www.gcamerica.org
GROCERY STORES: our local store has holiday activities each year: trick-or-treating in the store, cupcake decorating at Christmas, give-aways…
GYMNASIUMS AND HEALTH/FITNESS CLUBS: besides classes, you may find community activities as well.
HISTORICAL MUSEUMS Local history is fascinating! They offer clubs, classes, presentations, educational resources…Visit www.historians.org Or google your state historical society.
HIGH SCHOOLS: check their choir, dance, art, theater for presentations and of course the schedule for all the sports events available. Use www.statelocalgov.net for the Education department of your state.
HOSPITALS AND MEDICAL GROUPS these offer a plethora of classes, clinics, field trips and ambulance tours geared to making children comfortable with their local hospital. Check out dentists and other medical specialties for any activities they may offer.
HOUSE TOURS: generally these are historic and may be seasonal
HUNTING AND FISHING CLUBS: Our local Sportsmen for Youth organization hosts a weekend of activities and demonstrations for children and teenagers, including fishing, archery, BB gun use, hatchets, knives and camping.
INDIAN AFFAIRS/TRIBAL COUNCILS- check out the native influence in your area and possible events and activities they may sponsor. You may be lucky enough to live in an area which hosts a tribal pow-wow! www.firstGov.gov (Click on ‘government to government’ and ‘for tribal councils’
JAYCEES: This group often hosts parade or carnival in your city. www.usjaycees.org
KITE AND TOY SHOPS: offer demonstrations and opportunities to try products.
LIBRARIES- a goldmine of activities for children! Not to mention reading programs during vacations! Libraries are generally the place that gets out information on upcoming cultural events. They also offer internet activities and computer instruction. You can often find your local genealogical society there as well. Thank your local librarian for all his or her work when you visit! Need to find one? Try www.local.com And type in ‘libraries’ and the location.
MALLS: to boost sales they often host demonstrations, shows or children’s activities in the main hall at individual retailers.
MARTIAL ARTS: you can watch matches and demonstrations.
MILITARY UNITS: these offer tours, vehicle and equipment demonstrations, climbing walls, and other interesting opportunities
MUSEUMS: Explore your local museums, then check out www.museumspot.com for an enormous online directory of all kinds of museums!
NATURE CENTERS: Here’s fantastic source for hiking, exploring, tours, classes, exhibits galore! These are based on local resources. We have studied forests, dunes, frogs, butterflies, habitats, and more than I can recall!!
NEWSPAPERS: you never know what your local newspaper is offering next, but it’s generally family-friendly and it’s always great! They have contests, special events, sponsor activities…theirs’ is a place to watch!
ORCHARDS, FARMS AND WINERIES: tours, samples, activities are often available.
PLANETARIUMS AND OBSERVATORIES: enjoy sky viewing, guided tours, and loads of free information. If you can’t find a nearby observatory, contact a local astronomy club. http://www.hawastsoc.org/Pltium.html
PLAYGROUNDS: in our community there are 8 public playgrounds. Some have grills, a pavilion, rest facilities, drinking fountains, and ball fields. These don’t include the many school playgrounds, which are free to use when school is not in session.
PUBLIC POOLS: some communities provide pools for local residents.
QUILTING, CHINA PAINTING, and other crafting guilds will often host seasonal demonstrations or art fairs.
RADIO AND TELEVISION STATIONS-Wow! Here is source for free fun stuff! Contests, free concerts, tours, educational incentives for kids…Have fun researching your local opportunities!
RECREATION DEPARTMENTS inexpensive classes, programs to enjoy.
SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES AND GROUPS: look for geology, cave exploration (called ‘spelunking’) mountain climbing, marine and forestry groups or archeological digs.
SCOUTING: you don’t need to join to find activities which local troops are sponsoring. www.boyscouts.com(Find your local council) www.girlscouts.org
STATE PARKS-Here is the place for interactive natural or historical day programs for children and adults. You will pay a site fee, but your car sticker is accepted at any park in your state. You can camp, sail, hike, canoe, swim and picnic as well!
SEASONAL ACTIVITIES: Local banks and Realtors in our community host a summer kids fun day, an Easter Egg Hunt, and downtown merchants trick-or-treating.
SPORTS CLUBS: You have many options here lessons, demonstrations, games and clinics. Besides the ball games, check out swimming, archery, lacrosse, polo…the list is endless!
TOURS/TRAVEL: Check for narrated bus tours of the city; airplane, train, boat rides.
UNION LOCALS: these sometimes sponsor a Labor Day parade and /or picnic with kids activities. The United Auto Workers and Teamsters are the largest generally, but there are other active worker unions as well. They may offer a Christmas activity as well. www.unions.org
VEHICLE CLUBS: These host classic car shows, boat parades, hill climbs, and races.
WEAVERS, SPINNERS, AND OTHER HERITAGE ARTISAN GROUPS: as with the quilting guilds, these may be regional and most historical museums have contact with groups.
EXTRAMURAL HOBBY CLUBS: check out your local hobby stores for activities sponsored by MILITARY, RAILROAD, RARE BOOK (called ‘incunablae’) COIN (called ‘numismatics’) AND STAMP (called ‘philatelics’) COLLECTORS . Enthusiasts love to share their hobbies.
YMCA-This association often sponsors family community events, classes, day camps, winter sports such as a sledding hill or ice-skating rink. www.ymca.net
ZOOS , ANIMAL SHELTERS, AND PET STORES-You can often enjoy free activities or events here. Many zoos have free or reduced-price community days. We’ve enjoyed field trips, classes, and animal demonstrations. For local zoos visit www.aza.org
Here are at least 60 avenues to pursue if you need some ideas for fun, learning, exercise, and new experiences! Our family has tried just about all of ’em! We have spent very little, and taken with us wonderful memories! Our thanks to our beloved city-Grand Haven, in beautiful Ottawa County and the grand state of Michigan!