Fun, Free or Cheap Family Activies

“I’m bored.”
“There’s nothing to do.”

Next summer, shut ’em down before they even get started. Sure sitting in a dark, cool movie theater on a hot summer day is always a welcome relief. But you can’t do that everyday and it doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to bond with your kids. The area around Omaha offers plenty to do for all tastes.

The city of Omaha offers free concerts a couple of times a summer at Memorial Park. The crowds are big and traffic gets snarled up, but it’s free and you usually get to watch three bands for nothing. On Thursdays, you can join the a slightly smaller crowd for Jazz On The Green at the Joslyn Art Museum. For both of these, you can stake out a blanket to claim your spot several hours before the concert starts. Bring you own food, drinks and lawn chairs and settle in.

Both Rockbrook Village and Village Pointe offer free concerts on the weekends. Performers are usually local talent. You will get a wide variety of musical genres from classic rock to Top 40 to jazz. Bring along lawn chairs. Village Pointe also sets up an adults only area where you can get a cold beer.

For several weekends in June and July, you can enjoy plays by William Shakespeare at Shakespeare on the Green. Two different plays are performed every summer, generally a comedy and a tragedy. The tragedies might be a little heavy for kids but the comedies can easily be enjoyed by all ages. The key to helping the kids enjoy it is to make sure they understand ahead of time what the play is about, the names of the lead characters and a general idea of what’s going to happen. Talent is brought in from all over the country so you are seeing some top-notch performances. Before the play starts, you’ll be entertained by jugglers and minstrel singers. Again, you’ll want to arrive early to stake out a good spot to spread out your blanket and bring along your own eats and drinks. This year Panera Bread also had a stand set up so you could buy refreshments there. A $5 donation is requested, but not mandatory.

There are a lot of theaters in the Omaha area. Admission to the plays isn’t usually free, but they can all use volunteers to help with the productions. Give one of them a call and give your kids a chance to check out the inner workings of a theater. They might even decide to try out for a part sometime.

Learning Fun:
It may sound obvious, but don’t overlook the public library system. There is a summer reading program for children with prizes for reading. While you’re there, check out a couple of books for yourself. The libraries often host free events and story times as well. You can also sit in on a story time at The Bookworm (Countryside Village) and Borders (132nd & Maple).

DeSoto Refuge is less than an hour away. You can enjoy a picnic lunch, take a hike, see animals in their natural habitat. Be sure to take in the Visitor’s Center. You can get a terrific view of migrating birds making a stopover at the Missouri River or tour through the relics of the steamboat “The Bertrand.” Admission is just $3 a car.

The Mormon Trail Center and Pioneer Cemetery offers free tours and a terrific glimpse into pioneer travels.

Take a trip into Lincoln and enjoy Pioneers Park Nature Center for free (you’ll get an upclose view of plains animals, including buffalo). While you’re in town, tour the Museum of Nebraska History (15th & P Streets) for a suggested donation of $2 and the State Capitol for free.

The Gerald Ford Birthplace (32nd & Woolworth Aves) is free to visit. Although the actual house President Ford was born in burned down, the site includes a replica and garden. Free tours are also available at Offutt Air Force Base; to arrange one, call the public affairs office. There is also no fee to visit the John Sautter Farmhouse in Papillion.

The Great Outdoors
Admission to any of the areas state parks is less than $5 per day and they offer miles of hiking trails, scenic towers, and plant life. You can even get right down to the Platte River at Two Rivers State Park.. Grab a tent and spend the night around a campfire. Get a group of families together for a campout and really have a great weekend.

Heartland of America Park is a short walk from the Old Market. You’ll get cascading water, a lake, an 300 foot lighted fountain, a view of the Missouri River (if you walk around to the east side of the park) and, during warm weather months, 25 cent rides on the General Marion Tour Boat. Free concerts are also offered occasionally.

The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery and Garden of the Zodiac are all free to tour and located in/near the Old Market. All three offer a chance to view modern and contemporary artworks. Kids often find contemporary works more interesting than older styles.

John Doe sculptures are located all over Omaha. Find a map and take a tour for free.

College level sporting events and the Omaha Royals (with the exception of Husker football) are all relatively inexpensive. But if you’re just in the mood for a game and less concerned with the skill level of the players and more concerned with an opportunity to spend time with your kids, consider taking in a high school level event. You’ll get to seem some good baseball for a much lower cost and be able to get close enough to see the action. Kids’ attention span is a lot longer if they are siting closer. Pick your local high school and give your kids the chance to cheer for their future school.

Don’t underestimate the capacity for fun in your own home, either. Have the kids plan a meal and prepare it – -believe it or not, they will have a blast. Get a scientific experiment book and try a few. Try a new craft. Bring out old family pictures and talk about the people in them; kids love to hear stories about your and their grandparents when they were younger.

The key to having fun on the cheap with your friends is to make the time for it. Plan ahead and read the Omaha World-Herald for complete listings of things that are coming up. Spend a little time and little or no money and create memories that will last a lifetime.

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