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20 free and fun things to do with the kids this summer

Are the kids getting stir crazy already? Here are 20 free ideas that blend education and fun. Add these to your summer bucket list.

Splash pads and spray parks are a great way to keep cool. CONTRIBUTED

1. Splish splash

Hot summer days just scream for water play and there are many spray parks and splash pads where you can let the little ones play and cool off. RiverScape and Island MetroParks both have water play areas. Interactive water features can also be found in community parks throughout the Miami Valley including Dayton, Centerville, Oakwood, Kettering, Fairborn and Huber Heights. Even amidst The Greene’s many shops and restaurants, children splash and play in the Town Square fountain. 

>> Your guide to Dayton area spray parks

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Kids Bowl Free offers free bowling all summer. CONTRIBUTED

2. Kids Bowl Free

Take a break from the heat and hit the lanes. More than 1,200 bowling centers – located in all 50 states and every Canadian province – are participating in the program this summer. Registered participants receive two free games of bowling per day at their selected bowling center during the duration of the summer program (shoe rental is not included). For information or to register, visit www.kidsbowlfree.com

>> RELATED: How to get involved in Kids Bowl Free

The planets of Star Wars and Geek Jeopardy will be projected onto the 50-foot dome of the planetarium. (Provided by Boonshoft)

3. Wish upon a star

If the kids are night owls, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is the place to be as they offer free monthly astronomy programs. Weather permitting, there is also night sky viewing every Friday night. On clear nights, visitors can view the night sky through the 30-cm Dall-Kirkham telescope in the Apollo Observatory. The programs are guided by astronomy department staff members and volunteers from the Miami Valley Astronomical Society. For information: call 937-275-7431 or visit www.boonshoftmuseum.org.

>> 4 reasons moms love the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

4. Family Movie Nights

Family Movie Nights at The Greene or Austin Landing are perfect free summer fun.

THE GREENE: Movies will be shown at the Plum Street Park (near Funny Bone). For a list of days and times, visit www.thegreene.com. Don’t forget to bring your blankets. Up next: Coco on July 27th at 9:30 p.m.

AUSTIN LANDING: Watch a movie outside on the big screen at Austin Landing park. For a complete summer schedule, visit www.austinlanding.com. Don’t forget your lawn chairs or blankets. Dewey’s will sell pizza by the slice. Free popcorn provided by Cinepolis. Come early for trivia at 8 p.m.

Up next: Coco on July 21st at 9:15 p.m. and Despicable Me 3 on Aug. 7 at 9:15 p.m.

>> More than 30 things to do this summer at Austin Landing

>> 7 cheap, family-friendly summer movie programs

5. Kids Skate Free

Lace up your skates and take a spin or two or 10 around the rink free of charge in the Kids Skate Free program. Registered kids can enjoy a summer full of roller-skating to fun music with their friends and get in a good workout at the same time. Parents receive free weekly skating passes for all registered children in their household. For information or to register, visit http://kidsskatefree.com. Participating cities include Kettering and Huber Heights.

Trail rides are offered on weekends at Carriage Hill MetroPark Riding Center from June through October. CONTRIBUTED (Contributing Writer)

6. Step back in time

Learn about life in the 1880s at the Carriage Hill MetroPark Historical Farm. Enjoy daily demonstrations of farm activities and chores like butter making, woodstove cooking and gardening. Hours and exhibit times vary, visit www.metroparks.org for information.

7. Try a new playground

You have your backyard playset, your neighborhood park, your community park. But discover some of the Dayton area’s most amazing parks worth a visit to another neighborhood. A few highlights: Spicer Heights Park in Beavercreek has a gravity rail (a swing on a big circular track that gives you a zipline feel) and mom and baby swings. Also in Beavercreek, Owen’s Place is a sensory-friendly, accessible playground complete with a new treehouse village.

>> 6 hidden playgrounds to explore this summer

Dayton Metro Library employee Pam Sargent organizes books inside the Wilmington-Stroop branch, which is expected to be expanded by 7,000 square feet. Plans for a combined arts-library complex on the property didn’t come to fruition. DREW SIMON / STAFF

8. Read, set, read

Kids can explore worlds near and far through turning the pages of a book. And while they are learning, they can also earn prizes by participating in a summer reading program at a local library. The Dayton Metro Library Summer Challenge program isn’t just for kids, as adults can also participate and earn prizes. Visit www.daytonmetrolibrary.org/summer. Other libraries offering programs as well. Check with your local branch for details.

>> PHOTOS: See the art installations at Dayton Metro Library

9. Make time for discovery

Fun and learning go hand-in-hand at the Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn Gardens. Learn about Ohio habitats, explore gardening, dig in the dirt and sand, and play outdoor instruments in the garden’s whimsical themed areas. Bring your swimsuit to play in the fountains and shallow pools.

The Osage Tunnel at Sugarcreek MetroPark makes the perfect walking trail (CONTRIBUTED)

10. Take a hike

It’s easy to connect with nature as there are numerous hiking trails in and around the Miami Valley. Yellow Springs is an ideal location with both Glen Helen Nature Preserve and John Bryan State Park winding through the area. Brukner Nature Center offers a hike plus animal encounters. Ohio State Parks, MetroParks and community parks have a variety of trails for hikers of all ability levels. Pack a snack and some water and make an afternoon of it. 
>> 12 top hiking trails near Dayton

11. A day at the museum

Check out some pretty spectacular planes at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The building will house four galleries – Presidential, Research and Development, Space and Global Reach, along with three science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Learning Nodes. The museum is open seven days a week and admission is always free. 
>> 5 incredible planes you've got to see at Air Force Museum

Nature Play areas let kids’ imagination run wild. CONTRIBUTED BY JAN UNDERWOOD

12. Nature Play 

Hills & Dales, Englewood, Possum Creek and Sugarcreek MetroParks as well as several community park systems, have designated nature play areas. Kids are encouraged to discover the outdoors through independent exploration by building forts with sticks, playing in creek beds or building fairy houses in these natural playgrounds. With benefits ranging from improved mood to increased creativity, making time for some fresh-air playtime can be good for the entire family. More info: www.metroparks.org

>> 4 places to go swimming in the Dayton area

13. Brain games

Learning can be fun at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s Super Science Saturday. Enjoy free admission to the museum as well as special exhibitions, Space Theater Shows (limited seating available), and public programming.

(www.boonshoftmuseum.org). The next event is scheduled for August 18.

14. Cast a line

You don’t need a fishing license to give it a try at Carriage Hill, Eastwood, Germantown, Possum Creek or Twin Creek MetroParks or Oak Grove or Rosewood parks in Centerville – just to name a few. Kids ages 15 and under don’t need a fishing license to fish in Ohio and an adult without a fishing license may assist a youth that is fishing. If an adult also wants to fish, he or she needs an Ohio fishing license. For more info visit: http://ohiodnr.gov/youthfishing.

15. Geocaching

Think part outdoor adventure and part scavenger hunt – an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Visit www.geocaching.com to register for free and discover hundreds and, even, thousands of geocaches at home and across the country. More info: www.metroparks.org/things-to-do/geocaching.
>> 8 cool things you didn’t know about Dayton geology

National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling and encourage people to give biking a try. CONTRIBUTED (Contributing Writer)

16. Pedal away

With more than 330 miles of paved multi-use bikeways, the Miami Valley can boast of being the Nation’s Largest Paved Trail Network. Dayton — a Bicycle Friendly Community — is a great place for cycling enthusiasts of all ages.

>>  10 things to know about Dayton bike trails

17. Give it a try

The MetroParks Try-It programs are fun, free events for children and parents alike. Try your hand at a variety of outdoor recreation options in a safe, controlled environment, all equipment is provided. Times and locations vary, visit www.metroparks.org/try-it.

18. Get your groove on

The City of Fairborn Parks and Recreation Division hosts the “Free on Friday” family-friendly concert series at the Atherton Amphitheater at 7 p.m. weekly through July 27, 2018. Concerts will move to Fairborn High School in the event of inclement weather. Other local venues, like the Fraze Pavilion, also host free concerts and festivals.  

19. Family camping

Grab your tent and spend a night under the stars with your family. MetroParks has tons of camping sites. A good place to start is Possum Creek.

>> Insider’s guide to MetroParks camping

20. Go Old School

Spend an afternoon running in the sprinkler or an evening spent chasing lightning bugs. Summer fun doesn’t have to be planned, structured or take you away from home.

>> 50 ideas for your Dayton summer bucket list

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