It’s no surprise that in a city like Austin, with its emphasis on cultural riches, you can find an array of stimulating activities for every age group in every price range. Those with fertile imaginations but dry wallets can still find fun things to do to keep the little ones entertained and enriched.
Libraries and Legos
When my kids were little, our neighborhood branch of the Austin Public Library offered story times for young children. Tales were told, and in deference to the audience’s short attention span, there was an intermission of silly songs and wiggly dances.
The tradition continues with Books and Babies and Toddler Story Time, but the library has dramatically expanded its offerings to include film screenings, book clubs and craft nights for teens, puppet shows, plays, and even an engineering bash called Lego Lab. Its motto is “we have all the legos; you just bring the creativity.”
The library’s not the only venue offering complimentary movie screenings. Local favorite, The Alamo Drafthouse presents Alamo Kids Camp. Central Market and local radio station 101X co-host a free film series, with some flicks that are appropriate for the younger crowd.
Both Cinemark and Regal Cinemas have summer movie series for kids. There’s a nominal charge of $1 per person (both adults and kids), and the movies play at 10 am during the work week, but this can be a great, low cost treat for your little ones.
Deep Eddy Pool also shows Splash Movies at dusk, if you prefer an inner tube to your standard cinema seating. The films are mainly family oriented. Flotation room only entry will run you $1-$3 per person varying by age.
Zilker Park has a great playscape for kids. It’s also home to the Austin Nature and Science Center, which offers several free activities including: nature trails, a variety of educational exhibits and The Dino Pit, an interactive exhibit for budding archaeologists, where kids can learn about the science of paleontology through hands on activities.
There’s also the Naturalist’s Workshop, where kids are encouraged to touch the objects on display, weigh them and get a closer look with magnifying glasses and microscopes. Kids can bring their own favorites from their personal collections of rocks, leaves or seed pods to exchange at the Trader’s Counter. They can also earn points to spend at the Trader’s Counter for their knowledge of their own natural items and for identifying each month’s mystery item.
During the summer, there’s a $5 parking fee at Zilker Park on weekends, but it’s free during the week.
Texas Memorial Museum
Another place that has great exhibits of fossils and rocks is the Texas Memorial Museum on the University of Texas campus. A popular destination for elementary school field trips, the museum boasts a working Paleontology Lab where visitors can observe and interact with scientists at work.
In addition to three floors of exhibits on everything from dinosaurs and fossils to Texas wildlife, gems and minerals, the museum hosts a variety of fun events, including: Family Fossil Fun Day, Darwin Day, Explore UT, and Fright Night at the Museum, a Halloween bash for inquisitive little goblins.
“In Store” Attractions
Cabela’s in Buda is more than just an outdoorsman’s paradise of hunting and fishing equipment. It’s a 185,000 square foot attraction complete with a koi pond, a walk through aquarium with fish and turtles, and, of course, lots and lots of taxidermy. The mounted zoo boasts zebras, lions, a polar bear and even an elephant, in addition to deer. You can marvel at the animatronic man in the camping tableau.
It takes some discipline to turn a shopping center visit into a free outing, but with a well established set of guidelines (i.e. we’re looking, not buying), you can have a lot of fun. When my kids were small we occasionally hung out at the mall. It’s a great rainy day option. My boys enjoyed visiting the video store to try out some of the games they might want to put on their Christmas or birthday wish lists.
They could spend hours watching the hermit crabs in one of the kiosks tromping around their giant sand pit. It was equally entertaining to observe the people exercise walking, running errands and grabbing a quick lunch. You might consider it the anthropological equivalent of a natural outing, where the objects of inquiry are your fellow man.
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