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Thursday, August 13, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mama Bear Moxie: Free things to do with your kids this summer

A trip to the pet store with young kids can be like visiting the zoo, only a lot less expensive. (Annie Rice / The Associated Press)
A trip to the pet store with young kids can be like visiting the zoo, only a lot less expensive. (Annie Rice / The Associated Press)
By Kristina Phelan For The Spokesman-Review

When you are a stay-at-home mama with little ones in the house it can be hard trying to plan fun things to do on a shoestring budget. I remember those days so well as a mixture of me about to lose my mind paired with a very overbearing attachment to my children.

Anytime can be hard with toddlers and preschoolers, but summer seemed to be extra challenging for me when my boys where that small. Here are a few of the things I did to make it through the summer.

Parks, parks and more parks

Summer is a great time to explore the parks in your area that you don’t normally visit. Pull up a map of your town and go to those parks that are a bit farther away. You never know what you will find. Some will be duds (like a green space with nothing kid friendly) while others will be surprises with new-to-you playground equipment which is just gold in the mind of a preschooler.

Pet store = zoo trip

I actually did this with my nephew a few weeks ago and it inspired this column. We were walking in between stores and came across a national pet supply store. I grabbed his little hand and told him we were going to go to a special zoo. We toddled around the store looking at the hamsters, ferrets, mice, rats, lizards, fish, and birds that the store was selling. We got to talk about the different animals, worked on his color deciphering skills, and had a grand time. If you have a preschooler the conversation could be even more detailed. I was bummed that they didn’t have any cats or dogs available but we did pass by the grooming section of their store and got to see dogs getting a haircut. Your kiddos won’t know that this special zoo didn’t cost anything and you get to still teach them about different animals without lightening your wallet.

Splash pads

We lived near a splash pad when my boys were small that was amazing. We dealt with the occasional hornets and bugs but overall the splash pad was a great afternoon adventure that I probably should have taken more advantage of. I honestly loved it because I didn’t have to worry about anyone drowning or needing to put on a swimsuit to “swim” with the kids. There is something so sweet about seeing a toddler walk around a splash park and the expression on their face when they get surprised with a splash or squirt of water.

Impromptu picnics

Some of my greatest memories include making an impromptu fort in the middle of our family room on those rare rainy summer days. Nothing is cooler to a preschooler than getting to play in a fort in the middle of your house. Add in a picnic where they get to eat on the floor and you have yourself a fun and easy thing to do while stuck inside. Also, packing a lunch and purposefully finding a fun picnic spot at one of those beloved greenspaces can go a long way too.

Check with other organizations

Many of these groups have completely free family events during the summer. Check with your local area chamber of commerce or city hall that host summer movie nights and festivals. There are plenty of churches putting on free vacation Bible schools and other fun activities for families with young children. Do a little research and you may be surprised at what you find!

I know that there are more ideas out there but this is good start to get you and your littles out for some fun and free activities this summer!

Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois. www.mamabear Visit her website at

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