Summer changes family dynamics and expectations: There's a lot of time to fill and the cost of filling it can add up, especially if you're looking for memorable activities. So, what can you do as a family to make some priceless memories with the time you have, and for the best price tag of all -- free? We looked into it, and and found some of what may be the summer's best-kept secrets:
Apple Camp: An ordinary visit to the Apple (AAPL) Store can make for a fun family field trip, but who knew you could camp there too? "Geniuses" are giving group lessons as part of free Apple Camps at select Apple Stores. Your kids can learn to make a movie, put together a slide show, write and record a song, and build show-stopper presentations that will be big hits at the Apple Camp Film Festival -- and knock the socks off their teachers when school resumes. Each free workshop lasts about 3 hours. They supply the equipment, or you can bring some of your own if you'd prefer. Recommended for ages 8 to 12, these mini-camps are filling up fast. Most of the locations are currently accepting names for waiting lists. (My kids are on one.)
Kids Bowl Free: As Lee Cowan of NBC reports and I've mentioned on The Today Show, a relatively new bowling program allows kids to pick up spares for free. Participating bowling centers across the country are offering children two free games a day as part of the "Kids Bowl Free" program. You can register your children online in a matter of seconds and you'll instantly get printable coupons. From there, each week they'll email you more. I signed up last year and was impressed with the routine. When you register, you'll immediately be offered a family pass for $23.95. It's a fairly aggressive upsell, but you don't have to make the purchase to take advantage of the free kids program. Taking your family bowling generally runs about $20 to $30, so if you're bringing your kids often, the family pass (which covers four adults) could save you hundreds of dollars.
Museum Open Houses:Target (TGT) has stepped up to underwrite admission at arts and culture venues across the country with the goal of "making the arts available to everyone." There are ongoing free, half-price and various other discounts on set days and times at locations, including such destinations as the Chicago Children's Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art, Denver Art Museum and many, many more. You'll be amazed at the culture you can take in without spending a cent.
$1 Family Film Festival: Regal Theaters' (RGC) Free Family Film Festival has raised its price, turning "free" to "friendly" at a mere $1. The program began in 1991 and while it's not 100% free anymore, proceeds from the single dollar tickets go to charity. This year's movie line-up includes nine weeks of family favorites for kids & parents with titles, including Despicable Me, Megamind and Diary of Wimpy Kid. These select G and PG rated movies start at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays (and in some cases, Thursdays). The website has a list of theaters and films so you can plan ahead. First come, first served.
National Park Service Annual Pass: The lifetime pass offered by the National Park Service has to be one of the best values of all. It covers entrance fees at more than 2,000 national parks, refuges, forests, grasslands, and other lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation, including monuments, battlefields, scenic rivers and more. Generally $80 annually, it covers entrance for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person, but passengers ages 15 and under are admitted free). You might want to let grandpa drive: The senior citizen pass (ages 62 and over) is only $10 -- and it's for life.
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