It’s the perennial challenge for families: finding summer activities that can keep kids entertained and inspired without causing too much strain on the wallet. Several of these family-friendly activities are free, so they more than fit the bill.
The Wichita Art Museum has several free options for enjoying and creating art, and even some physical activity. Admission is free every Saturday to peruse the indoor galleries, and its 8-acre sculpture park is open 24/7 with no admission. The fourth Saturday of the month is WAM’s day for free family art making and fun. The Family ArtVenture summer programming focuses on bikes (May), sculptures (June) and all things colorful (July). Everyone is invited for free ice cream on July 15 to celebrate WAM’s 82nd birthday.
Teens 16 and older can try a free monthly yoga class in the art garden. Parent with kids ages 3 to 5 can sign up for four different-themed 90-minute camps between June 6 and Aug. 1. Sessions are $5 per child and free to parents. For more info: www.wichitaartmuseum.org
The moon and the stars
It can be a real hoot to check out nocturnal nature during the Great Plains Nature Center’s monthly full moon walks. While the nature center has lots of free and nominally priced daytime activities, such as nature walks or special talks, the free night-time walks provide a different park experience.
Guides may point out the different flight patterns of fireflies, teach you how to make different owl calls and more. As a bonus, the Kansas Astronomical Observers club often sets up telescopes in the parking lot to observe the night sky after the walk. Reservations are required to ensure adequate staff are on hand to lead the tour. Summer moon walks are scheduled for 9 p.m. June 9 and July 8 and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 7. For more information and to RSVP: www.gpnc.org/upcoming.htm
For more stargazing, take a drive to Lake Afton Public Observatory, 25000 W. 39th St. South in Goddard. The observatory reopened last fall after going dark for about a year when Wichita State stopped managing it. Members of the Kansas Astronomical Observers and Open Wichita run the observatory now, with programs being offered Friday and Saturday nights. Cost is $8 for ages 14 and up, $4 for ages 5-13 and free for ages 4 and younger. For large families, consider a $20 family pass for a program. For frequent stargazing outings, consider the annual $60 family pass. For more information: www.lakeafton.com
Three versions of old-school fun
Roller skating and bowling are both longtime family favorites, and you can take advantage of two national programs that offer frequent free outings to a local skating rink and several local alleys.
Visit www.kidsskatefree.com and sign up kids ages 12 and younger for free weekly skating passes to Carousel Skate Center, 312 N. West St. The passes are e-mailed every Sunday.
Through a national program, kids up to age 15 can bowl two free games practically every day at the following six area bowling centers: Derby Bowl, 444 S. Baltimore; Northrock Lanes, 3232 N. Rock Road; Seneca Bowl, 1909 S. Seneca; The Alley Indoor Entertainment, 11413 E. 13th St.; West Acres Bowl, 749 N. Ridge Road; and, for military families, Tornado Alley on McConnell Air Force Base. You have to register online at www.kidsbowlfree.com; shoe rental is extra.
Another family favorite is heading to the Starlite Drive-In theater, which still shows 1950s-era trailers before each movie. The outdoor theater at 3900 S. Hydraulic recently changed its spring and fall pricing from per-carload to per-person prices, but it’s still an affordable family deal to watch movies under the night sky. To see triple features Friday and Saturday nights or the double feature on Sunday nights costs $6 for adults, $3 for ages 5-11 and free for ages 4 and under. The theater also has introduced a new punch card: Visit seven times and your eighth visit is free. It also runs frequent Facebook campaigns to win free passes. For more information: www.starlitefun.com
Picnics and playtime
Pack a picnic lunch and head to one of Wichita’s several parks that cover nearly 4,500 acres or to another community park. Many have several other amenities besides playgrounds, picnic tables and green spaces, including interactive splash parks to cool off during hot days, a free Kansas Wildlife Exhibit of more than 25 species at Riverside Park and rides on a real miniature train, pedal boats or ponies (for a nominal fee) at O.J. Watson Park. Watson Park also has a pay-to-play miniature golf course. Several free family events from a morning magic show to an evening with a DJ are planned at Naftzger Park, 650 E. William, this summer.
On Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Backyard Specialists, 3407 N. Rock Road, pay $2 per kid for all-day play on its playsets, trampolines and basketball court. Picnic tables are available to enjoy the lunch and treats you pack. For More info: www.backyard-specialists.com
Play with the pups
Kids can learn about service while having fun with the animals by volunteering at the Kansas Humane Society. The organizations welcomes volunteers as young as 9, but youths between 9 and 17 must be accompanied by an adult. While there are plenty of storytime and reading programs at local libraries, bookstores and other attractions, what about reading to Rover? Every third Saturday, the humane society holds its Reading to Rover program that helps children in grades 1 through 5 get more confident in their reading skills by reading aloud to therapy dogs. A $3 donation per child is requested for the 90-minute sessions. For more information: www.kshumane.org.
Free events by Wichita Park and Recreation
All events are free and are at Naftzger Park, 650 E. William
Magic Show 10 a.m.-noon May 27. All ages
Barry’s Equipment and Truck Expo Touching a Fire Truck, Ambulance, a Knuckle Boom Truck and more. 9-11 a.m. June 10. All ages.
Cars in the Park Vintage cars and music. 10 a.m.-noon June 24. All ages.
Carnival Win prizes playing bean bag toss, ring toss, fish pond and more. 9-11 a.m. July 15. Ages 4 and older.
DJ in the Park 6-8 p.m. July 29. Family event.
Back to School Bash Games, food trucks and a craft project. 6-8 p.m. Aug. 5. Family.
Barry’s Recreation Station will visit these parks for free family events.
Osage Park, 2121 W. 31st St. South: 6-8 p.m. June 15. Ages 8 and over.
Fairmount Park, 1647 N. Yale Blvd.: 6-8 p.m. June 29.
Orchard Park, 4808 W. Ninth St.: 6-8 p.m. July 13.
Buffalo Park, 10201 Hardtner: 6-8 p.m. July 27.
Central Riverside Park, 720 Nims: 6-8 p.m. Aug. 17.