Tag - Free Stuff

Nature Playgrounds in the Twin Cities – Get Back to Green
The Bakken Museum
5 Ways to Give Back to Community
Como Zoo in the Winter
Archived: Twas the Weekend Before Christmas Free List
10 Free Family Activities In Air-Conditioned Buildings (archived)

Nature Playgrounds in the Twin Cities – Get Back to Green

Nature Playgrounds are a growing trend for good reason; scientists keep finding connections between nature to child development and well-being.

nature playgrounds
nature playgroundsIt used to be, according to my children, that in order for a park to be authentic, it needed at least a slide and a set of swings. I was less enthusiastic about taking them to places like state parks simply because I felt I’d have to go the extra mile to “prove” that playing and exploring in a natural environment could be just as fun as clambering around a commercially manufactured jungle gym. Don’t get me wrong – the local playgrounds can be a lot of fun, too. And some are really inventive! But I have to say that I get a deeper satisfaction from watching them play in a more natural setting: digging, figuring out how to climb that tree, following paths, building forts. They become immersed in tossing rocks into the water, scouting frogs, collecting wildflowers. They also gradually forget that “playing at the park” requires a plastic treehouse.

So here’s what I find really cool: incorporating natural elements into new playground designs seems to be the trend. More places are popping up where kids get the opportunity to interact with the landscape and, perhaps, develop a greater appreciation for it. Here are seven places I’ve discovered that have those goals in mind:

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The Bakken Museum

Chris was off, Tori had an appointment in South Minneapolis, and The Bakken Museum was free during Aquatennial.  They called it the 10 Best Days of the Bakken. Read More

5 Ways to Give Back to Community

Death and Taxes–that’s what we can be sure of.  But we can’t be sure that the taxes we pay with help our community, so that’s up to us.  If we want to live in a community that is thriving, it’s up to us to care about each other and give back to the community. Read More

Como Zoo in the Winter

Como Zoo in the Winter? Absolutely! Como Zoo, as well as the Conservatory, has been around for a long time.  As in over 100 years.  Located in northern St. Paul along Lexington Parkway, just south of Larpenter in Como Park, Como Zoo is fun for the young and young at heart.  

Como Zoo is free with a suggested donation of $3/adult, and $2/child.  And the thing I like most about the zoo is that it is small.  Since it is free, you can do just a few things and come back a different day to do more.  

Como Zoo offers many different programming options as well as a simple stroll through the zoo.  Classes for 2’s, 3’s, 4/5’s, homeschooling, and families are just some of the different options.  During the non-summer months, they have special activities on Thursdays from 10:00-12:00–stories, zoo-keeper talks, hands-on activities.  

The boys and I explored the zoo one day when daddy was ice fishing (maybe?) and the girls were at a birthday party.  It happened to be Arctic Blast weekend.  There were tables and displays set up in the visitor’s center focusing on animals from the arctic.

They also focused on the cocoa bean since one of the best ways for a human to warm up from the cold is to drink hot cocoa!  
Oh, yeah!  This is my kind of activity!

After looking around the Arctic Blast exhibits, we made our way to the zoo.  My goal was to focus mainly on the arctic animals.  So we checked out the Polar Bear Odyssey (the newest exhibit for the bears–currently, they are working on the gorilla exhibit).

The boys got to crawl in and out of a snow mound to see what it was like to live like a polar bear.

We also checked out the reindeer, the mountain goat, the penguins and the arctic foxes.    I was pretty dead set to see the foxes since they are white during the winter.  We even were able to see the timberwolves.  I don’t know when I’ve ever seen the timberwolves!

But no zoo visit is complete without seeing the lion (the farthest unit away from the entrance, of course).

Or sitting on the giraffe statues that say, do not climb!  Isn’t he proud of himself.

It’s a perfect place to explore with your children whether it is winter or spring!

Como Zoo in the Winter Highlights
  • It’s open all year! 
  • It’s small with most of the expected zoo animals: Lions, tigers, giraffes, seals, zebras, gorillas. 
  • There is a cool exhibit in the Visitor’s center and unless your children force you to go outside, you don’t have to to experience the zoo. 
  • Lockers are available for your stuff.
Como Zoo in the Winter Disadvantages
  • It’s winter in MN, so to enjoy it thoroughly, you will NEED your winter gear. 
  • The carousel isn’t running (but it is an outdoor thing so you probably wouldn’t want to ride it anyway).
  • The distance from the parking lot to the door is quite long, so be prepared for a hike to get into the zoo.

Como Zoo and Conservatory
Open every day of the year.
Winter hours (October – March)
10am – 4pm
1225 Estabrook Drive, Saint Paul, MN 55103

**some images courtesy of Como, used with permission**


Archived: Twas the Weekend Before Christmas Free List

Being that it’s the weekend before Christmas, we understand that you are probably very busy, but for those of you looking for something to do this weekend because you have out of town guests already or you are completely done getting ready for the holidays, we present the Free List full of Twin Cities Holiday favorites.

logoHolidazzle Parade
Nicollett Mall between 12 and 4th Streets
Friday, December 20 and Saturday, December 21, 2013
6:30 pm
This is the final weekend of our beloved winter tradition–FOREVER!  (Well, maybe not forever, but Minneapolis IS discontinuing this parade and we don’t want you to miss it).  Chances are the crowds will be insane so we recommend that you arrive by 5:30 at the latest to stake you spot on the sidewalk.  Bring a blanket to sit on and maybe an extra one to wrap up in!  Also, I recommend parking in the Crowne Plaza ramp (good location, can’t remember the price) or the City Center Ramp for $4–special Holidazzle price.


santaland displayMacy’s Santaland
Macy’s 8th Floor Auditorium, Downtown Minneapolis
Friday, December 20-Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Opens at 8:00 am-various closing times, check the website

Go on a tour of Santa’s workshop as you watch his elves collect mail, build toys, and bake goodies.  End your visit with a chance to share with Santa all your Christmas wishes.



albert the elfWho Crashed Santa’s Sleigh?
Bachman’s on Lyndale
Showtimes:  11:00 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm
Enjoy Albert the Elf and Santa as they try to upgrade Santa’s Christmas Eve ride.  Anne tells us all about it here.



gingerbread houseRamsey County Library Events
Library LEGO Contest:  Mounds View, 10:30 am Creation Drop off, Voting from 1:00-2:00 pm, and 3:00 winners announced.  My family already has their creations designed if not built.  For ages 3-14
Build You Own Gingerbread House:  Shoreview,  11:00 am-2:00 pm, Supplies available while they last. For ages 4-10
Family Film Monsters University:  Maplewood, 1:30-4:30 pm, How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be a prelude at 1:30 and Monsters University will begin at 2:00.  Snacks available while supplies last.



image courtesy of Three Rivers Parks, used with permission

Another fantastic idea from our very own Joy was to go sledding this weekend!  With all the snow that has fallen (YEA!  If it’s going to be winter, let’s have the snow), we have perfect conditions for sledding and tubing.

Go here for a list of different options or check out what Three Rivers Park has to offer!



And there you have it!  Merry Christmas to you and your family from Family Fun Twin Cities!

10 Free Family Activities In Air-Conditioned Buildings (archived)

We chose not to replace our central air this year.  Mostly we have been fine with that decision.  We’ve acclimated.  Our property is shady and breezy.  Everyone used to do it.  Still this week has been more of a challenge.  Even our basement is hot and muggy.  This makes for a very crabby family.  Here are 10 free family activities that are air conditioned:

Walker Art Center

Admission to Walker Art Center is temporarily free every day.  This is so awesome.  I love the Walker.  I love Free First Saturdays.  I don’t always love crowds.  (Although, I’m expecting all these places to be crowded this weekend.  Everyone will want to get out of the heat.)  I really suggest taking a few moments to stop at the front desk and check out a WAC pack.  There are things to touch and feel and things to hunt for.  It makes for a much easier trip with little ones who can’t run and touch.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The MIA is free every day.  Plus, they have Wi-Fi and a Family Center full of the coolest blocks I have ever played with.  If you need to nurse, you can get a key at the front desk for a private room with a rocking chair.  I’ve appreciated that in the past.  For your 3 to 10 year old children, you can do this scavenger hunt.   You can print it out here, or pick up a copy at the information desk.  For a small fee, you could also rent a family friendly audio tour.

touchFree Sundays at the Bell

The Bell Natural History Museum is always free on Sundays.  It is also free through labor day for active duty military members and their families.  Besides the really cool permanent displays, there is the Touch and See Discovery Room where your family can see and touch both living and formerly living animals and traveling exhibits.  Right now you can learn more about Birds & DNA.

The Landmark Center

The Landmark Center doesn’t have any special events going on this weekend, but there are several exhibits to visit.  Each exhibit keeps its own hours but many are open whenever the building is open.

Mon. – Fri. 8 am to 5 pm
Thurs. – 8 am to 8 pm
Sat. – 10 am to 5 pm

Sun. – 12 pm to 5 pm

Public Tours of the Landmark Center are on Sundays at 12:00 p.m.  No reservations required.

Play Area at the Mall

I think anyone with kids knows this trick.  Go to the mall.  Find a nice place to sit and watch your kids play.  When its time to go, we propose a quick trip to the book store and then suggest ice cream to get out of the mall.  I can hear my husband groaning at the thought, but he’s the one that will take off to the T-Mobile and Apple stores while I sit there.  🙂  If you don’t already have your favorite mall.  The University of Minnesota’s Student Parent HELP Center has made a list.  Our favorite mall play area is Rosedale Mall’s Northwoods Play Area.  It is very laid back.

The Weisman Art Museum

Admission is always free at the Weisman.  On Saturdays and Sundays, they are open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Public tours start at 1:oo p.m.


Some Minneapolis Park Buildings

The following Minneapolis Parks Recreation Centers are air conditioned.  You can find out more about their locations, offerings and hours by clicking the links.

The Library

We could spend hours at the library — curl up on a couch and read quietly together; play with puzzles; have some computer time or participate in story hour.  On a hot day, I think it might be fun to read about cold things.

Scholastic has a list of books with snow and winter themes that you could look for.

If you prefer a back-to-school theme, they have a list for that, too.

Grocery Shopping

You have to do it anyways.  I’m probably in the minority, but I love to shop as a family.  I love reading the labels when my kids ask for things and explaining the ingredients and why I will or will not buy that thing they think they want.  I get really happy when my kids beg for fruit and yogurt like its candy.  I just enjoy spending my weekend with my husband and kids — even if it is the mundane chores of life.

I often have my grade schooler write the grocery list while I inventory the kitchen.  Then she also has to read it at the store (because no one else can read her writing).  If you have smaller kids, I found this printable Toddler Grocery List at Toddler Toddler.

MOA Free Family Flicks

The Theatre at the Mall of America offer free family-appropriate movies every Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m.  We have done this, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It was full, but not over-crowded.  The staff was polite and helpful and really seemed to enjoy their jobs.  That is saying quite a lot on a Saturday morning with a bunch of parents and kids who are there to get something free.  This week’s movie is Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs.


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