Local venues offer free family fun 

School's almost out, which means more chances for parents to spend time with the kids. That is, until reality sets in and parents realize keeping those kids entertained can be tough. Couple that with skinnier pocketbooks, and it seems impossible to have a fun-filled summer.


However, plenty of metro venues offer families a chance for free fun all summer. That's right: for free.

Many parks now have splash pads, or spraygrounds, which are interactive play areas that spew water from colorful structures. Features include cannons that shoot water up to 20 feet, tilting buckets that dump gallons of water from a 12-foot height, and structures that create misty water canopies.

 Adults appreciate the flexibility, and kids enjoy the hands on fun spraygrounds offer. Families can pop in for a short visit or can "come and bring their camping chairs and hang out all day," said Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock, marketing manager for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department.

The parks department operates 16 spraygrounds in city parks that are open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

Other metro-area splash pads include Lions Park in Midwest City, Andrews Park in Norman and Apple Valley Park in Moore.

For more outdoor fun, the state wildlife conservation department pairs with local cities to host free family fishing clinics all summer at Edmond and Oklahoma City lakes and ponds.

The clinics cover educational topics such as fish identification, knot-tying, fish cleaning and cooking, tackle selection and use, water safety and outdoor ethics. Fishing equipment is provided, said Damon Springer, the department's aquatic education coordinator.

Upcoming clinics include: Arcadia Conservation Education Area pond in Edmond, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on May 28 and June 4 and 11; Metro Tech Springlake pond in Oklahoma City, 8 to 10:30 a.m. on June 6; Dolese Youth Park pond in Oklahoma City, 8 to 10:30 a.m. on June 13; and Crystal Lake in Oklahoma City, 8 to 10:30 a.m. on June 20.

Preregistration is strongly suggested. For the Edmond clinics, call Springer at 521-4603. For the Oklahoma City clinics, call Bob Martin at 316-3474.

Local libraries and farms also offer free activities and tours for youthful animal lovers.

Edmond's Creatures and Kids Inc. partners with metro-area libraries to offer the Children Reading to Dogs program, which allows kids to spend 15 to 20 minutes reading to specially trained dogs, which helps build a new reader's confidence.

Metropolitan Library System will offer the Children Reading to Dogs program at various locations, days and times. Preregistration is required.

Creatures and Kids was founded in 2002 by Penny Nichols.

For youngsters who prefer hoofed animals, a visit to Express Clydesdales in Yukon might bring smiles. The ranch and barn is home to Clydesdale horses and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission to meet its 6-foot gentle giants is free.

The Clydesdale farm will host a free children's barn party event on May 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Activities include wagon rides, pony rides, face painting and a magic show. For more information, call 350-6404.

Another farm attraction is the Braum's Family Farm in Tuttle. The 35-acre complex houses 17 free-stall barns where about 10,000 cows are milked daily. The farm also boasts a 260,000-square-foot milk processing plant, according to the company's Web site.

Free tours are offered at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. Reservations are required. For more information, call 478-1656.

Want a cool alternative to spending a day in the hot sun? Families can participate in summer project classes presented by local businesses.

The Home Depot teaches kid-friendly workshops between 9 a.m. and noon every first Saturday of the month at each of its stores. Projects may include toolboxes, fire trucks, birdhouses and racetracks. Projects planned for June 6 and July 4 include hardware sorters and picnic caddies.

Cari and Toby Trotter of Moore recently took their two children to a fire truck-making session.

"We had been looking for fun things to do with the kids," Cari Trotter said. The family just happened to stumble upon the Home Depot workshop.

"We had a blast! It was so cool. It was a great activity to do together," she said.

Each child receives a free orange apron " similar to those worn by store employees " in addition to the project they make. For more information, visit their site and click on "Know-How Center" and "Kids Workshop."

All metro-area Michaels stores host free arts-and-crafts workshops for youngsters. Classes are usually held between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. every Saturday, a sales associate from the South Oklahoma City store said.

Weekday evening classes also are held during special occasions, as was the case during Mother's Day week in early May. Kids made corsages, paper-flower bouquets, wooden frames and iced cookies to take home to mom, said a sales associate at the North May Avenue store.

Summer kid classes have not been scheduled, yet.

Another free family outing can be found in Norman at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The 198,000-square-foot facility has five galleries that feature thousands of ancient Oklahoma artifacts, including dinosaur-bone replicas and natural fossils. Kids can explore many artifacts and scientific objects in a hands-on, interactive environment in the museum's Discovery Room.

The museum gives free admission the first Monday of every month. For more information, call 325-4712. "Elizabeth Camacho Wiley

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