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Cheap Thrills



Summertime, and the living is easy, as the song goes. Unless you have one to six kids at home, nicely taking turns asking: “Mom! What can we do?” (With more than six kids, who has time to answer?)

Planning fun and frugal activities can help keep away the summertime doldrums—or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Sometimes it’s easier to plunk down the money and go to the movies or miniature golf course. But too many (or two) days like that and the costs really pile up. Also some spontaneous outings may turn out to be more fun. I like falling into fun activities, but that won’t happen unless we actually turn off the TV and leave the house.

To start, my kids always ask to go on the tram at Onondaga Lake Park, off Onondaga Lake Parkway in Liverpool. One day I gave in. At the Griffin Visitor Center at the southern end of the park, we climbed aboard the tram and rode it about two miles to the other side of the park. Once there, we discovered another playground and a new area of rocks and dock to walk on. I recommend packing a picnic lunch to take to the “other end” of the park and enjoy the area for an hour or more. Think in 30-minute chunks, however, because that’s how often the tram will return to pick you up. And it’s free. (For more information, visit http://www.onondagacountyparks.com/olp/griffin or call 451-7275.)

If you’re heading to the park early on a Thursday or Saturday, consider first stopping at the Central New York Regional Market, 2100 Park St., Syracuse, across from the entrance to the Carousel Center (422-8647). Children usually are amazed at the fresh offerings available there, from cheese to flowers to doughnuts and fruit. Let each child pick a fruit to include in the picnic lunch later at the park. If that gets too boring, there’s the park, tram and picnic still to come. (By the way, on Saturday mornings, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the market features a tractor that tows a trailer with seating, transporting people from parking areas to stops at the market. Little kids love riding behind the tractor!)

Another favorite of ours is to check out playgrounds at area elementary schools. Once when taking visitors to Skaneateles, the cute store shopping wasn’t doing it for the kids. But when we drove a few blocks off the main drag, we found a delightful playground at a local elementary school. The kids rejoiced and piled out of the car. Another time, we were on our way home from a gymnastics class when we passed the neat-looking playground for Liverpool Elementary School on Route 370. What the heck? I thought. I pulled in, much to the kids’ amazement. Every time we drive by, that’s the playground “we went to once.” The playground at the Jamesville Elementary School (East Seneca Turnpike, Jamesville) is intriguing as well.

We’ve also just dropped in on “new” libraries, which are libraries we’ve never visited before, usually located in other towns. Ever stop at the DeWitt Community Library in Shoppingtown Mall (446-3578; www.dewlib.org)? It’s terrific. Now located beneath the food court in the former BonTon on the lower level, the library features a well-stocked children’s section and multiple computers to try out. The Skaneateles Library (49 E. Genesee St., Skaneateles; 685-5135; www.skaneateleslibrary.com) is another we’ve checked out, especially if the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

Check out libraries’ activities schedules well in advance. My son signed up (OK, I did it) for a Star Wars adventure during spring break at the Baldwinsville Public Library (33 E. Genesee St.; 635-5631; http://www.bville.lib.ny.us/). Again, free. We’ve also gone to Saturday-morning craft times there (free) and seen performers, readers, musicians, etc., at the Petit Branch Library, 105 Victoria Place, off Westcott Street, in Syracuse (435-3636; http://www.ocpl.lib.ny.us/web/locations_hours/branches/petit.htm). (Did I mention free?) Speaking of the library, one friend of mine likes to combine it with exercise: She and her two children ride their bikes to the Petit library, where they read, relax and enjoy the air conditioning on a summer’s day.

Of course, summertime means swimming. One friend calls her local community pool her personal day camp. The Burnet Park outdoor pool in Syracuse is open to the public seven days a week for a nominal admission charge or purchase of a summer pass. Lessons are available, too (473-4330; http://www.syracuse.ny.us/parks/burnetPark.html). And a large playground at the top of the hill adds another layer of fun to a visit. Free plays are performed throughout the summer in the arena.

We schedule at least two trips each summer to Oneida Shores County Park, 9400 Bartell Road, Brewerton. For a car admission fee of $4 on weekdays, or $5 on weekends and holidays, we get swimming, sand time and shade by the barbecue grills and picnic tables (676-7366; http://www.onondagacountyparks.com/oneida/). If the sun’s not too hot, the kids also climb on the playground and wait for the ice cream truck that frequents the parking area. Green Lakes State Park, 7900 Green Lakes Road, in Fayetteville provides a similar experience for $7 per vehicle admission
(637-6111; http://www.nyfalls.com/lakes/greenlakes.html).

If after all these activities, your kids still want to go to the movies, just take them to the free 10 a.m. film showings at Central New York’s three Regal Cinemas mall multiplexes. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Great Northern and Shoppingtown, or Tuesdays through Thursdays at Carousel Center, two free movies are offered each week through late August. Sources advise getting there early for a good seat. (For more information, see the contact information in the calendar of events.)

We also plan for an outdoor movie night at the Midway Drive-In on Route 48 in Minetto (343-0211). Admission (adults are $6, children ages 7 to 11 are $2 and under 6 are free) includes up to three movies; it all depends on how long your children can stay awake (or how long the parents can keep from napping). The early show begins at sundown and usually features a family-friendly movie, the second show may be PG, and the late-late showing is more often aimed at the teens in the crowd. Check out the concession stand; the old-school intermission commercials aired between screenings definitely tempt the tastebuds.

Don’t forget the usual: playdates. A visit to someone else’s home to play with someone else’s toys rarely fails. Take turns, join up for outings, and remember to keep it fun. Leave some extra time on your way home to try out a new playground.                                                   

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York