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Megan Mathis of Minneapolis blew bubbles with son Coleman at the Minnesota Children's Museum, whose exhibits include a water play area.

Jim Gehrz, Dml - Star Tribune

DAY TRIPS

• Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, www.comozooconservatory.org.

• Lilydale Regional Park, www.nps.gov (search for "Lilydale"). A park permit is required to search for fossils in the Brickyards section of Lilydale Park.

• Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, garden.walkerart.org.

• Minnesota Children's Museum, www.mcm.org.

• Nickelodeon Universe, www.nickelodeon universe.com.

• Schulze Lake Beach at Lebanon Hills Regional Park, www.co.dakota.mn.us (search "Lebanon").

• The Works, www.theworks.org.

The last hurrah for family summer fun

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • August 22, 2012 - 8:59 AM

For Melinda Boone and her 8-year-old son, Jack, the last two weeks of summer are a time to get ready for the upcoming school year, but also to have some fun.

"We don't have day care for the last two weeks before school starts, so Jack and I are making some plans," said Boone, who lives in Plymouth. "We still have to do all our back-to-school shopping, but we also will probably go to Valleyfair or maybe spend a day swimming at a local pool. We don't want to just be stuck at home."

Summer's last hurrah is upon us, and for many parents, it's a good time to squeeze in a few family activities before fall schedules kick into high gear.

Two years ago, Dawn Marcotte, a freelance writer from Farmington, launched a website (www.thingstodowithkidsmn.com) as a way to help other busy parents find both the tried-and-true family attractions as well as the off-the-beaten-path variety. She and her husband, David, along with daughters Anna, 13, and Sarah, 7, try to regularly devote at least one day per weekend all year to a family activity. She realized that their favorites might also become favorites for other families.

"My husband actually cuts out information and ideas he finds in the newspaper, so we now have this huge file folder filled with things to do," she said. "It occurred to me that other parents might enjoy this kind of resource, but in an easier format."

Marcotte's website profiles a variety of activities in and around the Twin Cities area, and she regularly posts updates on places her family visits. This summer, Marcotte said, she focused on "tween/teen ideas" to match her growing daughters' interests. Indoor favorites include the Works, a hands-on science and technology museum in Bloomington, and Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America (the Marcottes go after 5 p.m. when there are shorter lines and a price break), but they also tend to spend a lot of time outdoors participating in free activities.

"We love going to Schulze Lake Beach at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan. It's very family-friendly, and they recently installed these great new shade umbrellas," she said. "Both the girls also really enjoy Lilydale Regional Park along the Mississippi, where you can actually go fossil hunting."

Keep it simple

If you're looking for end-of-the-summer ideas for the younger set, simpler is often better, said Annie Chavie, director at Primrose School of Lakeville North, a child care/preschool program for ages 6 weeks to 5 years old.

"Buy a $1 bug net and look for bugs in the back yard. Kids love that," said Chavie. "Or you can make a whole activity out of a back-yard campout. Build a bonfire and make s'mores. And if it doesn't work out, the house is right there."

Kids are also big fans of places such as Home Depot, said Chavie. Many of the stores offer tours or simple craft classes for preschoolers in which they can build a little birdhouse or a race car. (Check your local store for details.) Chavie's favorite freebies include Como Zoo and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which is adjacent to Walker Art Center.

As you plan staycation destinations, keep in mind that many other families might have the same idea. The earlier you can go, the better, although midafternoon or early evening may draw fewer crowds. ("If your child is not a napper," said Chavie, "go when other people's kids are napping.")

Marcotte, who also has a full-time job, is busy planning her family's last week of summer, when she, too, will be taking time off since her girls' summer programs will have concluded. The usual suspects are making the list (including the Minnesota State Fair) and invariably daughter Sarah will lobby for the Minnesota Children's Museum, still one of her favorite places to visit.

"I think we'll plan something for every day. My pet peeve is when the girls spend too much time in front of some type of screen when nothing else is going on," said Marcotte. "We'll be outside a lot, too. The older kids get, the less time they spend outdoors once school starts."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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