Who among us isn’t always looking for more ideas of FREE things to do with the kids? Especially at times like this, when it’s incredibly hot out, and the usual things like the playground and walking around the city are exercises in torture? Here, a list of ideas for things to do your kid any given (fiery, humid, swampy) summer day that don’t require a) making reservations b) spending a fortune or c) sweating your face off.
For Indoor Fun
1. Fireman’s Hall
The great Old City museum housed in a former firehouse has historic tools, uniforms, a bunch of carriages and trucks, and a fun interactive spot for kids upstairs. (Bonus: It’s staffed by current and past firefighters, which is just cool.) Admission is FREE, though donations are suggested. One tip here: You might want to call before you go. (We tried to go this past Saturday and found it to be inexplicably closed. Womp, womp.)
The mega-store in South Philly has a supervised play space for kids who are between 37 and 52 inches tall (and potty-trained!!) — and it comes with the bonus of letting you get a little uninterrupted “me-time” with the Malm and Fjellse.
3. Smith Memorial Playground
The outside space is awesome, but it’s not particularly shaded, and on a very hot day, it can be killer. However, the three floors of active play opportunities inside the playhouse are especially fun for toddlers, and entree is free. (Though like the Fireman’s Hall, the place runs on donations, so we try to bring $5 or $10.)
4. Roller Skating
The Laura Sims Skate House on Cobbs Creek is an ice rink for most of the year, but in July and August, it transforms into a roller rink … and admission is FREE. (Skate rental is $3.) Check the schedule for open-skate times!
5. The Storytimes and Libraries.
We say it a lot, but storytimes make for such great, no-fuss outings, and there are SO MANY great free ones around town. (A few to remember? Momo’s Treehouse has them Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m.; Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse has them Wednesdays at 4 p.m. and sometimes Saturdays at 11 a.m.; Smith Playground has them at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for kids 5 and under; and Head House Books has storytimes for littles Fridays at 11:15 a.m.) You can check also out a larger guide to storytimes here — it’s not totally updated, but might still be helpful as far as ideas for storytime venues go. (Please! Call before you go!) And then, of course, there are the free Free Library storytimes (at nearly all branches), which are totally awesome and geared toward almost every age of child. And if there’s no storytime the day you want to go? The library itself is a great destination on a hot summer afternoon — whether we’re talking the Central Library on the Parkway, which is amazing, or any number of local branches. They’re just fun, welcoming, temperature-controlled hangouts full of books and games and puzzles and more, all perfect for littles to bop around.
We made note of this in the spring round-up of free things to do, but since we’re all city folk who like to take advantage of what the city has to offer, it bears repeating that PAFA, the PMA and the Barnes all offer free (or pay-what-you-wish, in the case of the PMA) hours and/or activities — PAFA even has some specific art projects and activities geared toward families. It’s all about timing — you can check the sites for calendars that tell you when to go, and what you can do. Everything from crafts to storytimes to tours are available if you play your cards right.
7. Kids Bowl Free
Do you guys know about this? You can register your kids to get two free games of bowling at select alleys — including one of our faves, South Bowl! You do have to rent shoes — though at South Bowl, that’s free for kids under 12.
For Outside Fun
8. Splashpads, spraygrounds and sprinklers
The first (and most obvious) go-to is a favorite among parents and kids alike: The splash pads and spraygrounds around this city (check out our list of them here!) are easily one of the best parts of summer. Some of them, like Sister Cities or Herron, are pretty tricked out (Sister Cities famously has the boat pond for added fun, as well as a cafe), while others are simpler: just some space to run around and splash in the water. The kids are nearly universally delighted with them all.
9. The pools.
Pools are another option that seems obvious, maybe, though I think sometimes people forget that Philly has a whole bunch of public pools scattered about, and that they’re FREE and that many of them are quite nice. Here’s a helpful list of the pools, their addresses and the hours.
10. The woods.
There’s a million places to play outside for free, obviously, but in 100-degree weather, the only place I really look forward to is the cool, shaded Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon. It feels like 10 to 15 degrees cooler on the trail, covered as it is under a thick canopy of trees. We hike, we picnic, we skip rocks, we drink lots of water, and then we pat ourselves on the back for being outdoorsy even in a heat wave.
11. The pop-ups.
If you wait until evening to go, you can still enjoy all of the action at Spruce Street Harbor Park and Eakins Oval and none of the UV rays. (Though you’ll want to shower your family in mosquito repellent before you go.) It is totally possible to go and spend zero cash, although you might want to bring a few bucks for the various and sundry food vendors, which always prove very hard to resist once you’re there. Still, you can get in and out pretty easily for under $10. (And speaking of evening outings … don’t forget that you can also still catch some free outdoor movie screenings at locations around town!)