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Thursday, May 24, 2007 09:23 pm

No money?

How to have a grand ol’ summer on an itty-bitty budget

Untitled Document The kids are revved up and want to know what’s planned for the 14 long weeks before they have to be back in the classroom. Even with gas at the $3 mark and showing no sign of coming down, you can still have a great summer on a tiny budget. Sangamon County and the surrounding area offer a boatload of indoor and outdoor activities that cost less than $10 per day per kid. Start planning now to play tourist in your own back yard. Before heading out on your adventures, get a scrapbook and an inexpensive camera. Tell the kids to think of their favorite memory of each day, then record it in the scrapbook and leave a place for a picture. When school starts the kids will be ready for the “What I did on my summer vacation” report, plus they can flip through the scrapbook during the dreary winter months and recall all the fun in the sun.
• Have a history buff in your family? The Lincoln Home National Historic Site offers a free Junior Ranger Program. Stop at the visitor center for a guidebook. Searching the neighborhood, finding artifacts, and writing a letter to Mr. Lincoln are just a few of the activities for visitors ages 6 through 12. Once all activities have been completed, your child will receive an official Junior Ranger badge, patch, or certificate. It costs nothing to visit the home, but you must have tickets, which are issued and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 217-492-4150, visit www.nps.gov/liho/, or write to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, attn: Superintendent, 413 S. Eighth St., Springfield, IL 62703.
• Interested in climate and the jungle? Check out the Illinois State Museum exhibit Changes: Dynamic Illinois. Enjoy the hands-on interactive displays on 500 million years of climate change and learn how Illinois was once covered by a tropical sea. The museum is located at 502 S. Spring Street in Springfield. Admission is free. • Does your child want to be governor of Illinois? Give your little politician a glimpse of the Executive Mansion. Tours are offered 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Kids will learn about the residents of the mansion, Illinois history, and the home’s beautiful architecture and furnishings. This is a free tour. The mansion is located at Fifth and Jackson. For information, call 217-782-6450. • Is your child a gearhead? Are you a Route 66 fan? If so, visit Shea’s Gas Station Museum (2075 Peoria Rd., 217-522-0475) for a view of 50 years of life on the road, studded with road signs, gas pumps, and Route 66 memorabilia. Show the kids what it was like when Grandpa and Grandma were revving their engines and burning rubber! Open 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays. After the free tour, drive on down to the Cozy Dog (2935 S. Sixth St.) for some original Route 66 cuisine: a hot dog on a stick.
• Looking to show your kids culture? Introduce it over a brown-bag lunch hour. Join the Artist on the Plaza Entertainment Series, which runs noon-1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays all summer long. A variety of artists will share their talents on the South Old State Capitol Plaza, in downtown Springfield. Call the Springfield Area Art Council (217-753-3519) to get the lowdown on scheduled events. After lunch, take a tour of the Old State Capitol. • Fido is welcome to come along on a stroll around Washington Park. Home to the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon and the annual Carillon Festival (June 3-9), the park also boasts a rose garden and a botanical garden where you can get a look at tropical plants without driving all the way to St. Louis or Chicago. Bring a picnic, feed the ducks and geese on the lake, and spend the rest of the afternoon on a blanket or the swings. • Are the kids interested in the pioneer days? Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site can’t be beat. Meander through the cabins, visit the museum, watch the 15-minute video and enjoy a little young-Abe history. This internationally recognized attraction is a great place to walk off steam, enjoy the day, and see what pioneer life was like. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested. Located on Route 2 in Petersburg. For information, call 217-632-4000.
• Who doesn’t like animals? The Henson Robinson Zoo, in Springfield’s Nelson Park, is a draw for kids of all ages. Watch the monkeys’ antics, feed the barnyard animals, and admire the peacocks as they strut their stuff. This little zoo, with its small admission fee, is a great day activity. Pack a lunch and let the kids play in the park for the rest of the afternoon before calling it a day. Located at 1100 East Lake Drive. For info, call 217-544-8462 or go to www.hensonrobinsonzoo.org. • Splurge one day and visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. With its ever-changing exhibits and interactive displays, you’ll find plenty of interest, even if you’ve been to the museum before. A short walk around downtown or an extra dollar for ice cream will make this trip a winner! The museum is located at 212 S. Sixth St. Call 217-558-8872 or visit www.alplm.org for information.
• Learn about faraway places and read about children around the world at Lincoln Library or your neighborhood library. The wide selections of books, movies, and summer reading programs can make your kids feel as if they’ve traveled a million miles from home. Choose a country to research, then come home and dine on that country’s fare. Have the kids decorate placemats to set the mood.
• Surf’s up! OK, so the waves are not monumental at Lake Springfield, but there’s nothing like sand between your toes. Kids can swim, build sand castles, and, for next to nothing, play in the sun all day. Take along a book, and you, too, can enjoy a day of leisure. Don’t forget to bring a couple of dollars for a snack, and make sure to bring shoes — that sand gets hot! Call the Lake Springfield Beach House, 217- 786-4032, for details. • Also on the lakeside is the historic Lincoln Memorial Garden, designed by famous landscape architect Jens Jensen and planted with native Midwestern species. Take your little ecologist on a nature walk and enjoy the wide trails and wooden benches. Read the Abe quotes on the benches and end the day with a visit to the visitor center. The garden is open from sunup to sundown, and admission is free — but leave Fido at home; no pets allowed. Located at 2301 East Lake Shore Dr.; call 217-529-1111 or visit www.lmgnc.org.
• Does your child aspire to be a firefighter? Take the budding smoke-eater to the Illinois Fire Museum, located on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, which offers a glimpse into firefighting history. • Rub Lincoln’s nose for luck. Take a day to visit the Lincoln Tomb. The historic site, in Oak Ridge Cemetery, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, and on Tuesdays you can stay late and watch a flag-lowering ceremony enacted by volunteers in the uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic. For information, call
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Springfield boasts a variety of other Lincoln haunts, parks, festivals, and events. Museums abound, and there are activities just waiting for you to join in. There’s no excuse for boredom.  

Cindy Ladage, a freelance writer based in Virden, is a regular contributor to Illinois Times.
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