15 cheap and free kid-friendly activities to enjoy during the pandemic

15 cheap and free kid-friendly activities to enjoy during the pandemic
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Summer break always has boring moments for kids but this year is unlike any other. There’s a high chance your kids are tired of their daily routine, and you probably are too.

Charlotte has multiple free and low-cost activities for families to enjoy together. If you and your kids are in need of a quick escape or just want something new to try at home, this list is for you.

(1) Have a picnic at Romare Bearden Park

Spread out at the Uptown park. There’s plenty of space for a blanket and a big lunch. Go homemade, or pick up takeout from one of the restaurants nearby. Mellow Mushroom and Green’s are the closest kid-friendly options. You’ll often find food and ice-cream trucks parked nearby.

romare bearden park

(2) Attend a virtual storytime

The library’s in-person services are limited now, but online there are multiple weekly activities for kids and adults.

Watch Storytime Train videos. They’re about five minutes long, and you’ll have the option to reserve the corresponding book. Or watch live storytimes on the ImagineOn Facebook page. The live reading sessions, about 30 minutes long, include a few stories and interactive songs between readings.

(3) Take a swim at Double Oaks Family Aquatic Center

One of the best summer activities is cooling off at the pool. The aquatic center is open during the pandemic but on a limited schedule.

Ninety-minute time blocks starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. are available Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Only 60 people are allowed during each time block so get there early. Admission is $1 per time block.

double oaks family aquatic center

(4) Play tennis at Freedom Park

Tennis is one of the few sports that’s safe to play during the Covid-19 outbreak because players are able to stay far apart. The courts at Freedom Park are open. You’ll only need rackets and a ball.

I didn’t stick with tennis lessons very long, but I do remember my dad getting me the coolest Venus and Serena racket. I found one just like it for sale on Ebay for $12.40 (a bargain at any price).

If tennis isn’t your thing, the 98-acre park has multiple other sports fields/courts, walking trails, and gardens.

freedom park tennis courts

(5) Do a stay-at-home science project from Discovery Place

Kids forget a lot of what they learn during the school year over summer vacation, and most experts agree this summer will be even worse for the “summer slide.” Keep their science skills sharp with online learning.

Discovery Place’s stay-at-home science program has dozens of free activities for kids. Options vary from ice cream making projects (and an explainer on the science behind it) to building a decorative bird nest. Most projects require materials you likely already have at home or that can be found at a dollar store.

(6) Learn a new skill

SkillPop offers a variety of courses for all ages. During the pandemic, SkillPop Anywhere lets students learn from home. Most classes are $20.

Older kids might enjoy Crayola Calligraphy or Cookie Decorating. Classes change from week to week but there are usually multiple classes appropriate for older, creative kids who like hands-on activities.

(7) Get competitive with a reading challenge

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library’s Reading Takes You Everywhere challenge goes all summer. In June participants read for more than two million minutes. Create a mini challenge to see who can read the most in your family. Register for the program online.

One of the books that sparked my love for reading as a kid was Esperanza Rising. It’s available for check out at two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library locations. It’s also available as a downloadable audio book.

children's books

(8) Grab a hotdog at Green’s

Eating out in Charlotte can be expensive. But there are a few cost-effective and family-friendly options.

Green’s Lunch is a Charlotte food landmark. It’s been around since 1926, making it the oldest restaurant in the city. Their $2.20 hotdogs are served on fresh steamed buns topped with the works including chili and coleslaw. Green’s also serves breakfast. Almost all menu items are under $5.

green's lunch

(9) Cool off with a hand-dipped scoop from Mr. K’s

Still hungry but want a sweet treat? Do what several generations of Charlotteans have done with their children: Take them out for ice cream at Mr. K’s Soft Ice Cream. The ice cream parlor boasts being family owned and operated since 1967.

Customers can go elaborate and try peanut butter dream parfaits and ice cream blitzes with Butterfingers and Oreos. Or keep it simple with a hand-dipped scoop or soft serve. Dessert menu items range from around $2-$5. Mr. K’s also has affordably priced burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and sides.

Mr. K's soft serve vertical

(10) Stretch it out with online yoga

Kids can feel stress, too. Mellow out with a family yoga session. Although yoga studios and gyms are still closed, there are multiple free and low-cost online options.

The Yoga Dude offers free weekly classes via Zoom (donations are welcome but not required).

Charlotte Yoga has classes to rent for $5 online.

If yoga isn’t your thing try a different family exercise.

Get Fit Bootcamp hosts online workouts, for all levels, for free.

(11) See a drive-in movie

The pandemic is bringing back old-school forms of entertainment. We’re starting to see more drive-in events, including movies, concerts, and even art galleries around Charlotte.

If you’re up for a quick road trip, visit Hounds. The drive-in theater in Kings Mountain puts on a double feature each weekend with at least one kid-friendly movie. Admission is $20 per car.

If you’d like to stay closer to the Charlotte-area, catch a drive-in movie at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The  speedway is hosting Wednesday night drive-in movies during the month of July. Admission is $30 per car.

drive-in movie at the speedway

(12) Take ’em out to the ballpark

The Charlotte Knights season was canceled, but Truist Field is still hosting regular events, including some collegiate baseball. Other events at the field include dinner, disc golf, and even blood drives with free ice cream.

The Knights will host a watch party for the big-league club’s opener tonight (July 24), and have a few tickets remaining. The White Sox play the Twins at 7:10 p.m. Tickets start at $10.

Or eat lunch at the field one day next week and watch Piedmont Pride baseball. The six-team Southern Collegiate Baseball League has multiple afternoon games.

truist field

(13) Get creative and color

Don’t just leave this activity to the kids. Coloring is a great stress reliever for adults, too.

There are multiple options to get started online, including these West Elm coloring pages that feature Charlotte artist Shannon Newlin. Crayola also has tons of free coloring pages. They have cartoons, planets, animals, and everything in between.

Coily Encounters sells a variety of coloring books and pages that all feature Black and brown subjects. All coloring books are under $10; most are available for digital download.

Queen City Nerve produced a coloring book, starting at $25, featuring Charlotte artists. Amazon sells this Hornets coloring book for $12.99.

(14) Take a (short) road trip

Need more of a change of scenery? Check our suburb guides, which highlight towns within about 25 minutes of center city.

I suggest taking a quick trip to Waxhaw, my hometown, to search for treasures at the Used Book Store and Antique Mart. Then grab ice cream from Waxhaw Creamery.

(15) Go on a nature walk at Looking Glass Falls

If you have time for a longer road trip, drive to Western North Carolina to visit the easily accessible waterfall. It’s a great spot for kids because the falls can be seen from the road or up close after a short walk. It’s also a good place to beat the heat on a hot summer day.

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