Freebies and cheapies abound! We promise that no matter what your financial situation, you will find an endless supply of free or nearly free events to entertain and even educate your brood. Each city (through the mayor's office, cultural affairs bureau, department of tourism, not-for-profit arts groups and corporate sponsors) hosts free or inexpensive events all year long that are suitable for, if not specifically targeted to, youngsters, including arts festivals, food fairs, parades, movies, classes and more.
For city dwellers especially, we recommend going to anything that has a nature component, like parks, zoos, aquariums and nature centers. Typically, these destinations have discovery rooms and touch tables and are staffed with rangers or volunteers who are knowledgeable about their particular area's ecosystem. Many have a guided outdoor component as well. Take the Austin Nature & Science Center in Texas, which offers a variety of activities geared to mini nature lovers for minimal fees. For just $2 to $3 a pop, preschoolers can "meet the animals" (touch a snake, smell a ferret and listen to a quail while exploring skulls, feathers, bones and fur) or become "dinosaur detectives" (as they dig for fossils while gathering clues about their favorite prehistoric beast). Strangely, urban wilderness resources are remarkably low profile, but we guarantee that your local parks and recreation department will have lists of the botanical gardens, zoos and nature preserves in your city.