Some things in life are still free -- like your neighborhood library. If you haven't dusted off your library card in a while, put it into action this summer, step inside a local branch and be amazed by the innovative activities and services you'll find.
You'll likely discover that frequenting your library as part of your weekly routine is a healthy habit that will keep minds of all ages sharp all summer long.
Check out these "free of charge" ideas:
Attend preschool story time: Contact your library for dates and times when you and your preschoolers or grandkids can gather with neighbors to enjoy readings of engaging picture books. Singing, acting and crafts often are included.
"Afterward, look for books based on a particular theme," suggests Jeanne O'Grady, program librarian for Santa Cruz, Calif., public libraries. "For example, choose a topic, such as food, and check out a menu of fun, nutrition-related books with such appetizing titles as 'Cucumber Soup' by Vicki Leigh Krudwig, 'Little Pea' by Amy Rosenthal and 'Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant' by April Pulley Sayre."
After you read one of the books, prepare a snack or meal using the book as inspiration.
"Reinforce new vocabulary you have just read by narrating what you are actually doing as you prep the ingredients and eat the food," O'Grady says. "Kids simply can't resist the sounds of fun words like asparagus, artichoke and macaroni."
E-books: The list of library e-book
Pre-trip prep: Before you go on vacation, find useful travel books, maps, magazines and conversational language-learning CDs to enrich your travel experience. For long, cross-country car trips, don't forget to check out audio books before you hit the road.
Volunteer: Inquire about volunteer opportunities at the library for your preteen or teenage children. They may be asked to assist with crafts and puppet shows, monitor summer reading programs and/or assist in searching for titles on the computer.
Donna Erickson is the executive producer and host of public television's award-winning family lifestyle series "Donna's Day." Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families." For more ideas, visit MinnMoms.com/donna, sign up for Donna's e-newsletter at donnasday.com, like the Donna's Day Facebook page or follow Donna at twitter.com/Donna_Erickson.