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This summer, let your imagination drive you

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Every summer, parents try to plan camps, beach days and outings for their kids so they won't be bored. I try to throw out a few ideas that are free or cheap as well. I have a few more to add to the list for this year.

But Anna Quindlen reminded me in a recent Newsweek column that being a little bored in the summer doesn't need to be such a dreaded thing. Instead of doing all we can to make sure our kids aren't bored, maybe we should do the opposite.

"Downtime is when we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky," Quindlen writes.

"I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity."

I remember being bored in the summer and telling my father about it. Only boring people get bored, he told me. I found something to do.

But today because our kids do so many activities during the school year we tend to keep them almost as busy during the summer. The era when summer was spent simply climbing trees and playing kick ball in the neighbors' driveway is gone.

This is usually the time when parents say we have to have organized league sports because society has changed so much that streets aren't safe anymore. Well, if that's the case, go with your kids to your street corner or nearby park. Have a couple of dads or moms stand guard, while the kids play a game of flashlight tag or four-square.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with providing kids with a few props. Go spend $10 at your nearest "dollar store" and bring out a different $1 toy every few days. They've got jump ropes, bubbles, Hula Hoops, badminton sets, cameras that squirt water, books, stickers, playing cards, Silly Putty and plenty of other plastic odds and ends.

If you have a tent and any shade in your yard, your kids will find lunch, coloring, reading or dozing much more exciting in there than inside. Even a big quilt under a tree and a pot of water makes a new and different spot for Barbie or a pet dinosaur to swim. Of course, if you stay home all summer these lazy days in the yard or in a fort under the kitchen table may get a little old.

So here are some ideas for weekday and weekend outings you can sprinkle in here and there.

Heritage Village in Largo is free, partially shaded, educational and still fun. The 21-acre county park is a collection of 23 historic Pinellas County structures that have been collected in a forest of pine trees off Ulmerton Road. Your kids can walk a long cabin built in 1852 and peek into rooms furnished with spinning wheels and old-fashioned toys. There's also a a 1917 fire engine and a 1967 caboose that kids can go through and climb on.

You can go through all of these exhibits by yourself. There are guided tours of several historical homes. I spent an hour just walking around on our own with my girls. It would have been nice to bring a picnic or cold drink to enjoy at the covered tables.

There is also a garden for the blind, with flower names written in Braille. Call (727) 582-2123 for times and information.

The Florida Botanical Gardens are just next door to Heritage Village. This is not a major attraction for kids, but it's a pretty winding path over water and past beautiful flowers if you want to add another stop to your trip or go there for your snack.

The SPCA of Pinellas County, also in Largo, is open to the public and kids love it. There's a field with goats and cows that eat carrots from your hand. You can feed bunnies, too, and walk through and talk to the dogs and cats. Yes, it does jerk at the heartstrings to see these animals that need homes, but you can take solace in the fact that this SPCA doesn't euthanize any adoptable animals. All of them eventually will be placed. Just make sure your kids know ahead of time they won't be placed with you.

Your kids can feel like they are helping by bringing donations. Along with carrots and apples for the farm animals, the shelter always needs: dog and cat biscuits, litter, pet toys, blankets, rugs, towels, sheets, newspapers, bleach, dish soap and other cleaners. Call 586-3591 for times and directions.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a small, non-profit aquarium that rescues, rehabilitates and releases injured or sick sea animals. It's open to the public, with adults paying $8.75 and kids ages 3 to 11 paying $6.25. The aquarium houses otter, stingrays, dolphin, sea turtles and more. Call (727) 441-1790 or click on for more information.

Dinosaur World off Interstate 4 in Plant City features 150 life-size models of dinosaurs along a wooded and paved trail in a lush forest. There's also a playground and fossil dig area. If your kids are into dinosaurs, they will like this place. Adults cost $9.75, and kids, ages 3 to 12, are $7.75. Coupons for $1 off are on the Web site at

Here are some other ideas for outings I've mentioned past summers:

Largo Central Park has a huge playground under a canopy of live oak trees. The first full weekend of each month the local train club offers train rides on miniature replicas of actual locomotives. The Largo Cultural Center at the park shows children's theater throughout the summer. Call 586-7415 for information.

Boyd Hill Nature Park in St. Petersburg has 3 miles of paved paths and boardwalks and 2 miles of dirt roads and a playground. The trails wind through woods, around ponds and past Lake Maggiore. Call 893-7326 for directions and times of guided walks and hours for evening picnics. The South Branch Public Library is also on park grounds.

Take your kids to the local Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army thrift stores to find treasure from others' discards from a 25-cent ice cream scoop for the beach to a $3 sequin dress-up dress

The Muvico theater at BayWalk will also be showing kids movies one morning a week or weekend. The schedule isn't set yet, but call 502-9573 later this month.

H&R Trains on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park is filled with trains to look at and a few displays to play with as well. There's also a dollhouse and a big wooden Thomas the Tank engine.

The Highland Family Aquatic Center in Largo is a great, city-operated water park with giant slides, sprinklers, and a jungle gym in the middle of the pool. Call 518-3018 for times, location and prices. There are smaller splash pools with fountains and slides at Morningside pool in Clearwater (507-4064) and Skyview Municipal Pool in Pinellas Park (541-0777).

Let me know what you like doing with your kids at home and around the county during the summer.

-- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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