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More cheap or free things to do indoors this summer

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


Summer is rolling along quickly and (you may have even noticed this yourself), it's hot. Very hot.

Readers tell me they've been trying out some of the indoor cheap or free activities I suggested in a previous column. I've put another list together with your ideas and a few more of my own. Enjoy, and stay cool!

It's A Play Date, 6453 102nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park. This is the ultimate playroom. It's 1,300 square feet in a shopping center filled with enough toys to occupy babies to kindergarteners for two hours or so. Owner Nancy Norris, a grandmother with a knack for great finds at consignment stores, has arranged the space into eight areas such as a full miniature kitchen, dress-up corner complete with vanities and mirror, and a car station with cars to ride as well as send down curvy tracks. There's a playhouse, a 4-foot-high doll house, baby dolls and strollers, bottles, beds and high chairs galore. Add in tents, books, puzzles, musical instruments and a VCR with a wide array of movies, and you start to get the picture.

Admission is $6 for children 1 and older. Norris welcomes you to bring your own snacks and drinks but also sells them on a help-yourself honor system from the kitchen in the back. This summer while school's out, she has a separate room with puzzles, games and activity books for older children.

It's a Play Date has been open just two months and is certainly worth a visit.

Bill Jackson Inc., 9501 U.S. 19 N, Pinellas Park. This store sells everything for outdoor adventures, but the store is an indoor adventure for kids. There's an indoor pool where you can sometimes catch a view of scuba and kayak classes. A covered deck houses a slew of canoes and kayaks. Tents and backpacks line the walls. Brightly colored scuba suits and fins fill two rooms, and stuffed buffalo, moose and owls adorn the rafters.

Two seconds off horrific U.S. 19, you enter the store's parking lot with spaces tucked here and there in a lush jungle of palmettos. "Are we on a vacation?" my daughter asked after the instant transformation of landscape. But when we entered the store she copped a slight attitude because it was all "grow up stuff." Within five minutes she loved it, and 30 minutes later she didn't want to leave.

The store has numerous rooms and areas to wander through. (Be warned, there is a small shooting range and gun sales area you might avoid if you or your children are squeamish about shooting and stuffed animals.) For us, 18-month-old Charlotte happily pointed like crazy at the buffalo and moose heads. There is also a neat corner displaying box after box of American Indian arrowheads, semiprecious gems and pieces of coral bigger than my kids.

H&R Trains Inc., 6901 U.S. 19, Pinellas Park, calls itself Florida's largest train store. It is big, and very kid-friendly. A black bear doll about 5 feet high in a conductor's suit greets you at the door. One corner sectioned off with a life-size blue wooden engine is a play area with a BRIO train set and a beautiful Victorian doll house. A train track with moving train hangs from the ceiling, and other trains are humming around throughout the store.

Outside, still another beautiful model train goes around a large all-weather track across bridges, up a hill and along a real miniature pond. There also are gazebos, swings and a big bell that children can ring with a rope.

The Little Engineer's Club meets once a month on Saturdays. Children, ages 3 to 7, make crafts, learn about trains, meet special guests and have a snack. The store also hosts birthday parties. Call 526-4682 for more information.

Michael's Arts & Crafts, 2010 34th St. N, 323-4333. Obviously this is a fun place to explore on any day, and you can spend $5 or less and get supplies for several small craft projects. The Kids' Club, for children ages 5 to 8, meets from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday. For $1 or $2, they get to make a craft ranging from puppets to picture frames. They work with an instructor in a classroom while parents browse in the store. The store is offering summer camp for ages 9 to 12 from 9 to 11 a.m. July 10-14. The cost is $7.50 a day, and you may attend on a day-to-day basis.

Timothy's Toys, 4336 Fourth St. N, hosts free Summer Fun Days every Thursday until Aug. 17. The activities range from visits from Madeline and Thomas the Tank Engine to crafts, science and games. Drop in any time from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is often a door prize, giveaway or craft to take home. Call 522-5351 for a schedule or more information.

Practically Pikasso, 6508 Fourth St. N. This make-it-yourself pottery shop offers indoor fun for children as young as 2. Yes, I said "2" and "pottery" in the same sentence. Each Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., the store has classes for 2- and 3-year-olds. They paint pottery such as plates or miniatures, make designs with handprints and learn to mix colors. The cost is around $10 and includes the object they get to take home after it's fired in the kiln.

Children accompanied by a parent are welcome during regular business hours, too. The staff will help with pottery, clay molding, mosaics or tie-dye. Prices start at $6 per item. Children 9 and older can be dropped off at the store without a parent.

Bisque-itz, 2710 Fourth St. N. This paint-it-yourself pottery studio has a class for children as young as 11/2 to 5 years old. Miniature Monets meets from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Thursday. For $8 a class, the children paint bugs, mugs, picture frames and more. Children are welcome other times as well to come in with a parent and work on an individual project. Bisque-itz also has several camps starting July 10. Call 821-8399 for more information.

The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE. Most of the stores and activities here cost money, but your kids will find free or cheap ways of enjoying themselves within these five stories of air-conditioned space with a great water view. The Pier Aquarium is free, though it accepts donations. It's not Florida Aquarium, in Tampa, but will keep little fingers pointing and eyes widening for a while. There are about eight tanks with reef fish, live coral, miniature sharks, native fish and freshwater turtles.

Great Explorations Hands-On Museum, on The Pier's third floor, costs $4 for visitors 3 to 55. Children 2 and under get in free, and those over 55 pay $2. This interactive museum has exhibits related to music, light, strength, flexibility, problem solving and creativity. For example, there's a harp you play by strumming beams of light and a veterinarian's office where children dress in scrubs, then weigh and examine stuffed dogs and cats.

The Pier also has a food court.

- Call or e-mail Rookie Mom at (727) 822-7225 or Oliviachar@aol.com.

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