13 sizzling deals for MD family summer fun

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BudgetSummerFunWBy Allison Eatough

Crofton resident Jessica Corso is the one to turn on for tips on family fun on a budget in the summer.

A few years ago, Corso began documenting reasonably priced activities for her kids, Lilly, 4 and Mollee, 7, as she discovered them.

She scoured social media sites, talked with other mothers and scanned newspapers and magazines. Before long, Corso had a list of more than 40 free or low-cost activities and places to visit — enough to keep her family busy all summer.

"You don't have to go far," she says, explaining they have fun just exploring their neighborhood and finding new playgrounds. One of their favorites is The Thomas A. Dixon Jr. Observation Area playground, where kids can play while airplanes land at BWI Airport just across the street. Another favorite activity is hiking the Cascade Falls Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park, which features a waterfall to cool off in.

For some indoor fun, Corso says her daughters love bowling as part of the Kids Bowl Free program, where kids can register for two free bowling games a day throughout the summer.

"It was something they weren't used to, and I wouldn't initially think about it," Corso says. But once there, the kids had a blast, she says. "They wanted me to sign them up for bowling (lessons)."

To start your own list of free or low-cost family-friendly fun, check out the following activities.

Updated June 2017.

Good weather activities on a budget

Matapeake Clubhouse and Public Beach, Stevensville
The deal: $10 for a daily beach permit for state residents; $35 for an annual permit.
Located on the Chesapeake Bay, the Matapeake grounds include a swimming beach, picnic area, outdoor amphitheater and wooded trails.
"It's quiet, out of the way, and there's not a lot of people," says Melissa Jones, a Centreville mother of two boys who consider the beach one of their favorites. "They like having the run of the beach."
But make sure you get a beach permit before you go. Queen Anne's County requires beach permits for those using any parks with beaches or shoreline.
qac.org

Calvert Cliffs State Park, Lusby
The deal: $5 for in-state vehicles
With massive cliffs formed more than 10 to 20 million years ago when it was covered by water, Calvert Cliffs State Park is known for its unique fossils. More than 600 species of fossils have been identified there, including sharks, whales and seabirds. Families can fossil hunt at the open beach area at the end of the red trail, less than 2 miles from the parking lot. Sieves and shovels are permitted. But remember the area beneath the cliffs is closed due to dangerous landslides.
The park is also home to a recycled tire playground, fishing, picnic areas and 13 miles of hiking trails. Handicap beach access can be arranged by calling the park ahead of time.
dnr.state.md.us or 301-743-7613

Cross Island Trail, Stevensville
The deal: Free
This 6-mile, paved trail runs east to west along an abandoned rail corridor and is easy enough for both children and adults to ride together. It begins near Terrapin Nature Park and continues along Kent Narrows, through canopied forests and over bridges that offer scenic views of the area's waterways. The trail also connects cyclists to Old Love Point Park, the Kent Island boat launch and the Chesapeake Exploration Center, a visitor's center with exhibits on the Eastern Shore's heritage.
parksnrec.org

Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel
The deal: Free
The Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation's only National Wildlife Refuge established to support wildlife research. Established in 1936, the refuge has grown from 2,670 to more than 12,800 acres. Most visitors start at the National Wildlife Visitor Center, the largest science and environmental education center in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Interactive exhibits feature everything from endangered species and life cycles to migratory bird routes. The center also has hiking trails, wildlife management demonstration areas and a gift shop. Throughout the summer, the center hosts special children's programs highlighting wildlife like honey bees and whooping cranes. The center also runs a Nature Tots program for children ages 3 to 4 and a Tiny Tots program for ages 18 months to 42 months.
patuxent.fws.gov or 301-497-5580

Belmont Nature Center, Elkridge
The deal: Free
Howard County Conservancy hosts environmental and preservation programs at its new Belmont Nature Center, part of the 68-acre Belmont Manor and Historic Park in Elkridge. The center is open for scheduled events only. Visitors can explore the center's gardens and indoor educational area, filled with games and books about nature. They can also visit the red corn snake and diamondback terrapin, which live inside the center. The center offers programs on days it is open, including nature hikes where participants learn about the trees, meadows and creatures that call Belmont home. Registration is required in advance for all programs, so check out their website below to sign up.  
hcconservancy.org or 410-465-8877

Summer concerts, locations in Anne Arundel and Howard counties
The deal: Free
Anne Arundel County's Department of Recreation and Parks hosts free summer concerts from July through September at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and Downs Park in Pasadena. Entertainment ranges from swing and bluegrass to Motown and rock music.
Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks hosts Sunset Serenades on Wednesday evenings at Centennial Park in Ellicott City. Howard County also runs the Traveling Bands summer concert series at locations throughout the county. Blankets, lawn chairs and picnics are welcome at most locations.
Quiet Waters Park Concert Series, Saturdays July 8-Aug. 26 and Sept. 3. 
fqwp.org/summer-concerts or 410-222-1777
Sunset Serenades, Wednesdays June 27-Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. 410-313-4700 or howardcountymd.gov/rap

Summer indoor fun on a budgetblocks1

Summer library reading clubs, throughout Maryland
The deal: Free
County libraries throughout the state offer summer reading programs to keep children and teens reading and learning when school is out. This year, the theme is "Build a Better World" with many of the opportunites to discover great books. Libraries offer incentives for children who participate, including game boards, T-shirts and prizes. Most libraries also offer reading programs for children under 5, as well as educational programs throughout the summer.
Several county libraries also host a "Family Game Night" where family members play new and classic board games. Check your local library system website for details.
cslpreads.org, hclibrary.org or aacpl.net

Home improvement workshops, throughout Maryland
The deal: Free
Home improvement stores like Lowe's and Home Depot offer free kids workshops throughout the summer, where children can make everything from bug houses to a wooden "Monsters vs. Aliens" trolley. Home Depot "Kids Workshop" is held the first Saturday of each month between 9 a.m. and noon for ages 5 to 12.
"The workshops teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety, while at the same time helping to instill in them a sense of accomplishment and building self-esteem," says Ashley Townsend, senior manager of learning solutions for Home Depot.
In addition to their project, children receive a free workshop apron and certificate of achievement.
At Lowe's, "Build and Grow Clinics" for kids in first through fifth grade are held on select Saturdays at 10 a.m. Children also get to keep their projects and receive a free apron, goggles and certificate.
homedepot.com or lowesbuildandgrow.com

National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
The deal: Free admission to the museum's Great Hall, shop and café. Exhibition admission is $10 for adults, $7 for youth and seniors, free for children 2 and under. Building Zone is $3 per person. Reduced museum admission is available at 4 p.m.
This museum, located just four blocks from the National Mall, is filled with interactive exhibits about architecture, engineering and design. In the kid-friendly Building Zone, children ages 2 to 6 can build a tower, drive bulldozers in the Construction Zone and dress up in a hard hat, tool belt and goggles. In the Play, Work, Build area, children learn the connection between play and design by building with small and supersized foam blocks. The exhibit also includes a digital area where children can fill a wall with virtual blocks and then knock them down. Free activities, such as building a 7-foot-tall, soft-block arch, occur daily in the museum's Great Hall.
nbm.org or 202-272-2448

The Maryland Science Center, Baltimore
The deal: Reduced admission the first Friday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m. for everything except national touring exhibitions.
That means you and the family can visit permanent exhibit halls like Dinosaur Mysteries, the planetarium and IMAX theater for $10 a person. Just remember the popular Kids Room, designed for kids up to age 8 and home to a water play area, city streetscape and fishing pier, closes at 6 p.m. during First Fridays.
mdsci.org or 410-685-5225

The Baltimore Museum of Art's Free Family Sundays, Baltimore
The deal: Free
The museum hosts "Free Family Sundays" every Sunday at 2 p.m. Family-friendly activities include making mixed media mosaics, exploring the textures of water, creating colorful collages and making bold self-portraits. Object lessons are offered the last Sunday of each month, when families can talk with gallery educators about specific art pieces in the museum's collection.
www.artbma.org or 443-573-1700

Discounted summer movies, Hanover and other locations
The deal: $1 per show or 10 movies for $5 in advance or online.
Several movie theater chains, including Cinemark Egyptian 24 at Arundel Mills, offer discounted family-friendly movies throughout the summer. Cinemark's Summer Clubhouse includes 10, G- or PG-rated films, such as "Trolls," "Shrek The Third" and "Goosebumps" at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays.
"This gives them at least one morning a week for 10 weeks where they can go and watch a movie and get out of the summer heat," says Frank Gonzales, Cinemark spokesman. 
cinemark.com

Kids Bowl Free
The deal: Free
Kids Bowl Free is a summer program designed by bowling centers that gives children two free games of bowling each day. Glen Burnie's "Glen Burnie Bowl" and Odenton's "Greenway Bowl" both participate in the program, which requires advance registration. Children ages 15 and under can participate. They must wear bowling shoes while playing.
kidsbowlfree.com or Glen Burnie Bowl, 410-636-6517; Greenway Bowl, 410-551-7100

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