Money Savin’ Mama’s guide to hot fun in F-M for free

Since she could stand, our daughter Eve has loved those large inflatable games, known as “bouncy things” in our house. All summer long we keep our eyes out for places she can bounce, and with a little planning have found plenty of free opportunities.

So many that once at an arts and crafts fest, where the fee was $1 per minute of bounce time, we passed despite our daughter’s pleas. We knew she’d get another chance soon enough.

My family’s frugal ways have led us to a lot of free summertime entertainment all around Fargo-Moorhead. Sure, you can enjoyably wile away summer days not spending a cent at neighborhood playgrounds and on long walks. But by knowing what free events happen when and where, it’s possible to do more this summer for a lot less.

You can count on the local public libraries and park districts to provide plenty of entertainment options throughout the summer.

Check out Fargo’s Community Block Parties, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through June 19 and July 10-31 at different city parks. Each event features karaoke, craft projects, face painting, free food and – yes – inflatable games.

The Fargo Park District also offers free community play dates at Rheault Farm on June 7, July 12 and Aug. 16. Its weekly art-centered Park It! events are free, too.

Moorhead has RiverArts at Memorial Park including a free outdoor concert, horse-drawn carriage rides, and games and activities for kids. RiverArts events are scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 12 and 26, July 10 and 31, and Aug. 14. Each one also features an activity like pony rides (July 31), a fishing clinic (July 10), tae kwon do demonstrations (June 26), and – yes – inflatable games (June 12).

Admission to West Fargo’s Veterans Memorial Pool, which typically opens mid-June, is free for all. Moorhead’s municipal pool has free admission 2 to 4 p.m. June 21 for Summer Splash. Fargo’s five outdoor pools each take a turn offering free admission, hot dogs and pop for a day in mid-July during Pepsi Appreciation Days.

The libraries have free movies, crafts, story times and special visitors all season long, not to mention summer reading programs.

Even a day at the fair can be done frugally, if you time it right. The Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, slated for July 10-15, offers free admission at the main gates from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Once in, you can check out the Zerebko Petting Zoo, Welde Big Bear Show, Swampmaster Gator Show, baby chicks hatching at the Ag Education Center, 4-H and other animal exhibits, a roving magician, strolling fairy-themed enchanted wagon, and other entertainment – all for free. To keep it cheap, you may need to skip the tempting fair foods and put a limit on midway rides. Look for food and vendor coupons on the fair’s website ( All-day ride passes are discounted to $25 at local Stop-and-Go stores.

Any free event may hold temptations to spend in the form of vendors or gift shops. To avoid these costs, try to eat at home before going, or set a spending limit and bring only that much cash with you. Empower older kids to earn the money they want to spend this summer.

Here are more of my family’s favorite free events:

  • College SAVE Zoo Day, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, Red River Zoo, Fargo. Free zoo admission, animal encounters and drawings for prizes, including $529 for college savings. There’s also free admission 3 to 7 p.m. June 7 for Safety Safari.
  • Share a Story, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 9, Rheault Farm, south Fargo. There’s face painting, music, snacks, storytelling, and appearances by every toddler’s idol, Elmo.
  • Midwest KidFest, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 15, Island Park, downtown Fargo. Endless activity booths, a petting zoo, main stage entertainment by Penny and Pals at noon and 5 p.m., plus the Teddy Bear Parade at 10:30 a.m.
  • Streets Alive!, noon to 5 p.m. July 15 and Aug. 26, downtown Fargo and Moorhead streets. Three miles of streets are closed to motorized traffic to make way for human movement. Along the route you’ll find activities like hula hooping, yoga and Zumba, interactive exhibits and demonstrations. West Fargo holds its own mini version Aug. 21.

As you can see, we’re looking forward to a summer filled with free fun, and plenty of bouncing.


Check out these websites for listings of family-friendly activities, many free:

Selling Sesame Street

I survived Sesame Street Live. Barely. 

I can’t really say I enjoyed Sunday’s production of “Elmo’s Green Thumb” at the Fargodome. My daughter did, though, and that’s all that really matters. 

This event was about Eve, not her Mom or Dad. That’s why I only bought two $17 tickets: one for her and one for either my husband or myself. We figured there was no point in both of us sitting through 1 1/2 hours of muppets singing and dancing. And hundreds of kids screaming and whining. (There’s a reason we only have one of our own)

Elmo sings his heart out.

 The stage production wasn’t what was unbearable.  The storyline was cute, and all our favorite friends from 123 Sesame Street were there. Grover and Rosita even made it back to our cheap seats and Rosita patted Eve’s head, to both our delight. What got me was how commercialized the stage production of public broadcasting’s signature show was.

Sesame Street has long been a commodity through toys and books. Elmo’s face is on juice boxes and baby food. But something about the commercialism of what was basically a live version of a PBS show bugged me. They were selling soooo much crap stuff: stuffed Elmo dolls, Elmo T-shirts, light-up spinning Elmo toys. At intermission they walked around with large helium balloons … for $10. 

I don’t blame the parents who caved into the pleas of their kids. When you’re trying to get your little one to sit still and be quiet for a lot longer than their attention span allows, the last thing you want to deal with is a temper tantrum over a $9 plastic toy.

Eve eating popcorn before the show started.

 I managed to hold firm. The Bank of Mom was closed, other than a $3 tub of popcorn (I don’t know how Eve even knew there were concessions for sale, but the first thing she said when we walked into the Fargodome was “I want popcorn.” And honestly, so did I!) I had to tell a couple fibs to keep the peace, though … “Oh, we missed our turn to buy a balloon … They’re all gone now … we’ll get one later …”

I know that’s not a lesson that would be taught on Sesame Street. But trusted friends from PBS shouldn’t be putting parents in that position in the first place.

Free Parenting Workshop April 29

I wanted to make sure to let parents know about an event that’s coming up in our community.

Howard Glasser, creator of the Nurtured Heart Approach, will be presenting a free workshop for parents called “All Children Flourishing.” The workshop will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 29 (that’s a Thursday) at the Ramada Plaza Suites, 1635 42nd St. S., Fargo.  It is free, but registration is required. Call (701) 241-5700 or e-mail

I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Glasser’s work from early childhood education specialists. One teacher summed it up in language all parents understand: This workshop is worth getting a sitter.

Glasser is author of “Transforming the Difficult Child.” He’s leading a workshop on this topic for professionals and community leaders April 30, as well as Child Care Resource and Referral’s spring conference May 1.

Here’s a snippet from the brochure promoting Glasser’s parent workshop:

A child’s intensity is a gift that needs to be nurtured. How do we accomplish this and help our children to fully flourish and thrive – even be GREAT – in an everchallenging world?
Traditional approaches to dealing with a child’s intensity can easily make situations worse and damage our very precious relationships with the children in our lives.
The Nurtured Heart Approach has been proven to create GREATNESS in even the most intense children – very quickly and in inspiring and lasting ways. Children learn to believe in themselves and have confidence in successes that flow from investing intensity, intelligence and life force into positive action.
Attend and you will leave with a powerful set of skills you can use immediately to help children live life in positive ways – and flourish!

Pastime not as relaxing with tot

Here’s my June 2 Parenting Perspectives column

Last summer, my husband and I introduced our daughter to our, and America’s, favorite pastime.

Bundled in a blanket and topped with a sunhat, we took our newborn to her first baseball game at Newman Outdoor Field.

I can’t remember if the RedHawks won that July game, but I fondly recall our swaddled 4-month-old sleeping in the stands.

So as this summer slowly introduced itself, I was excited to again enjoy warm-weather activities as a family of three.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon last month, I dressed Eve in a pink baseball jersey onesie, strapped on a sunhat and grabbed our tickets.

But it was not meant to be an enjoyable afternoon at the ballpark.

We’re not the same family we were a year ago.

Instead of an infant who coos for two innings and snoozes for seven, we have a wriggly toddler who refuses to sit still.

The sunhat was not meant to stay on her head.

The ketchup on my hot dog, apparently, was meant to cover her shirt.

She laughed, loudly, through the national anthem. Once the game started, she screamed, loudly, but not for the players.

Smack in the center of lower reserved seating, we repeatedly disturbed the fans next to us as we hauled our fussy toddler up the stairs.

My husband spent a couple of innings entertaining her at the playground, while I sat alone in the stands.

One last attempt to enjoy the game as a family didn’t last long. Naptime was approaching. It was time to go. Now.

We didn’t even make it to the seventh-inning stretch.

I left the stadium wondering if we’d ever enjoy our favorite summer activities again.

While an outing to the lake last year seemed cumbersome, we were able to buckle her in an infant seat and set her in the shade.

Now that she has a mind of her own, and an able body to match, it’s almost too daunting. Even stroller rides on the Old Milwaukee Trail can be fitful.

I guess it’s just a matter of adjusting, and readjusting, to a growing child.

And at least with baseball, we learned our lesson.

The next weekend, we took Eve to her second Twins game at the Metrodome.

We bought general admission seats for the uppermost section and sat on the aisle.

We took turns spending innings with her in the hallway and left after the sixth, before any meltdowns.

One day, our evolving family of three will make it through the seventh-inning stretch, happily singing baseball’s unofficial anthem.

Bring on the peanuts and Cracker Jack. I don’t care to ever go back to that debacle at the diamond.


Sherri Richards is mother of a 14-month-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at