By April Spray Newton Special to Published Aug 03, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Like a lot of Wisconsinites, I love a deal and I really love "free." This summer, I made a commitment to entertain our boys using as little money as possible. Partly because I have to and partly as a challenge.

I don’t work in the summers so money is much tighter. But I’ve also learned it’s pretty easy to find yourself buying tickets or paying admission prices to keep the kids entertained as the season wears on. Those costs can add up quickly and they aren’t really necessary if you are willing to think ahead, pack a picnic or spend some time outdoors.

So far this year, we’ve tried a few things and here are our favorites:

  1. The wading pool at Jacobus Park on the west side of the city is a bright, sunny spot with a good-sized pool and a fountain that an attendant turns on and off throughout the afternoon. My boys and a neighbor friend swam and splashed for hours and came home thoroughly exhausted. You can find out about all sorts of other neighborhood wading pools, splash pads, larger pools, city beaches and at this link, where hours and dates for special events are listed and updated regularly.
  2. Atwater Beach in Shorewood is below Atwater Park, a nice playground described as being at the head of East Capitol Drive. There are several flights of stairs down the beach and I have to admit, I hadn’t been to Atwater since it was badly damaged in a storm a few years ago. By the time it was repaired, I had a new baby and dragging him and a toddler down the steps was too daunting. Flash forward a couple of years and both boys were able to navigate the steps themselves which was worth the effort. There is a beautiful playground on the beach, clear sand and a lifeguard on duty. Atwater Park and Beach play host to a number of big Shorewood events, which you can learn more about here.
  3. Hawthorn Glen is near Milwaukee’s border with Wauwatosa and it’s dedicated to giving urban children an opportunity to see real wildlife in the city. The Nature Center is the permanent home of a beautiful owl and a few other animals and provides rehab and care facilities to many others who will be released back into the wild. The day we visited, a wonderful caregiver introduced us to all the animals and showed us how he feeds a baby opossum who was recently rescued on the side of a nearby road. Afterward, we took a stroll on the forest path, walked through the pasture to see wildflowers, climbed the grassy berm (many, many times) and played on the playground. Hours for the Nature Center are limited, so check here to see if it works for your schedule.

Those are our big ones so far but we’ve got plans for more. If you know of any free or low-cost activities you want to share, please put them in the comments section. We’re headed to the KidZ Days at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts next week and a story time at the Wauwatosa Library on Wednesday.

What else do you suggest?

April Spray Newton Special to

April Spray Newton is a Milwaukee transplant, having set down roots here almost six years ago. She's an instructor at Marquette University, a freelance writer, a mother, a wife and lots of other things. In the Newton household, we all want to be President someday, or maybe an artist, or maybe a chef, or maybe an astronaut, or maybe a pop star, or maybe ....

Because April hails from the Midwest, Milwaukee has seemed deeply familiar at times but also revolutionary. To April, the friendly attitudes, do-it-yourself-iness, and love of the outdoors are recognizable and welcome. Milwaukeeans' accepting approach of so many kinds of people, devotion to education, passion for the arts and interest in creating a true sense of community is surprising but also very welcome.

April has worked in TV news and still freelances in print. Her stories have appeared in several local publications.