6. In character: Barnes & Noble stores spice up children's story time with live actors in costumes. Plus, American Girl clubs and game nights get youngsters excited about reading. Visit the store locator at barnesandnoble.com to get the scoop on nearby events.
7. Go on strike: Kids bowl free when they sign up for AMF's Summer Unplugged program. The freebie covers two games per day, every day! Shoe rental not included. Visit freebowling.amf.com to register.
8. Pass it on: Invest in a membership at your favorite zoo, science center, or children's museum—it often costs just a tad more than one-day admission, yet is good for entry all year. Perks can include early entrance, gift shop discounts, and even free guest passes. Plus, you'll get in free or at a reduced rate at partnering institutions.
9. Sand blast: Hold your own sand castle contest. Don't live near the beach? Make a sandbox with a kiddie pool and sand from a garden supply store. Purchase by the cubic yard, not the bag, for the best price. And make sure you have access to plenty of water.
10. Theme scheme: Amusement parks can be pricey, but deals can be had. Staying at on-site hotels comes with perks: At Disney World, get
free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, nixing the need for a rental car. At Universal Orlando, grab free front-of-the-line access. For reduced-price tickets, buy online and in advance. Visit themeparkinsider.com/tickets to find discounted tickets to top theme parks across the country.
11. Culture club: Target sponsors many free or super cheap concerts, museum events, and cultural happenings all summer. Find events in 32 cities at target.com. (At the bottom of the page under "about Target" click on "company information," then "community outreach," then "arts + culture.") Bank of America debit or credit cardholders can flash their plastic and get into a slew of cultural institutions for free on the first full weekend of the month (except for special exhibits and ticketed shows; applies only to cardholder). Visit museums.bankofamerica.com for info.
12. About face: Barter with a local high school art student eager to hone facepainting skills. In exchange for free fun, the artist takes closeups for a portfolio.