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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Free and cheap things to do with the kids



boatparade.jpgThere's no getting out of it now, the holidays are breathing down our increasingly-tense necks. But how about looking at it this way: With family visiting this is a marvelous time to stop and pay attention to how much fun they can be. Luckily, we have lots of wallet-friendly ways to spend some time together, whether it's taking in a free concert, seeing free movies on the beach or painting alongside circus elephants, you don't have to spend a lot to be richly rewarded.

The family-friendly shuffleboard courts of Mirror Lake play host to a Holiday Mix Tape Show and Children’s Home benefit on Friday. Featuring live music by Geri X, Rebekah Pulley, Bite Size, Brian Merrill, Mark Warren and DJ Scott Imrich, all proceeds from CD sales go to the Children’s Home of Tampa. Pay what you can for the For the Kids holiday mixtape, featuring holiday music by Marksmen, the Vodkanauts, the Ditchflowers, Crash Mitchell and more. And while you are there you can pick up a stick and play shuffleboard too. It's a fun place to take all ages because in addition to the courts, there is a clubhouse with pool tables, chess sets, board games, lawn bowling and more. It’s free starting at 7 p.m. at the Mirror Lake St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, 559 Mirror Lake Drive N, St. Petersburg.

Friday is your last chance of the season to see decorated boats motor through Tampa’s waterways. The Tampa Boat Parade is best viewed from Channelside, the SS American Victory (fee), Davis Islands, Harbor Island and the Convention Center, the floating light brigade kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Free.

They show movies on the beach near Pier 60 every weekend, but with the holidays upon us we have a gift: free movies at sunset every day from Monday through Dec. 31. The lineup includes The Smurfs (Monday), Kung Fu Panda 2 (Tuesday), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Wednesday) and more. See for a schedule. Free.

Fifty lucky children can grab paint brushes and Paint Like an Elephant with the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey painting elephant on Tuesday at Curtis Hixon Park. Even if you don’t get chosen, this should be fun to watch. Kids and their parents can begin lining up at 8 a.m. for first come, first-served brushes. Painting starts at 10:30 a.m. at the waterfront park at 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa.

We may not have snow but you can still hunt for Florida snowmen. Or make one of your own. For the past few years, the stretch of sand between the snack bar and the Don CeSar on Pass-a-Grille has featured several sand people, ranging from tiny 2-footers to some that are life-sized and carved out of the sand. Be sure to bring a camera to document. (They’d make a perfect Christmas card from Florida next year.)

manatees.jpgIf you have relatives visiting, make sure you take them to see the manatees. Nothing delights Northern relatives more than seeing our famous sea cows up close. Your best bet is Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station, right, which features a wooden boardwalk over the water, garden and habitat displays, a snack bar and decks to view the manatees, which are attracted to the plant’s warm water. The center is at 6990 Dickman Road, next to the power plant at the end of Big Bend Road. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. See a live web cam at The center closes at 3 p.m. Christmas Eve and is closed Christmas Day.

Join Steve Turner of Giving Tree Music for a Community Drum Circle to welcome the new year at the Countryside Library, 2741 State Road 580, Clearwater. Bang the drum slowly starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Do you have a struggling reader? Have them Read to Tucker, the cuddly, Welsh Springer spaniel has been trained to listen impartially as beginning readers and those uncomfortable with reading out loud focus on reading a story to him. Moms report great success with this pairing. It's free today (Thursday) and next Tuesday at the St. Pete Beach Library, 365 73rd Ave., St. Pete Beach. 4 p.m.

This might be more for a date night than with kids but there's still time to ake advantage of the last days of the Chihuly happy hour special, which ends Friday. Normally, it costs $15 to see the collection of works by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, but the holiday happy hour special is just $5 from 3 to 6 p.m., including a free drink coupon at the Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg.

Take the family on Wildflower Walk and learn to identify Florida wildflowers and enjoy their beauty in a guided stroll through the preserve. $3 adults, $1.50 children. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, 1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg. (727) 893-7326. 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Even though it's falling on Christmas Eve, the regular Saturdays at the Morean is still on, with free art experiences designed for families with children ages 5-10. Instructors will assist with art stations and take-home projects. Free. Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 822-7872. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 2:06pm]


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