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Free and cheap things to do with the kids this week

We have some great cheap choices this week, from the fish-full MarineQuest to Dragon Boat Races to killer deals at two great children's museums. Read on for more wallet-friendly fun.

We are big fans of MarineQuest, the open house at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. It may sound like heaven for sixth-grade science nerds, but it's actually one of the best-kept secrets around. Kids can handle horseshoe crabs, sea stars, spiny lobsters and other water critters in the touch tank, plus create fish prints (gyotaku) and marine origami, put together a manatee skeleton and touch sharks and rays. And it's all free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 100 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-8626.

It's a glorious sight when the Dragon Boat Races get going. This whimsical, popular race of dragon-festooned boats is serious business. It takes 20 paddlers each to move the 45-foot-long boats through the Garrison Channel in Tampa. A steersperson stands on a platform and guides the boat, while a drummer sits facing the crew, keeping everybody in synch with the beat. Racing starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, with heats every 10 minutes for more than 50 teams, some local, as well as from across the United States and Canada. It's free to watch (Tip: Head to the Marriott Tampa Waterside for a good view.) Take a break at the Asia Fest and International Beer Festival in nearby Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park starting at 11 a.m.

We've got some great children's museum deals this week. Sunday is $5 Day at MOSI and then it's Two Dollar Tuesday at the Glazer Children's Museum. The Museum of Science and Industry, is celebrating the month of "Maynia" by kicking it off Sunday with the deal, which includes MOSI's exhibit galleries and a standard IMAX film ticket for Born to Be Wild, at 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. Over at Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park, the children's museum will have $2 admission Tuesday from 2 to 7 p.m. at 110 W Gasparilla Plaza.

A great date night or family night on the beach is the Beach Goes Pops. Pass-a-Grille is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and former Gov. Charlie Crist will be on hand as the master of ceremonies for the 21st year of concerts on the beach. The free music starts at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and there are vendors, artists' booths and, new this year, kids activities and games in Pass-A-Grille Park. Friday's music is more modern and pop, and Saturday features the Beach Goes Pops Orchestra. Bring beach chairs and blankets. Shuttle service will be available from 4 to 10:30 p.m. at the county beach park across from the Dolphin Village Shopping Center at 4600 Gulf Blvd.

The waterfront park in downtown Clearwater is music central this weekend. On Saturday, the Smooth Jazz Fest eases into the weekend starting at 1 p.m. with WSJT 94.1-FM putting this 16th annual music fest together with the Rippingtons, Tizer featuring Karen Briggs, Nyee Moses, Jackiem Joyner and more. Then on Sunday starting at 1:30 p.m., the Fun 'n Sun QFest brings classic rockers Kansas, Little River Band and Departure, a Journey tribute band, and more to rock the park. For both shows, free general admission tickets are available at select sponsors listed at, or it's $5 at the gate. Coachman Park is at 301 Drew St. in Clearwater.

Thank God it's Friday, Joe Friday. Theatre in the Park: Dragnet in R.E. Olds Park is based on the NBC radio and television series about no-nonsense Sgt. Friday and Officer Frank Smith trying to fight crime. Sneak previews are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and May 5, and the show runs through May 7. Free admission. Concessions available. Bring your own chairs and blankets to the park at 107 Shore Drive W, Oldsmar.

Sometimes less can be more, as in less racing around, less clutter, less scheduling. Parents can hear a free talk by Kim John Payne, school counselor, adult educator, researcher and author of Simplicity Parenting, who will discuss his strategies for turning down the volume and creating a pace that fosters "calmness, mindfulness, reflection, and individuality in children." Friday at 7 p.m., Payne will conduct a free lecture at Octagon Arts Center, 2470 Nursery Road, Clearwater. Childcare is available for $5 per child if you call ahead (727) 786-8311. Saturday, Payne will conduct a four-hour workshop including hands-on activities and role playing. Childcare is available for $10 per child. Workshop is $40, $50 per couple. Sponsored by the Suncoast Waldorf School.

The Green Thumb Festival this weekend also includes a children's plant fair in this 25th annual plant and landscape festival that celebrates Arbor Day and Earth Day. Find a colorful array of flowering plants, trees, orchids, herbs, garden art for sale, soil and water testing, tool sharpening, horticulture exhibits, children's plant fair, Garden Club of St. Petersburg flower show (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.), recycling and more. Free (trees additional). Walter Fuller Park and Center, 7891 26th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 893-7441. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Pasco County Earth Day celebrates the Earth at this event with Earth friendly crafts, educational booths, electronics recycling, expired medication take back, reptile show, native plant sale (9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.), rain barrel workshop and a lady bug release. Free admission. Crews Lake Wilderness Park, 16739 Crews Lake Drive, Shady Hills. (727) 856-2917, ext. 201. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

The family-friendly street celebration Blast Friday features entertainment, vendors, foods, family activities and contests on the last Friday of every month. This month features Rick Derringer playing his hits including Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo and Hang On Sloopy. Free. Cleveland Street District, 433 Cleveland St., Clearwater. Toll-free 1-888-532-5278. 5:30 p.m. Friday.

El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros, or Children's Day/Book Day, is an international celebration of children, families and reading. The multilingual children's celebration of literacy includes stories, refreshments, dancing, pinata and a children's parade in the library. Also a performance by the Life Force Children's Ensemble and the unveiling of a diversity mural made by hundreds of children. Free. Clearwater East Library, 2251 Drew St., Clearwater. (727) 562-4970. 1-4:30 p.m. Saturday. Also the Latin American celebration Dia Del Nino (Day of the Child) honoring children comes to Lowry Park Zoo with family activities and entertainment including live Latin music, bilingual talks, dance lessons and Hispanic food. Included with zoo admission: $23.95, $21.95 seniors, $18.95 ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 935-8552. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Listen to a story read by St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and have a spaghetti dinner for Children's Book Week. Adults must be accompanied by a child. RSVP by Friday . Free. James Weldon Johnson Branch Library, 1059 18th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 893-7113. 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Family Fun Fishing Day is for children up to age 14. Fishing poles and bait provided, but you may want to bring your own pole. Prizes awarded for first catch, most fish, smallest fish and top three biggest fish. Coffee, juice and doughnuts available for a $1 donation. Proceeds from donations benefit the purchase of worms for future fishing days. Free. Walsingham Park, 12615 102nd Ave. N, Largo. (727) 319-8343.

8-11 a.m. Saturday.

For ourselves check out the Mother Love Family Fitness Festival This showcase of products and services to benefit the health and wellbeing of families includes interactive demonstrations and classes as well as a tour of the gardens. A few activities include hoop dancing, family yoga, massage, wellness checks and health snack tasting. Free. Sunken Gardens, 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 637-7913.

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.

Today and Friday are the last days to take advantage of Spring Break Aboard the 'American Victory' Students can play on the American Victory ship during their spring break for free with the purchase of an adult ticket. Kids are encouraged to walk the planks and other activities on a scavenger hunt. $10, $8 seniors/veterans, $5 12 and younger. SS American Victory, 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 228-8766. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today-Friday.

More than 24 booths explore the wonders of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math at the St. Petersburg Science Festival. This event is being held in conjunction with Marinequest. Free. University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus, 140 Seventh Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 803-9799, ext. 206. 10 a.m. Saturday.

Teen Cafe - Poetry Slam! is a low-key night for teens to hang out and be creative with friends. Snacks provided. This month's event celebrates National Poetry Month with an annual poetry slam. Free. Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library, 2902 W Bearss Ave., Tampa. (813) 273-3652. 6 p.m. today.

Train lovers can indulge in the Train Show/Open House where the Suncoast Model Railroad Club has set up more than 100 tables with operating layouts in all scales and train related memorabilia. $6, $1 ages 12-17, 11 and younger free. Minnreg Building, 6340 126th Ave. N, Largo. (813) 436-4182. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

The crew of the Webkinz Road Trip brings games, contests and audience participation Pet of the Month Karaoke. Kids can spin the Wheel of Wow for Webkinz prizes. Everyone receives a free Webkinz Code Card to activate a virtual van for their Webkinz pet. Free. Greg's Hallmark Bloomington Square, 863 E Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon. (813) 684-3758. 4-7 p.m. Friday.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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