MINT HILL, NC – Temperatures are warming up, and we’re counting down the days until school’s out for summer! Here are some great tips for enjoying the summer with your family without breaking the bank.
Visit your local parks. Located at 8850 Fairview Road, Mint Hill Veterans Memorial Park offers a children’s playground, beach volleyball, soccer, softball, tennis, pickleball, disc golf, horseshoes, a paved walking path, and a one-mile nature trail. Currently under construction, the soccer fields and paved path are expected to be ready for use in July. Located off Wilgrove-Mint Hill Road, Mint Hill’s Park on Wilgrove is a popular choice for the summer as its natural wooded area provides dense shade on hot summer days. The Park on Wilgrove features softball, tennis, children’s playground equipment, and a natural walking trail.
Venture a bit farther away to take advantage of unique features at other local parks. Stallings Park and Crooked Creek Park both have splash pads that are free and open to the public during summer months. Squirrel Lake Park, Colonel Francis Beatty Park, and Rob Wallace Park all offer fishing ponds and extensive hiking trails. Located just south of the roundabout in Matthews, Purser Hulsey Park also offers extensive walking and biking trails peppered with “fairy gardens” and painted rocks to enjoy.
Take advantage of offerings at local nature preserves. Situated on 281 acres off Thompson Road, Stevens Creek Nature Preserve is home to over three miles of trails as well as a Nature Center featuring live native animals and an exhibit hall. The trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Nature Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm. The Nature Preserve and Nature Center are always free to visit.
Additionally, Stevens Creek offers a wide variety of free and inexpensive programming for all ages year round. Free programs this summer include topics like letterboxing on June 3 (ages 5+), a drop in program on snake behavior on July 15 (ages 10+), Super Mario Geocaching on August 12 (all ages), and World Lizard Day on August 19 (all ages). Programs with a small fee include the Summer Bird Parade on July 30 ($7, ages 5-17), Archery 101 on August 5 ($15, ages 10-17), and International Bat Night on August 26 ($5, all ages). Visit https://parkandrec.mecknc.gov/ and click “Find a Program or Activity” to view and register for programs available at Stevens Creek Nature Preserve and other facilities across Mecklenburg County.
Enjoy a movie. With movie tickets for new releases topping out at $30, the costs of a family outing to catch one of the summer’s hottest new releases can add up quickly, especially when you add in the cost of theater-purchased refreshments.
Before you drop $100 on a trip to theater, consider what you have access to at home. Do some digging: see what your streaming services currently offer, and make a list of movies you’d like to see. Set up a movie night in your living room complete with a “snack pack” made of supplies you can buy inexpensively from the dollar store or your local grocery store.
Local theaters also frequently offer kid-friendly daytime shows at a deep discount. From May 29 – August 3, Red Stone Theater 14 in Indian Land and Sun Valley 14 in Indian Trail are offering $2 kids movies on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 am. Titles include popular releases from last summer like Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Puss in Boots: Last Wish, and DC League of Super Pets. With $1.50 popcorn and drinks, a family of four can enjoy movies and snacks for just $20.
If you really want to catch a new release, do a little research. Most theaters offer discounts and deals for certain days and times. Regal Theaters offer discounted ticket prices on Tuesdays, and a free AMC Stubs Insider membership affords you discounted Tuesday tickets as well as a host of other perks like free popcorn refills.
Take advantage of programming at your local library. The Mint Hill Library offers dozens of resources and programs to keep you busy all summer long. Beginning June 1, Summer Break returns to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. More than just a summer reading program, Summer Break encourages families to spend time together in ways that allow them to foster their love of learning through six different activities in addition to reading. Visit cmlibrary.beanstack.org to register and log your reading and activities.
The Mint Hill branch may be small in comparison to some other regional branches, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access what you’re looking for there. If you can’t find it on paper, your library card gives you access to several different libraries of e-books that can be checked out from your computer, phone or tablet. If you prefer paper books and an item isn’t available in Mint Hill, you can submit an interlibrary loan request or even suggest the book for purchase. The library’s website and app are great resources for searching the catalog, requesting loans, and checking out digital items.
“We always sign up for the library reading program during the summer and will spend a few hours there each week picking out books,” says mom of two Erica Larter. “I also enjoy being able to put books on hold and just swinging by to get them.”
The library’s regular storytime programming continues throughout the summer, including Baby Storytime (Mondays at 9:30 am), Family Storytime (Tuesdays at 10:15 am and 11:00 am, Saturdays at 9:30 am), Preschool Storytime (Wednesdays at 11:15 am) and Storytime at the Park (Thursdays at 9:00 am at Veterans Park). Additionally, the library will host two Spanish-language programs this summer: Stories in 2 Languages: Spanish Storytime on June 12 at 11:15 am and Conexiones que Cuentan on June 16 at 11:15 am.
Lastly, the library offers a robust slate of school-age programming on select days at 2:00 pm throughout the summer. In June, enjoy making a dyed beans mosaic, listening to traditional storytelling, playing board games, making shadow puppets, meeting police dogs, creating “under the sea” art, learning simple gardening, and watching a puppet show! Programming varies monthly, so make sure to check out the full calendar of events on cmlibrary.org or stop by the branch and pick up a paper copy. All library programs are free. Registration is not required, but participation is limited and first come, first-served.
Use what you have. If you’re like me, you’ve got a supply of craft supplies, board games and outdoor toys – but sometimes what’s stashed away gets forgotten. Pull those kids’ toys out of the garage – hose them down and put them somewhere easy to access (go ahead and sell or donate what they’ve grown out of while you’re at it). Inventory your board games, and make sure they’re accessible and age-appropriate. Instead of perusing Pinterest and shopping for supplies, flip the script: catalog your craft supplies, and then look for crafts you can make with them. Better yet, set out a small selection of supplies and see what your kids come up with!
Avoid eating out. With the rising costs of food, grabbing a meal or even a snack out can quickly turn a free or cheap outing into an expensive one. One way to counter the high cost of eating out is simply to plan ahead, scheduling summer outings in a way that enables you to eat at home. Plan to head home for lunch after that 10:00 movie or 11:15 storytime. Make sure to pack water and snacks when you’ll be out of the house for some time, and consider packing a picnic when you head out to local parks, Stevens Creek or even the library.
“We park hop and splash pad hop around town all summer long,” says mom of three Sunshine Price. “I pack snacks and lunches the night before, and we head out of the house around 8:00 am before its way too hot and hit up a park for a couple hours. I keep a case of water in my trunk so even if we get stranded somewhere, we have water. We can stay gone from the house for 6-8 hours in a day like that!”
When you do eat out, plan ahead, and look for deals. On Tuesdays, kids eat free all day at Hawthorne’s Pizza with the purchase of a $7 adult entree, and at Showmars, kids meals are half price in the evening. On Sundays, kids meals are $5 all day at Dunwells. https://fun4charlottekids.com/Shopping-and-Dining/Kids-Eat-Free/ and https://www.charlotteonthecheap.com/charlottes-kids-eat-free-deals/ are good resources to check out for all the kids meal deals in the Charlotte area.
Invest in one membership – and use the heck out of it. Memberships can definitely be pricey, but they can also be worth it if you use them fully and frequently! Urban Air Adventure Park in Mint Hill offers three different levels of Endless Play Membership starting at just $9.99 per person per month.
With multiple children to consider and a full-year’s commitment required, Endless Play Memberships aren’t cheap. But with all-day passes ranging from $20.99 to $31.99, even a Platinum Membership at $15.99 per person per month (which allows full access to the park, including the new Spin Zone Bumper Cars and Virtual Reality attraction) can work out to a fraction of the cost.
With extended hours during the summer (10:00 am – 8:00 pm Monday – Thursday, 10:00 am – 9:00 pm Friday, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm Saturday, 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm Sunday), you can get a lot of bang for your buck out of an Endless Play Membership while the kids are out of school. For Price, it’s a great way to beat the beat the heat on summer’s hottest days and keep her kids off screens. “Sometimes we go every week day!” she says.
Ultimately, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot to have a good time. “We asked the boys what they wanted to do this summer and found most of the things they had on their bucket list were free and just quality time experiences,” says Larter, “like build a fort in the living room, blow bubbles at the park, ride bikes down the Greenway.” Communicate with your kids, be mindful of your own budget, and take advantage of free and cheap opportunities all around you, and you’re sure to have a great summer!