ninja boy at senior expo

Jackson Myers, 7, of St. Clair plays with his "ninja" at the Festus Senior Expo. Jackson attended the event with his grandma, Judia Goodson of House Springs. Instructions for making your own ninja or ballerina are included with this story as related documents.

We’ve put together a list of things grandkids and grandparents can do together this summer. Some are appropriate for toddlers, some for teens; some involve spending money and some are absolutely free.

Most of these activities take place within an hour’s drive of here, although some require venturing a little further afoot.

The Leader staff wishes all grandparents and grandkids a fun summer together!

Hang out at the library

There are six libraries in JeffersonCounty: The three branches (Arnold, Northwest and Windsor) of the Jefferson County Library and the municipal libraries in CrystalCity, Festus and De Soto. Each offers a variety of summer programs for kids, from story hours for preschoolers to book discussion groups for high schoolers. Children of all ages can earn prizes in the summer reading programs offered at each location. Special programs for teens include everything from anime clubs to guest speakers and artists to comic book trivia nights. Most programs are either free or have a nominal fee to cover the cost of materials.

Hang out at the Y

The Jefferson County Family YMCA in Festus offers summer day camp and child care as well as a number of classes and programs for children from babies through high school age. Kids can learn swimming, gymnastics, martial arts, and team sports like basketball and volleyball.  

Learn a skill

Swimming: Lessons are offered locally through the YMCA in Festus and Crystal City Municipal Pool. Levels range from pre-beginners through adult and recreational swim hours are available at both locations. Then, of course, there’s always the old swimmin’ hole, for those who like to dip their tootsies in local streams and creeks.

Target shooting: Grandparents who are experienced with firearms can be a great resource for teaching children safe handling and use of guns, bows and other weapons.

Top Gun Shooting Sports, with locations in Imperial and Arnold, offers pistol, rifle and archery training from beginning levels. The Arnold Rifle & Pistol Club’s Junior Shooters program features NRA-certified instructors teaching gun safety and marksmanship with small-bore rifle. JayHengesShootingRange in High Ridge offers beginner-level skeet classes.

Cooking: Dierbergs and Schnucks supermarkets both offer week-long summer culinary camp adventures for kids, as well as single-day seminars on cooking. Back at home, there are tons of websites and magazine articles featuring recipes for fun foods that multi-generational cooks can have fun whipping up.

Painting and pottery: There are several studios that offer budding artists a chance to paint their own pottery items. The price typically includes the greenware item, all paint supplies, and the firing fee. You simply go there, do your thing (Snacks are allowed, and music is almost always welcome) and come back in a few days to receive your completed item. Glazed and Confused in Oakville and the Painted Zebra are the closest locations for Jefferson Countians. The Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis and the Yucandu Art Studio in Webster Groves are also great for family-oriented, creative art experiences.

Hit the ol’ fishin’ hole

There are several public fishing areas in Jefferson County. The Flamm City site on Telegraph Road provides boat and fishing access to the Meramec River near its confluence with the Mississippi. The Truman Park site, adjacent to the Rush Island power plant in southern Jefferson County, provides boat and fishing access to the Mississippi River and walk-in access to the adjoining Harlow Island, which is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge.

Beginning at Washington State Park, Mammoth, Merrill Horse and Brown’s Ford sites provide anglers access to a 12-mile stretch of the Big River.

There are also many private lakes where fishing can be enjoyed. Check the Missouri Department of Conservation website for permit information.

Kids Fishing Day: The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources offer a free Kids Fishing Day on Aug. 15 at RoaringRiverState Park. Trout tags are free to children age 15 and under, and a portion of the fishing area will be reserved for youth fishing. Seminars will be held on fish cleaning, fish cooking, knife sharpening, knot tying, fly tying and fly casting, stream biology and other subjects. A hatchery tour will be held to show how trout are raised. A program on Missouri Snakes will be given using live specimens. Classes are also open to the whole family.

See a live musical performance

The Muny: This year is the 97th season for the historic outdoor Muny Theater in St. Louis’ Forest Park, which offers free backstage tours to groups of 15 or more with group ticket sales. There also are about 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows! Free pre-show activities begin as early as 7 p.m. in the East Gazebo, the Lichtenstein Plaza and the West Lawn and Pavilion. The 2015 season schedule includes “My Fair Lady,” “Hairspray,” “Into the Woods,” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

The Fabulous Fox: St. Louis’ famous Art Deco movie palace is a great place to launch a discussion about the movie industry and your favorite film experiences in particular. Your grandkids will love hearing about your 50-cent tickets and quarter boxes of popcorn. Tours of the theater are given on Tuesday and Thursday mornings; tickets for seniors, students and children are $6.

Get up close and personal with animals

Mastodons: Okay, we didn’t say they had to be LIVE animals! The Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of the area’s earliest settlers and the massive animals they hunted for food and skins.

World Bird Sanctuary: This 305-acre preserve in Valley Park is free and features more than 200 animals, including bald eagles, hawks, falcons and vultures. There are seasonal shows, trails to hike, educational programs and even a spot for a picnic.

Lone Elk Park: This 546-acre wildlife management area is just off I-44 near Valley Park and features bison, wild turkey, waterfowl, elk and deer roaming free.

Purina Farms: This research center near Gray Summit is free to visit, and features wagon rides, cow-milking demonstrations, an animal barn and hayloft play area, and a baby animal petting area. There are frequent shows showcasing performing dogs and their agility, diving and jumping skills.

Suson Park: Pet a piglet, feed a duck or milk a cow at the animal farm at this south St. Louis County park. Admission is free, and there’s a great playground suitable for all ages.

Grant’s Farm: A St. Louis tradition for more than five decades, this 280-acre animal preserve is home to the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. But there are more than 900 animals representing 100 other species as well. Take a camel ride, feed the baby goats and see an animal show. Admission and tram rides are free; there is a fee for parking and some shows.

Butterfly House: Guests can enjoy this butterfly preserve at Faust Park for free on the first Tuesday of every month from 9– 11 a.m. (Regular admission is $4 for kids 3-12 and $6 for ages 12 and up). Call early to book your breakfast with the Very Hungry Caterpillar! There are a number of summer classes for kids, adults and even some for families to take together.

Saint Louis Zoo: One of the world’s best, the St. Louis Zoo always has free admission, although some additional events and features have a fee. The savvy visitor knows that many such events – the stingray exhibit, the carousel, the children’s zoo -- are free early in the morning. New this year: The reopened Penguin and Puffin Coast and the brand –new Polar Bear Point.

Tuck into some yummy food treats

Whether it’s frozen custard at Rich’s in Festus, a malt at Ginny’s in Barnhart or a concrete at Dar-E-Kreme in Cedar Hill, there are plenty of cool options for Jefferson County ice cream lovers.

For candy, there’s the Giggle Box in De Soto or Rocket Fizz on Delmar in the University City Loop, as well as Crown Candy Kitchen (go head and grab a caramel sundae Newport style while you’re at it, with extra whipped cream and pecans!)

Sit in the dining room at Fitz’s Root Beer Factory and sip a float while watching the restored vintage machinery on the bottling line in action.

Take a free behind-the-scenes tour at the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company, offered six days a week (Reservations required for a group of six or more).

And of course, there is always a slice of Mile High Levee Pie at the Blue Owl in Kimmswick or one of its satellite Sweet Shop locations.

Play (or watch) a sport

Golf: The Jefferson County Parks Department sponsors a junior golf program for ages 8-18 in cooperation with Sugar Creek Golf Course, Raintree Country Club, Joachim Golf Course, Union Hills Golf Course and Pomme Creek Golf Course. And there are opportunities at all the courses for grandparents and grandkids to play together.

Baseball: The American Legion summer baseball program offers great baseball action at the right price: free for spectators. Local teams play at West City Park, the Post 283 Field on Montebello Road in Imperial and at De Soto High School.

Minor league baseball can offer all the excitement at a fraction of the price of  major league play. Head to T.R Hughes field in O’Fallon for a River City Rascals game or travel to GCSPark, just across the river, to see the Gateway Grizzlies. Tickets can be had for as low as $5 each.

Hiking and biking: From the asphalt-paved loop at Arnold City Park to the 2-mile wilderness trail at Valley View Glades Conservation Area west of Hillsboro, there are plenty of hiking and biking opportunities for families right here in Jefferson County. For a longer trip, consider checking out the KatyTrail. The nation’s longest rails-to-trails project, this state park stretches more than 400 miles across the Midwest on old railroad right-of-ways. Enjoy walking, jogging, rollerblading and bicycling, safe from vehicle traffic. Or bike the Riverfront Trail, which leads from the Arch up and across the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Curling: Try your hand at everyone’s favorite Olympic sport at the the Creve Coeur Ice Arena, home of the St. Louis Curling Club. A “Learn to Curl” session could be a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon!

Listen to some great music

Twin City concerts: There are two concerts left in the Twin City Area Chamber of Commerce Sunday Concerts in the Park series. On June 21, Lemen and Moon, an acoustic duo, will perform at the gazebo in Crystal City Park. On June 28, the series closes with a performance by Johnny Cash tribute band Bill Forness and the Tennessee Two at Sunset Park in Festus.

Whitaker Music Festival: On Wednesday nights through July 29th, head to the MissouriBotanical Garden for a music festival experience that’s free after 5 p.m. Bring your own picnic basket full of goodies, or purchase food, drinks and snow cones onsite.

See a movie

Free: Grab a lawn chair and some snacks and head to Herculaneum City Park for its “Movies in the Park” summer series. Offered on Saturday evenings, this annual series features free admission, free parking and concessions for sale. Upcoming titles include “Paddington,” “Cinderella,” “Big Hero 6” and “Planes: Fire and Rescue.” The series ends with a special “Frozen” sing-along on Aug. 22.

Free: Families can also enjoy a free movie on the outdoor screen at the Busch II Infield at Ballpark Village near Busch Stadium in St. Louis every Monday. Movie-related activities start at 6 p.m.; film at 7 p.m. Refreshments are available for sale. (No outside food/beverage allowed) Upcoming titles include “The Lego Movie,” “Space Jam,” “The  Little Rascals” and “The Sandlot.”

Free:The Saint Louis Art Museum Outdoor Film Series on Fridays is fun and free. Food trucks, music and festivities start at 7 p.m. and the movie begins at 9 p.m. This year enjoy “Back to the Future” “Jaws” “Clueless” and “Sound of Music.”

Cheap: Three local theaters are offering a summer movie series: The Arnold 14 Cinema, the Regal Gravois Bluffs Stadium 12 and the Keller 8 Cinema in south St. Louis County. Each has $1 movies starting at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, running through Aug. 6. The Gravois Bluffs theater also has $5.49 senior tickets all day on Wednesdays, and the Keller 8 has senior and kid tickets for just $3 every day before 5 p.m.

Absorb some history

Children of all ages can learn about their state’s history and heritage at the Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial, the Sandy Creek Covered Bridge near Hillsboro, Valentine Leight General Store in House Springs, and the Gov. Thomas C. Fletcher House in Hillsboro.

A bit further away, the visitor’s center at Trail of Tears State Park in Cape Girardeau tells the story of the forced march of Cherokee Indian tribes in the 1830s from the East Coast to Oklahoma. Admission is free.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, across the river in Collinsville, Ill., gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into this once-thriving city. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cahokia Mounds has an excellent Interpretive Center with exhibits, a theater, museum shop and food service. Outdoors there are self-guided tours, guided tours and trails. Comfortable clothing and shoes are recommended as well as hats, sunscreen, bottled water and insect repellent. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Take a trip back in time aboard the Gateway Arch Riverboats on the Mississippi River. Learn about the history of St. Louis and the importance of the river in this city during a one-hour cruise aboard a replica nineteenth-century steamboat.

Dive into a museum

The area’s Big Three of museums for kids are exciting, educational and fun.

The St. Louis Science Center offers free admission on select days, as well as its “Geek Out” program the first Friday of every month. The McDonnell Planetarium holds stargazing nights frequently; check the website.

The City Museum is the ultimate playground for kids and adults. Discounts are available after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (they’re open until midnight).

The Magic House is St. Louis’ premier hands-on museum for kids. It offers free admission the third Friday of each month from 5:30-9 p.m.

But there are a lot of other cool museums in the area to explore as well.

Myseum: The area’s newest spot for kids, the Myseum has interactive exhibits like a  magnetic bridge, liquid crystal wall, vertical wind tubes, air vortex cannon, a dino dig area, musical trash cans, laser harp and more. Admission is $10.95 for kids from 2-17, $5.95 for adults and $4.95 for those 60 and older.

Museum of Transportation: Take a train ride around the facility, check out the creation station or take a guided tour.

Laumeier Sculpture Park: Stroll through the garden of pieces that encourage creative thinking and an appreciation of modern art.

Missouri History Museum: This free museum offers the History Clubhouse: Let’s Build It, a space created just for families where visitors actually contribute to the development of the exhibit.

Kemp Auto Museum: Check out some of the finest collections of Mercedes Benz in the world. Need we say more?

World Chess Hall of Fame: Located in the Central West End, the World Chess Hall of Fame offers great exhibits about the game as well as the world’s biggest chess piece.

National Great Rivers Museum: Plan a visit here to learn the many aspects of the Mississippi River and how it impacts our lives every day. 

Go old school

Summer is a great time plan a night under the stars in your own backyard. Get the fire pit going, some lawn chairs, enough sticks for roasting marshmallows – and limber up your ghost story telling skills. The plus? Indoor plumbing is just a few steps away.

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