What if I told you your kids could see a movie and make fun crafts (with no messy cleanup for you!) all for free. Plus, play interactive computer games and explore thousands of picture books and even take a few of them home. What about taking a free kids yoga class or learning digital scrapbooking or comic-strip making?

It’s time for all good and frugal parents to take a new look at our public libraries—it’s not just about story-time anymore! The classes above are just a few offered by Orange County Public Library System. Our kids don’t need Disney (or other expensive outings) day in and day out. Sometimes the most simple things can bring the most pleasure.

Our first visit to the Orlando Public Library in downtown Orlando is proof of that. While it doesn’t quite reach the splendor of the New York Public Library’s main branch, the imposing concrete building still impressed my little suburbanites, who oohed and aahed as we entered the wide main entry hall.

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Our intention was to attend the library’s free “movie and craft” series. This particular one featured a free viewing of DisneyNature’s Wings of Life and a related craft, which turned out to be a butterfly bookmark. The kids each got little workbenches, scissors, markers, crayons, ribbon, stickers and tape, and they all worked on their crafts as the movie projected onto a screen in the front of the room.

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The kids were quite taken by both the movie and the craft. And they had plenty of time to make bookmarks for just about every member of the family. Librarians also had set a up a table with children’s books related to the creatures we’d just learned about in the movie: butterflies, bats and bees. (We left with a couple of them.)

Orlando Public Library

Afterward we explored the Children’s Library area. The kids enjoyed some computer games while I picked out age-appropriate books for them. Then we explored the all four floors of the library via elevator and headed to 7-Eleven at Central and Magnolia for a Slurpee.

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I spent many hours as a child exploring my town’s library, riding my bike miles to get there and returning home with my plastic bike basket filled with new stories. I fell in love with the library all over again, and I think my kids began a new romance too.

Click here to explore the programs and classes coming to the Orlando Public Library here.

IF YOU GO: The city issues parking tickets on the weekends. I found this out the hard way, turning my free adventure into a $22 outing. Either feed the meter and limit yourself to two hours in the library, or find a paid parking lot or garage. Be aware you may run into some indigent people inside and outside of the library. Address: 101 E. Central Blvd., Orlando. Phone: 407-835-7323.

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