Visit any metro library, and get a pass for two free admissions to local museums and attractions. Destinations vary, but always include many children's favorites. Current and past attractions have included the Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Zoo, the Bell Museum of Natural History and the Works Science and Technology museum. Here's the current Museum Adventure Pass destinations.
Como Park, Como Zoo, the Marjory McNeely Conservatory, and the gardens in St. Paul are free to visit. Special events like storytimes, watching the animals being fed, and enrichment programs are held on a regular basis.
During the summer, check out the Sparky the Sealion show - held daily at 11.30 a.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. at the weekends.
Como Zoo and Conservatory request a small donation, but it's optional.
Local toy stores are great places to visit with children, and not just for shopping for toys. Stores like Creative Kids Stuff, which has several metro locations, has frequent free art projects and in-store entertainment.
The best stores to visit in the Twin Cities? It's a tie between Wild Rumpus in south Minneapolis for the fanciful decor, animals to visit, and free storytimes.
And another wonderful store is Choo Choo Bob's train store in St. Paul, which delights little engineers with several train layouts in the rear of the store that are free to play with.
Of course, visiting a store is bound to give your tot plenty ideas of new toys that they simply cannot without...
Target and the Minnesota Orchestra have frequent free family concerts. Tickets are in high demand, so are distributed by random drawing. Sign up at the Minnesota Orchestra's website for email notifications of when the next concert will be.
The Minnesota Sinfonia, a professional chamber orchestra, play regular free concerts at venues all over the Twin Cities metro area, with lively music aimed at children and families.
Tot Time and Open Gym at Rec Centers
This is a great way for small children to burn off energy in the winter months. My local rec center, North Dale in St. Paul, holds twice-weekly open gym sessions for toddlers on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Plenty of large toys, balls, slides, tricycles and other toys are set out to encourage movement and activity for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Many rec centers in the Twin Cities metro area run similar free programs, usually on weekdays during the school year.
On selected Saturday mornings, Minneapolis Central Library in downtown Minneapolis screens short films for children, provides an free art project and free snacks and drinks too.
The library is a great source for free entertainment - you know that you can get books and movies from the library, but did you know the 100 public libraries in the metro area have hundreds of free events, many for kids? Find what's happening at your local library.
Parks in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and across the metro area run summer programs with free screening of children's movies, children's musicians and bands, and entertainment. Centennial Lakes Park in Edina has the most family-friendly events with concerts and entertainment during the day and early evening.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a world-class art gallery, which is large enough to take the kids to a couple of times just by itself. Look for free guides to the collections, and suggestions for the best galleries to take children to.
In addition, one Sunday a month is Family Day at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Art projects, activities, music, and entertainment based on a theme related to one of the museums collections are free for all.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is also home to the annual Rock the Cradle event, produced in conjuction with Minnesota Public Radio station The Current, a day of live music, art, disco dancing for kids.
Free Storytimes at Libraries and Bookstores
Almost every library in the Twin Cities holds storytimes. There is usually a baby storytime, a toddler storytime, and one for pre-schoolers. Libraries are also great resources for other kinds of free entertainment, such as science classes, visiting with pets and other animals, and art projects.
Free indoor play areas suitable for toddlers and small children are located in shopping malls across the metro area. The Midtown Global Market has a play area, Maplewood Mall and Rosedale Mall in Roseville both have popular play areas, Eden Prairie Center has a Minnesota-themed play area, and the Mall of America's lego store has lots of bricks and blocks to play with.