The recession may have prompted some parents to cut back on nights at the movies or trips to Chuck E. Cheese (Stock Quote: CEC), but you can treat your kids to a rollicking good time and give your pocketbook a break if you know where to look. Here are a few free family fun ideas that will keep you and your family in high spirits despite the economic downturn.

Visit your local library. A trip to the library may not sound that exciting but many, such as the Wichita Public Library in Wichita, Kan., offer puppet shows, stories, crafts and games for children as young as 3 years old and their parents.  Others, such as the Desert Sage Library, part of the Phoenix Public Library System, have story time for parents and kids of all ages. 

You can find out what programs are being offered at your local library at

Find a factory. Not many people get to see how their favorite products are made, so give your kids an opportunity to see technology first hand. FactoryTourUSA provides a state-by-state database of free and low-cost tours for individuals and families. If you’re in southern California, you can take the kids on a trip to the Deering Banjo Company to see how the instruments are made. If you have an amateur scientist at home (and are in the greater Chicagoland area), you can see a real particle accelerator at Fermilab in Galena, Ill.

Take a hike. You can introduce your kids to the wonders of nature with a trip through the great outdoors. You can find a trail near you by logging on to.  Do a little research before hand and try to spot local flora and fauna along the way.

Get some culture. Cultural centers across the country sponsor events and festivals during the year. You can gorge yourself on gelato and dance to traditional Italian music at the Festa Italiana in Washington, D.C., or take the kids to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Festival in Mansfield, Mo., this fall.

Although there is no one-stop-shop for cultural societies around the country, you can usually find out about these events in the Weekend”section of your local newspaper, or just Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) “cultural festival” and the name of your town or city.

Start a club. If you’re looking to spend your time with other families, you could do what Jen Smith, the brains behind does, and start a club for other families in your area.

“We participate in a mah jong club with our friends where we rotate homes and make potluck meals,” says Smith.

Though the parents usually kick in $5 to split the cost of a babysitter, clubs such as Smith’s are fun for the whole family.

“The older kids can play,” she says.  “And the little kids love it because they can get together with all of their friends.”

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