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“My kids are like druggies,” lamented my friend Nancy. “If you give them sugar or TV, they don’t want to stop.”

I sympathized. “I know what you mean about the TV. Between that and the computer and the video games, I feel like I’m engaged in the care and feeding of zombies. I’m seriously considering making this an electronics-free summer. Now I just have to figure out how to occupy them without spending much money.”

“If I tell them to go play, they refuse,” said Nancy. “I find I have to let them ‘discover’ things, so I do what I call ‘featuring.’ I’ll take most of the toys out of the play area and leave just a few. We’ve been reading Robin Hood, so I left out the dress-up clothes and things that fit with that. Or I’ll mix up uses for certain rooms — I just made the sun porch into an engine room, with a big table and lots of toy trains. Or I’ll move a blanket around the backyard — one day a picnic in one spot, the next book-reading somewhere else.”

Nancy’s kids are still pretty young; Sande’s run from six to teen. “Sometimes, my husband will set up a tent in the yard. We’ll grill something for dinner. The kids will play in the tent all day and then sleep in it at night. And of course, there’s always the beach. We like to go to Coronado in the late afternoon with a picnic dinner. And I know you want to avoid the TV, but if it’s really, really hot, I might turn on the air-conditioning and do an indoor movie marathon. I’ll play things like Belles on Their Toes, Cheaper by the Dozen. I make popcorn and give out some old movie-theater-type candy. It’s a great way to make kids game for old movies.”

Lissa suggested tweaking routines — “maybe going to a different grocery store — an Asian supermarket or an Italian deli store. I let the kids wander the aisles, pick out something to bring home and try. Last week, we decided to visit as many bakeries around San Diego as we could. I found New York Bakery in El Cajon [619-283-6886], where they had these anise-flavored S cookies that I used to get in Queens. The owners were so nice — they gave the kids S cookies and chatted with us, and we picked out napoleons and éclairs to bring home. It was exactly the New York bakery experience. Next, we’re heading to a Mexican bakery, and there’s a Cuban bakery we want to visit. You can learn a lot about a culture by chatting with the people who make it sweet.”

At home, Lissa loves games friendly to a broad age range. “We’ve played all-day marathons of ‘Settlers of Catan’ [$54.99 on Amazon] — you amass resources to build settlements.”

Monica was all about the free — for books, food, and fun. “Several of my kids’ reading really took off because of the library’s summer reading program,” she attested. I called my La Mesa branch. “This year’s theme is ‘Get Creative.’ It starts June 19 and runs through August 12. We have programs for birth through teens — and even one for adults. Kids receive prizes based on the number of hours they read — or number of books, for the little ones. They can also earn raffle tickets for a drawing — one of the prizes is a Nintendo DS. Throughout the week, we have crafts. You can register at your local branch or online.”

Joann Tucker at the San Diego Unified School District told me about their program, Summer Fun Café. It’s a free lunch program with no enrollment, no paperwork, and no conditions, “open to children from 2 to 18. You can find a list of schools and parks that offer it at www.sandi.net/food. Our big kickoff is on June 24 at the Skyline Hills Recreational Center [8285 Skyline Drive] — we’ll have a free BBQ open to adults and kids, and San Diego Charger Matt Wilhelm will be there, along with craft tables and games.”

I gave a call to the Adams Avenue Recreation Center in Normal Heights to see what they had going on. “Our free lunch runs from June 22 until August 28, from noon to 1:00 p.m. Also, we’re going to have a portable pool set up on the blacktop. We’ll have swim lessons for a small fee, and daily free open swim times. And we have Nature Camps from July 13 to 17 and August 10 to 14 — they include games and crafts based on nature, as well as a field trip. In past years, we’ve gone to the zoo or to Sea World. The cost is just $10 per child for the whole week.”

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