If your patience and your wallet are wearing thin, you'll enjoy this list of educational, entertaining ways to spend an afternoon without spending a dime.
1. The Old Mill — Located at Fairway Avenue and Lakeshore Drive in North Little Rock, the Old Mill is a popular outdoor destination. This re-creation of an 1880's water-powered gristmill was featured in the opening scenes of David O. Selznick's 1937 movie classic "Gone with the Wind." The park is decorated with sculptures of toadstools, tree stumps and several ornate bridges — all great for curious kids. A lake stretches into the Lakewood neighborhood below the Old Mill. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.
2. Arkansas State Capitol — If you're looking for a way to beat the heat, it's always cool in the Capitol. Children will love the ornate staircases and the high ceilings of the rotunda. Older children can learn a great deal from the exhibits. The historic building is open to the public Monday through Friday from 7 am to 5 pm. and on weekends and holidays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free scheduled tours of the Capitol are offered weekdays from 9 a.m.-4 pm. Call (501) 682-5080 to visit www.sos.arkansas.gov for more information or to arrange a private tour (also free!).
3. Arkansas Arts Center — The galleries of the Arkansas Arts Center, located at Ninth and Commerce streets in Little Rock, are a wonder to behold. Children can get up-close views of the works of such artists as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Rembrandt and Rubens. Yes, inside voices are preferred, but even high-spirited children will find something to love (even if it's only playing hide and seek in the twisting turns of the galleries!). The Arts Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (501) 372-4000.
4. The Peabody Little Rock — Parading ducks, spectacular downtown views and a great glass elevator. Need we say more? The ducks parade into the lobby at 11 a.m., where they swim in the lobby fountain until parading out at 5 p.m. Kids will love riding the glass elevators to the roof, where they can visit the duck's abode and take in a great view of downtown Little Rock and the Arkansas River. For more information, call (501) 906-4000 or visit www.peabodylittlerock.com.
5. Old State House Museum — The oldest surviving state capitol west of the Mississippi River has plenty of activities for kids. The Wilderness Gallery features interpretive panels, a video program and interactive kiosks. Grandmother's Cottage is a hands-on area where kids can play with fun items from almost a century ago. The museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Call (501) 324-9685 or visit www.oldstatehouse.com for more information.
6. Little Rock Central High School Museum — Older children might appreciate an in-depth history lesson about the desegregation of Central High. The museum is located in a new visitor center near the historic high school at 2125 Daisy Bates Drive. Hours of operation are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The school itself is closed during the summer, but the grounds are open for touring. Kids will love running up and down the front steps. To reach the museum, call (501) 374-1957.
7. The River Market — On Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. from May-October, farmers and artisans set up booths in the River Market Pavilion in downtown Little Rock. Sure, you might spend a few dollars on fresh Arkansas veggies, but the experience of walking, looking, smelling and tasting the samples is still free.
8. Pinnacle Mountain State Park — Who's up for a stroll? The park offers guided hikes or presentations about the natural world hosted by park interpreters. For current events, call the park at (501) 898-5806.
9. MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History — This museum, housed in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal, showcases the state's military heritage with exhibits that feature photographs, uniforms, weapons and other artifacts. Budding history enthusiasts may enjoy learning how Arkansas has played a role in the country's conflicts. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Call (501) 376-4206 or visit www.arkmilitaryheritage.com for more information.
10. Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke — Only half an hour from Little Rock is one of the nation's largest warm-water fish hatcheries, and it's open for tours. This state-owned hatchery raises catfish, largemouth bass, bream, crappie, striped bass and hybrid striped bass. Bring binoculars and you might catch a glimpse of waterfowl and migrating shorebirds on the hatchery's open ponds. The visitor center has exhibits on Arkansas' fish and wildlife, an aquarium, and an observation platform. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Call (501) 676-6963 for more information.