Summer vacation may mean “no more pencils, no more books,” but it also means lots more free time to fill. Here are seven fun options to spend quality family time together, all of them outdoors and all of them gratis:
Backpack Adventures at Hofstra University
Pick up a "Let's Explore" backpack at the Emily Lowe Gallery in the Hofstra University Museum and spend an hour or so with kids ages 5 to 12 exploring the outdoor sculpture collection on the university's campus. Various themes are available, including animals, shapes, people and speak up (activists). Pick up backpack between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and return the materials by 4 p.m. The gallery also offers a separate free booklet called "The Great Art Caper," which has families uncover clues among the outdoor sculptures to solve a mystery. Info: 112 Hofstra University, Hempstead; 516-463-5672; hofstra.edu/museum
Summer Arts Festival in Huntington
Grab a blanket or lawn chairs and head to Huntington's Heckscher Park at 7 p.m. every Tuesday from June 26 to Aug. 7 for the Huntington Summer Arts Festival's free, outdoor family performances. Sit on the slope for live shows such as "Aladdin," "David Engel's Pirate School" and the Hudson Vagabond Puppets' "Mammoth Follies." Come at 6 p.m. to make a free craft before the performance. Or bring a picnic supper and enjoy it alfresco before the performance. Ice cream and drinks are available for purchase. Info: Chapin Rainbow Stage, Heckscher Park, Main Street, Huntington; 631-271-8423; huntingtonarts.org
Children's Park in Rockville Centre
Water shoots from six flowers painted on the ground of the fenced-in spray park area at Rockville Centre's Children's Park, where water also falls from a shower. A button starts the flow, and after 55 seconds it will go off, and someone else will have to push it. There's also an adjacent playground area, and a play structure that depicts a pirate ship on one side and a pond scene on the other. A QR code posted on that structure lets parents download an app that reads kids Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. They can hear the story of "The Little Mermaid," then act it out on the pirate ship, or the story of "The Ugly Duckling," then act it out near the pond. The park is open daily, 8 a.m. to dusk. Info: 111 N. Oceanside Rd., Rockville Centre; 516-678-9338; rvcrec.weebly.com.
Kirk Park Beach in Montauk
It's not so easy to find a free beach in the Town of East Hampton, but Montauk's Kirk Park Beach offers free parking and entry to its Atlantic Ocean beach. Lifeguards are on duty weekends beginning Memorial Day and daily in July and August. There are restrooms, and the beach is within walking distance of village shops. Across the street is a park with a picnic area. Info:95 S. Emerson Ave., Montauk; 631-324-2417; ehamptonny.gov.
Living Planetarium in Northport
Experiences in astronomy are offered during the summer at The Living Outdoor Planetarium at Northport Park, led on clear nights by former science teacher Warren Barlowe. Participants use Barlowe's telescope to view stars and planets. "We usually start shortly after sunset, about 8:30 or 9 p.m.," Barlowe says. Frequently viewed objects include Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.Info: End of Main Street, Northport Village. 631-486-4818; telescope.hereweb.com
Darlene Graham performs in the Town of Hempstead
On Monday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. in July and August, Long Island family musician Darlene Graham and her entire Shades of Green Band will be at Tiki Joe's Beach Hut at Smith Point Beach; every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. from June to August, Graham and the band will be at Tiki Joe's Beach at Hutt Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays. Visit Graham's website the website for exact locations, dates and times. Info: darlenegrahammusic.com.
Miniature train rides in Yaphank
By Memorial Day, the miniature-train rides offered by the Long Island Live Steamers are chugging away at the station created in Southaven County Park in Yaphank. Rides atop the two train lines -- the ground line and the elevated high line -- happen two Sundays each month from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This year's dates are May 26, June 9 and 30, July 14 and 28, Aug. 11 and 25, Sept. 8 and 29 and Oct. 13 and 27. Kids and adults can ride the five-minute loop for free, though the nonprofit club that runs the trains encourages token donations, says president Keith Denton. The train area is separate from the park, so parking and admission are free. Info: Gerard Road entrance of Southaven County Park. 631-345-0499; lilivesteam.org.