Get Rewarded for Reading! Houston Summer Reading Programs Summer 2017

Read and get rewarded!  At several spots around town, you can earn prizes, just for picking up a book!

Below is a preview of what to expect around Houston this summer… and we’ll update the details as they are posted.  If you know of more reading programs, let us know!

1.  Houston Public Library:

From June 1, 2017 through August 1, 2017, you register, read, record your hours, earn rewards… and it’s all FREE.

And the rewards are AMAZING! Astro Tickets, Train Tickets, Meal Passes and more!  Plus, anyone with a Texas drivers license can have a Houston Public Library MY Link card as well as participate in the program!

All you need to do is:
1. General Registration begins June 1, 2017.  Just go HERE (starting June 1).
2. Log in anytime to track the minutes and titles you’ve read.
3. Unlock badges by logging minutes and attend attending programs – don’t forget to stay for the secret code!
4. Some activities require registration; check the online calendar.

See all the rewards HERE!

2. Harris County Library:

We looking HERE for the summer program updates.


3. Barnes and Noble:

Earn a FREE book, simply by following these three easy steps:

1. Read any eight books this summer and record them in your Summer Reading Journal (English or Español). Tell us which part of the book is your favorite, and why.
2. Bring your completed journal to a Barnes & Noble store between May 16th and September 5th, 2017.
3. Choose your FREE reading adventure from the book list featured on the back of the journal.


4. Half Price Books:

Read 15 minutes per day!

Download and use this reading log and add up your minutes.. Once you’ve reached 300 or more minutes, bring your log to your local store to claim your Bookworm Bucks on or before August 31, 2017.

Roadtrip Along I10: Things to do in Louisiana, with kids!

We were planning a long drive through Louisiana… but did not know what stops to make a long the way.  That’s when Louisiana native, Ashley Ann, spoke up with these highlights for roadtripping families!

Check out these stops, from west to east, across Louisiana… and scroll to the bottom for a map.  (And these are some some of the favorites… tell us what else you like to do along I10!)


Also, if you have memberships to Houston Museums or the Zoo, be sure to ask about reciprocity programs.  You could get free or discounted admission to the zoos and museums in Louisiana (and all over the world).

Sulphur / Lake Charles:

Lafayette Area:

Baton Rouge Area:

Avery Island (Where they make Tabasco!)

New Orleans:



Mulberry Park: Bellaire’s “Secret Park” has been Renovated!

Address: 700 Mulberry Lane, Bellaire, TX 77401

I call Mulberry Park the “secret park” in Bellaire… but I bet any family playing little league baseball knows all about it.

It’s tucked behind the houses on Mulberry Lane and before the freight train tracks.  You can’t see it from the street, but this park has tennis courts, beautiful baseball field and a playground.

It used to be that the playground was pretty beat up and boring… but that has all changed!

Since other Bellaire Parks have been renovated recently (like Lafayette Park), I decided we better swing by the secret park… and look what we found!

The play structures are brand new, with great climbing features and are shaded by big canopies!

The space is still pretty small but they packed in some of the best equipment.  There is a big structure with monkey bars, bridge, stand up spinner and more.  There is also a little playground with slide and a swing set.

The play area is great and there is a free parking lot (although I gets full on baseball days).

The park is away from the street and hidden behind houses, so I’d take another adult with you for safety.  (That said, we didn’t have any issues at all.)

Next time you are in Bellaire, swing by this secret park and see what’s new!






Find more Houston parks:

Give Away: 4 Tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters at NRG or Berry Center, July 8-9, 2017!

The Harlem Globetrotters are playing NRG Arena on July 8 and Berry Center on July 9, 2017… and we have a family 4 pack to give away!!

The games are:
NRG Arena (Houston)
Sat., July 8, 2017 @ 2pm
Sat., July 8, 2017 @ 7pm

Berry Center (Northwest Houston/Cypress)
Sun., July 9, 2017 @ 3pm

To win tickets, regiter below… and if you don’t win, you can still save $7 with Code: COURT! Find tickets HERE.

Update: Congratulations to Alondra!

Contest Ends: May 15, 2017
Official Rules:

Get Rewarded Just for Reading… GAME ON! 2017 Houston Public Library Summer Reading Program

One of my favorite things about summer is the Houston Public Library’s Summer Reading Program!  From June 1, 2017 through August 1, 2017, you register, read, record your hours, earn rewards… and it’s all FREE.

And the rewards are AMAZING! Astro Tickets, Train Tickets, Meal Passes and more!  Plus, anyone with a Texas drivers license can have a Houston Public Library MY Link card as well as participate in the program!

All you need to do is:
1. General Registration begins June 1, 2017.  Just go HERE (starting June 1).
2. Log in anytime to track the minutes and titles you’ve read.
3. Unlock badges by logging minutes and attend attending programs – don’t forget to stay for the secret code!
4. Some activities require registration; check the online calendar.


So what are the rewards??

Summer Reading Program Prizes (while supplies last):

Level Babies, Toddlers & Pre-K (0-4) Children 5-10 Teens 11-18
May Early School Registration (only for students who register at school) Alley Theatre tickets, first 250 to sign up (no children under 6) Alley Theatre tickets, first 250 to sign up (no children under 6)
Registration Free Book Free Book Free Book
5 Books/Hours Read Sunglasses & certificate Sunglasses & certificate
10 Books/Hours Read Finger Puppets Chipotle meal Chipotle meal
20 Books/Hours Read Rice University Athletics ticket Rice University Athletics ticket
30 Books/Hours Read Mario Brothers bibs, baby teethers (babies 0-2)Mario Brothers meal set (toddlers 3-4) Astros tickets

Pixelated bag

Astros tickets
Pixelated bag
Top Readers
(2 per location)
Retro game gift set (Pac-Man connect, Pattern Play 3D) Retro game gift set (Pac-Man connect, sticky note art)
5 Programs Attended Children’s Museum Family Pass Children’s Museum Family Pass Alley Theatre tickets
Family Completion Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Also,families (1 adult + 1 child) who complete the Summer Reading Program and write reviews for Summer Reading for Grown-Ups will be entered into a drawing to win a Family Prize Pack.

So go HERE and get to reading!!

MOMS TALK: Not a Laundry List of Things to Do in Houston, with Kids!

Today I’m giving a talk about the things to do in Houston, with kids!  To follow along, here are the highlights!

On BigKidSmallCity, we provide weekly events, a Houston area park review, a family friendly restaurant review and lots of things to do with kids.

It’s not just a laundry list of things to do… but actual parent reviews and recommendations.

Here’s what I mean…

Last Christmas I was at Target, looking for a Bingo game.  I was standing in front of a hundred games and did not see Bingo… but I did see Zingo.

I asked my mom, “If Bingo is good, Zingo must be better, right?”.

Just then, a dad came over and told me that Zingo means there are 10,000 plastic pieces on your rug that won’t fit back into the dispenser and makes everyone angry.

That is not what the box said, but that is a good parent review.

When we provide reviews and recommendations on BigKidSmallCity, we’ve pushed a stroller through the giant crowds, found restrooms in the worst of locations and pleaded with three tired kids to get from the very back of the zoo to the parking lot.

And the recommendations are not just from me… but from Houston parents.  I am lucky to get feedback from parents daily!

So what is there to do?  Well, our very favorite things to do are a little quirky and unique.  (And for Summer Break events, scroll to the very bottom.)


Stay Cool! To make it easier for you to cool off, here are the parks, pools and places we’ve reviewed. Click each link, look at the pictures and decide which is best for you.


Niko Nikos Patio
Niko Nikos at Market Square Park –  This is a Greek café where you order at the window and take your food to the patio.  You can order breakfast, lunch or dinner, coffee and alcohol.  There is a kid menu and a giant park for kids to run through.  Market Square Park is an open space and it is easy to watch your kids from the pergola covered patio!


Button on Preston Street Bridge from Wortham Theater
Mysterious Red Button on Buffalo Bayou – Have you heard about the Big Bubble in the Buffalo Bayou? Have you seen the mysterious red button on the Preston Street Bridge? A friend told us that their 5 year old’s favorite thing to do in Houston was to, “burp the bayou”, and we just had to know what this meant.


Looking at Airplanes at Black Walnut at Conroe Airport
Black Walnut at Conroe North Houston Regional Airport – This is the restaurant where you can watch planes and helicopters land… right next to your table!  See the pictures HERE!


Travis Spark Park Dinosaur Bones1
Travis Spark Park – This Houston park was designed by kids… and has dinosaur bones, a rock wall and very cool play structure.  Travis Spark Park is in the Houston Heights and is open to the public on evenings, weekends and holidays. See the pictures HERE!


Donovan Park Toddler Playground
Donovan Park – This wooden fortress is one of Houston’s coolest playgrounds. Train, castles, ropes, bridges and more at Donovan Park!  This is not a Houston public park… and was built by the Houston Heights Association. The sign at the park and the website says it’s for all kids to enjoy.  See the pictures HERE!


Fire Truck at Fire Truck Park
Fire Truck Park – For kids under 5 years old, there is a new fire truck play structure.  All around the new fire truck is unique equipment, for big kids, that you do not you see at every Houston park. The merry-go-round is made from a tire, there are little “flowers” where the kids sit and spin themselves and there is a very unusual rock wall for the biggest kids.


River Oaks Pumpkin Park Carraige
River Oaks Park (aka Pumpkin Park) – Southside has the Firetruck… but River Oaks has the Pumpkin Carriage!  You really need to see this public park, just off of Westheimer.  There is a royal pumpkin carriage, big playground, small playground and some of the coolest ladders, monkey bars and more!  The park also has a community center, wishing trees, trail, sand volleyball and many more things to do… all under giant oak trees.


Levy Park Houston Splashpad
Levy Park – This remodeled park is AMAZING.  Tunnels, rock wall, spider web, reading carts and so much more.


Slide at Fish Family Play Area Buffalo Bayou Park
Fish Family Play Area at Buffalo Bayou Park – This nature play area is along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.  It has a slide, climbing structures, water features and drums build in to the landscape, but this park has an amazing view of the downtown skyline, access to the Buffalo Bayou trails, has free parking, new restrooms at the Water Works  building… and a newly uncovered historic cistern.  It is as cool as it sounds.


Waugh Bridge at Dusk
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony – Just down the bayou from the Fish Family play area is a bat colony.  Each night at dusk, watch hundreds of thousands of bats emerge in the middle of the city!


Art Car Museum Houston
Art Car Museum – This funky museum is small and free.  Stop by with the kids while you are in the Houston Heights!

Boys at Mounted Patrol Stables
Mounted Patrol Stables – Visiting the Houston Police Departments Mounted Patrol Stables might just be the coolest free thing to do in Houston.  Bring your own carrots, quartered apples and peppermints, and you can stop in to visit the horses, during visiting hours.

Bring a giant bag of carrots… like the ones you get a Costco… because there are nearly 40 hungry horses to feed!


Joe Hermann Park Conductor for a Day
Engineer for a Day – My son counted the days until he was 7 years old and could be Engineer for a Day at Hermann Park. Now 8 years old, he asked to drive the train again as his Christmas gift.

Kids arrive in the morning and help open up the train barn, perform safety checks, wash the train and get the railroad ready for the day. After about an hour of preparations, they sit right next to the conductor and help take the train around to Kinder Station.


Eat Bugs – At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you can find a vending machine full of bugs.  Some are chocolate coated, some are coated in sour cream and onion flavor… and none are something I want to eat.My kids are much braver and enjoy the black ant chocolate cookies. The ants make them crunchy.  (Yikes!)  If you are bored with the usual Snickers bar, check out the butterfly center!


Magnafying Glass at Swap Shop
Swap Shop – In nature or in a book, find something that interest the kids. Learn about it and bring the item to the Swap Shop at the Houston Zoo. If you don’t have a shell or bone or physical item, you can bring in your “knowledge” or you can bring in a poster, report, diorama… anything to leave at the shop.The kids earn points and get to swap it for items in the shop!  There are stones, shells, bones and more!


For things to do for Summer Break, go HERE.  To get an email with things to do each weekend, go HERE!

The Midtown Park I Missed… Wiley Park and Splashpad

Address: 1414 Gillette Street, Houston, TX 77019

Montrose/Midtown is my part of town… and how I missed this park is beyond me.  We’ve visited all the surrounding parks, but somehow, we never saw this green square on the map.

It was last week when we were headed to a little league game at Carnegie High School that I ran right into Wiley Park.

The park has nice new equipment with some great ninja monkey bars and ladders.  It’s not huge, but it’s cool!

There is also a splashpad that looks older than the playground… but we did not use it.

This park is very close to Barnaby’s Midtown and is surrounded by both really new townhomes and really old bangalows. (And apparently kids live close because as we were driving away, I saw an infant, in a baby walker, “running” down the sidewalk… and a dad chasing with camera in hand!)

When we visited, the park itself was empty and we had everything to ourselves. That said, I heard from some neighbors that this park is a hangout spot for unchaperoned kids in the evenings… no one said it was bad, just that it’s odd that pre-tWeen kids are hanging out with no parents around.

So, there you have it… a park that is right next door to me and I had no idea it was there.  If you are looking for more Montrose/Midtown parks, look at the map below.  I’m almost certain I’ve covered them all.  Almost certain.

Find more Houston parks:

Kids Bowl Free Every Day, All Summer Long (2017)

There are a couple options for bowling free this summer in Houston!  (If you know of more, let us know!)

1.  Kids can Bowl Free, 2 games per day, every single day, all of summer 2017.

This option is completely free.  So what’s the catch?  There are a lot fewer participating locations… but still several in the Houston area.  Also, parents need to pay to participate.  Go HERE for all the details.

2.  Kids can Bowl, 3 games per day, every single day, all summer 2017 with a one-time $29.95-$39.95 Pass.

This option costs something, but has more locations and hours.  Get all the details HERE.

Surfside Beach… An Alternative to Galveston Beach Days!

Address: Surfside, Texas 77541

Most of the country is just starting to thaw out… but we’ve had beach weather for months!

We spend a lot of warm days in Galveston… but this spring we tried out Surfside Beach!

Instead of driving down 45 to Galveston, we took 288 directly south to Surfside. It’s an easy drive from downtown Houston, past Sea Center Texas and several Buc-ee’s (a gas station we are obsessed with).

My husband was heading down to one of the many plant/factories along 288, so we tagged along and hit the beach!

Surfside is much much smaller than Galveston, with a population in the hundreds. There are a few restaurants, hotels/houses, Jetty Park and a long beach… but not much more.

The beach seems like the big attraction and you can park for free and walk in, or buy the season pass ($12) and drive on. We were originally going to drive on (like we do at our favorite West Beach), but at the main entrance (at the end of 332) the gate attended suggested a minivan go to another entrance with packed sand.

This was a very good tip for two reasons. First, when we parked and walked on, we saw giant trucks getting stuck in the soft sand. Second, on the car side of the beach, vehicles were avoiding the soft sand and driving on the wet sand… which is where people were playing in the water… which looked terribly dangerous.

Fortunately we had walked on and were on the no-car side of the beach. Here we could play in the sand and splash in the water with no issue at all. Also, there was plenty of space right at the entrance, so we did not have to haul our stuff very far.

The kids played and had a great time while we waited on their dad’s meeting to end.

Some things to note… I did not see restrooms or changing rooms. At the entrance, there was a shower head and also a porta-potty. (Also, over at Jetty Park, by the water, there is a restroom.)

Also, since my kids and I are Buc-ee’s fanatics, let me tell you about those.  Between downtown Houston and Surfside, there are several Buc-ee’s.  I don’t think any are as big as our favorite Texas City stop…. but the one in Surfside is really really small and was really really crowded.  If you are obsessed with Buc-ee’s, stop in Lake Jackson instead.  And if you think it’s crazy to be obsessed with a gas station, just pretend like I didn’t write this paragraph.

Surfside was a fun twist to our beach trips.  It’s especially good if you are also stopping by Sea Center Texas or even driving along the beautiful Bluewater Highway (connecting Surfside and Galveston).

If you are looking for more beaches near Houston, go HERE!

Find more things to do:

Houston Ballet Academy Preschool Summer Classes & Workshops

You know you can get dressed up, go to the grand Wortham Theater and watch the amazing Houston Ballet perform.  But did you know that your preschooler can train with them?

When our sponsor, Houston Ballet, told me this, I was intrigued… but is professional technical training too much for little kids?  Before I signed up my sweet and silly 5 year old, I decided to ask the experts.

Houston Ballet Preschool Class
First up was Auroramay Rodriguez, a 5 year old in Pre-Ballet.  She said, “I like dancing at the Houston Ballet because it is so much fun because you can do turns. You can dance and you get to wear tutus!”.

Her mom, Rita Rodriguez, follow up by saying, “The Houston Ballet preschool program instructors know how to train the children in an extremely fun manner. While terminology is still taught, the students do not realize they are technically training because they’re just having fun and learning to love ballet.”.

Next I asked Scarlett Solum, a 6 year old in Pre-Ballet.  She said, “The Houston Ballet is fun. My favorite steps are plies and tendues. I like having a pianist and seeing the professional dancers in costumes.”.

Her mom, Marie Solum, also said, “As a dance teacher and former dancer myself, I am absolutely thrilled that my daughter has the opportunity to attend the Houston Ballet preschool program. I formerly taught my daughter myself, but there is no comparison to learning ballet from high-level professionals.”.

So there you have it… turns and tutus, plies and tendues, professional dancers in costume and a love of ballet.  The experts love Houston Ballet!

Registration is now open for all Preschool Summer Classes, running June 5 – 17 & August 7 – 19. Check out Houston Ballet’s website for all the details.

If you also want to see if Houston Ballet Academy is right for your family, you can attend a week-long Children’s Workshop over the summer.

Houston Ballet Academy’s Children’s Summer Workshops are themed based on popular story ballets in Houston Ballet’s repertoire! From June 5 – 9, students can explore movement and musicality based on Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s lavish production of La Bayadére.

Children will also be invited to create their own costumes and show off what they’ve learned for parents at the end of the week. Tuition even includes two tickets to tickets to Houston Ballet’s production of La Bayadére at the Wortham Theater Center.

The Children’s Workshop section on the Houston Ballet website has all the info.

A "Houston Parents Magazine" Blog ---- For the Best Summer Break Ever, Click HERE
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