With school out, children now add to the landscape of the neighborhood, standing near stop signs and/or sitting on front porches. With nothing to occupy their time, they sit outside and wait for something to happen-or they make things happen. Whether they shed their boredom with fights or with firecrackers, the children of the Austin community need something to do. And as parents, we need to provide it.

Sending a child out to play is a cheap and easy way to let children have fun. However, it is not the safest way, especially when outside is flooded with drugs and gun violence. Today’s reality is that an unmonitored child in our community can easily become a victim. In dealing with this harsh reality, we have to become more vigilant about monitoring our children and provide them with constructive ways to spend their time.

Fortunately, our city offers a variety of fun and free things to do that are only a short walk or bus ride away. Be sure to take advantage of them before the first day of school.

On 90-degree days, unlocking a fire hydrant may seem like a great way to cool off, but it can be extremely dangerous. Those under the fall of heavy, rushing water are blind to oncoming traffic, and some drivers have a hard time navigating through a hydrant’s strong current. Instead, have your children leap over the sprinkler or throw water balloons in the backyard. If it’s the mist from a flowing fountain that your child wants, take him or her to Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park or the “face” fountains in Millennium Park.

Also take advantage of the air-conditioned facilities that museums offer. Although the Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium have free or discount days, some museums are always free. Free museums include the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S. Michigan Ave.), the Museum of Contemporary Photography (600 S. Michigan Avenue), and the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.). Not only will you and your family cool off, you’ll also learn in the process.

Take your child to the Lincoln Park Zoo-the zoo that is always free. See apes, red wolves, black bears, and howler monkeys, or visit the Farmhouse and hear a tale during story time. Lincoln Park Zoo is located north of Downtown Chicago and is easily accessible by bus or train. While you’re there, visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a beautiful greenhouse full of domestic and exotic plants. Admission to the conservatory is also free. Of course, the Garfield Park Conservatory is even closer.

A movie ticket can cost up to $10. This summer, avoid the high prices and catch a quality movie that is free or nearly so. The Dusable Museum hosts the Coca Cola Children’s Penny Cinema, a film series created especially for children and young adults, which highlights the African-American experience. All shows are one penny and begin at 10:30 a.m. Reservations are required. For more information and show times, visit www.dusablemuseum.org and click on programs.

Throughout the summer, the Chicago Park District showcases an evening movie in various city parks. These box office hits include Happy Feet, Pursuit of Happyness, and Dreamgirls. To view the Movies in the Park schedule, visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com and, under upcoming events, click on Movies in the Park thru Sept.

The library has a lot more to offer than books. All summer long, various branches throughout the city are hosting events and programs for children and young adults. The Austin Branch Library, 5615 W. Race, offers art programs and teen book club discussions. For more information, contact Ms. Martinez at 312/746-5038. The Thomas Hughes Children’s Library in the Harold Washington Library Center (400 S. State) hosts story time and crafts and pre-teen book club meetings as well. Call 312/747-4200 for registration. For more information about these and other Chicago Public Library events, visit www.chipublib.org and click on current events and programs.

No school is no excuse for allowing a child to hang out. This summer, don’t let your children decorate your front porch. Make sure they participate in fun and meaningful activities, for their safety and for your peace of mind.

I’d like your feedback: If you have any comments or questions regarding this article, please write to chill60644@yahoo.com. Also, send a message my way if you think there are any other education-related topics you’d like for me to explore.