I've always loved the line that reads "families that play together, stay together."
There's so much truth in those six words, which offer a pertinent reminder of how important it is to indulge in good times with your family, maintaining a healthy balance that's not all about 80-hour work weeks and incessant Blackberry-checking.
Recession? No excuse! Greater Philadelphia and the counties surrounding it offer lots of free or incredibly cheap opportunities to have fun as a family and learn something along the way, too.
If overnight visits break the budget, take a daylong trip with a packed lunch. Above all, don't let these economically tight times defeat your family's spirit of play.
· Buff Up on History: In the city limits, a modest entry fee gets you inside the Betsy Ross House (239 Arch St.; www.bestyrosshouse.org), the Colonial home of the woman who sewed the first American flag, at the request of none other than Gen. George Washington. The quaint cobblestones of Elfreth's Alley (www.elfrethsalley.org) are another historical site, the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the entire country.
And if it's been a few years since you last visited Independence National Historical Park, head back there to experience free attractions like the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall (www. independencevisitorcenter.com). You can pick up free day of tickets for the latter at the Visitor's Center.
Storytelling is often the most vivid and effective way to bring the past to life, and at the National Liberty Museum (215-925-2800; www.libertymuseum.org), the heroes who devoted their lives to preserving liberty describe their experiences in detail.
And, of course, for a glance back at American Jewish accomplishments, no place is better than the National Museum of American Jewish History (215-923-3811; www.nmajh.org), ensconced right now at Independence Mall East before making history itself with its move next year to much more spacious accommodations a few blocks away.
· Cultural Capers: Rain is a good excuse to stay indoors, but if the four corners of your house are driving you nuts, consider a few alternatives.
Check out the factory tour at Herr's Snack Factory (1-800-284-7488; www.herrs.com) in Nottingham, Pa. The tour ends with samples of chips straight from the cooker. Or sober up at the Museum of Mourning Art (610-259-5800; www.arlingtoncemetery. us) in Drexel Hill, a place that explores grieving rituals, mourning jewelry, artwork and literature through the ages.
For something a little lighter, try the family-owned Buckingham Valley Vineyards (215-794-7188; pawine.com), home to the most sophisticated pressing and bottling equipment. Tours and tastings are self-guided, self-poured and free Thursday through Sunday.
You decide what to pay on Sundays at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (215-763-8100; www.philamuseum.org), home to a collection of work by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Himalayan artists and locals like Thomas Eakins. Bring your iPod so you can download a free Podcast to better understand what you're looking at.
· Outdoor Offerings: When the sun comes out this spring, take a tour of the Linvilla Orchards (610-876-7116; www.linvilla.com) in Media. The 300-acre farm features a year-round market, barnyard animals and fields where you can pick your own produce at minimal cost. And if you've always wanted to learn a bit about the garden, stop in at the Scott Arboretum (610-328-8025; www.scottarboretum.org) on the grounds of Swarthmore College, which boasts 4,000 varieties of regional plants and hosts a series of workshops, all free.
· Affordable Arts: Most of us love a good show, but the cost can be prohibitive unless you head to the Arden Theatre Company (215-922-1122; www. ardentheatre.org). Before each mainstage performance debuts, the final dress rehearsal is a pay-what-you-can performance, where you see the cast in full costumes and scenery.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (215-670-2327; www.kimmelcenter.org) also has a series of free performances where you can experience concerts in a variety of genres. The center even has bargain-priced "rush" tickets for select performances.