Waiting in line for popcorn, 4-year-old Haley Clark hopped from foot to foot with excitement: She couldn't wait to join her friends inside the movie theater.
Haley's mom, Rhonda Clark, was excited too, but it wasn't at the prospect of seeing "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" -- again. She was thrilled that she and her daughter were going to the movies for free.
"It's great that in this day and age there are free things being offered -- especially in the summer," said the Camarillo resident.
The free flicks, offered Tuesday and Wednesday mornings through Aug. 13 at the Edwards Camarillo Palace 12 Theater, join several other free activities for children during the summer throughout the county.
They are activities that parents, some strapped for cash and looking for ways to entertain the kids, appreciate.
Fairy Tales in the Park, back for its ninth season, usually draws 50 to 100 kids and parents to each of its shows. The summer series, put on by Gypsies in a Trunk, presents plays that are loosely based on well-known fairy tales or fables and often include audience participation.
"It's great that it's live theater," said Kelsey Stewart of Santa Paula, as she sat on the grass at Barranca Vista Park in Ventura on Saturday with her 3-year-old son, Bodde. Mother and son giggled intermittently while watching a play featuring a big, bad wolf.
"I'd pay for it anyway, but it's attractive that it's free and in a park," said Stewart, adding that she and her son also go to a large chain bookstore in Ventura every Tuesday for free kids' storytelling events.
Gypsies co-founder Roxanne Diesel said she conceived the plays, which run about an hour, as a way to introduce kids to live theater.
"If you have a family and want to go to a theater production, you're talking big bucks," said Diesel, who also offers acting classes for youths through county recreation departments. "We provide a nice, relaxed setting where kids are not squirming in their seats and they get a chance to take part in the show."
No admission is charged for the outdoor plays, but a hat is passed for donations, which cover the cost of the show, Diesel said.
"We're certainly not in it to make money; it's all about having fun," she said.
That's what brought Michelle Byrum and her children Kyle, 11, and Kaitlyn, 6, out on a recent summer day.
"I normally have to work on Saturdays, but I had the day off so I came out to spend some time with my kids, have a picnic in the park and enjoy some fresh air," said Byrum of Simi Valley. "We've come before and the plays are wonderful."
Reading programs offered by libraries across the county are another favorite summer program for kids. This year, the 15 branches of the Ventura County library system have chosen aviation as the summer reading theme.
Children record their reading time in a "pilot's log," and for every three hours they read, they earn prizes ranging from miniature-golf gift certificates to foam gliders.
There are also weekly programs to entice kids to the library. They include animal visits from the Humane Society, magic shows and guest speakers talking about the history of airplanes and the science of flying.
Mary Goldberg, children's librarian for Camarillo Library, said the programs are about more than just entertaining kids. They help children "keep their reading skills up by drawing kids to the library," said Goldberg, who has been with county libraries for 20 years.
At the Edwards theater in Camarillo, assistant manager Maria Trejo said the audiences for the family films have gradually been increasing.
"The first week was really slow; I think about six people showed up," Trejo said. "But as word gets out more people are coming."
After attending a recent screening of "Shrek," Camarillo resident Kelly Sanders said she will make the weekly movies a part of her family's summer routine.
"Obviously, with four kids, we can't afford to come to the movies very often," said Sanders, who saw the movie with her daughter and three foster children. "But we'll be coming a lot this summer."
Remaining Fairy Tales in the Park are: "The Three Sillies" and "Little Red Riding Hood Meets Goldilocks." Simi Valley shows are at 4 p.m. at the Rancho Simi Bicentennial Amphitheater, at the corner of Erringer Road and Royal Avenue, on Aug. 2 and Sept. 6; Camarillo shows are at 11:30 a.m. behind the Community Center at 1605 E. Burnley St. on Aug. 9 and Sept. 13; and Ventura shows are at 4 p.m. at Barranca Vista Park at 7050 Ralston St. on Aug. 9 and Sept. 13.
For information on reading programs, call the individual branch or log on to www.vencolibrary.org.
Free films at the Camarillo Edwards theater run at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday through Aug. 13. Titles include "Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron," "Ice Age," "Stuart Little 2," "Home Alone 2," "The Rugrats Movie" and "Milo & Otis."