Find out just how many kid-friendly options the fair offers

Having grown up going to county fairs in rural parts of Ohio, I had a good idea of what to expect from the Ohio State Fair - yummy food, stinky animals and free entertainment.

But until we started taking our boys, I had no idea how many kid-friendly options the 12-day event offered.

Of course, there are all the obvious things to do - walk through the barns and view the animals, scope out the award-winning pies and produce, and visit the midway and ride the rides.

But I've got to tell you there's way more to the fair - and most of it is free.

Last year, the boys (then 4 and 6) and I spent hours at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Natural Resources Park watching live shows. We saw lumberjacks fall off logs while trying to move them through the pond, viewed birds of prey and watched the "Recycling Juggler" do his thing. The boys so thoroughly enjoyed the shows we watched several of them twice. One of the boys even got called on stage to participate at one point.

The key to getting the most out of the fair is determining ahead of time what might appeal to your kids. My kids love the outdoors and learning about animals, which was why the ODNR area held so much appeal.

Think about what interests your kids. Do you have an aspiring musician, chef, artist or woodworker in your family? You can find displays, demonstrations or performances to suit these interests and many others.

The Ohio State Fair has a fabulous website, OhioStateFair.com, that lists the daily schedule to help you plan your visits. You can even download a map of the grounds to help you decide where to park and what gate to enter.

Tailoring your fair visit to your kids and your family is a great way to make this great annual event more memorable.

Ways to Save Money at the Fair:

Buy your tickets and ride wristbands at a Kroger supermarket. Fair tickets cost $6 and ride wristbands are $19 instead of $22 at the grocery store. Attend on one of the Fair's special-discount days. Visit ohiostatefair.com for a list of special dates. Bring your own bottles of water and other snacks. Bring reusable water bottles for each member of them family and buy large soft drinks or lemonades and pour the beverages into your own smaller bottles for the kids. Share food - since so many fair vendors offer large portions, buy one and divide it among the family. This allows you to sample more and waste less.

Building Fair Memories

While creating your own fair itinerary will go a long way to creating memories, it's also fun to create a list of things your family must do every year. Here is a list of must-dos from Ohio State Fair aficionados:

The Butter Cow: A staple since the early 1900s, this sculpture is worth an annual look-see.

Smokey Bear: The U.S. Forest Service's 67-year-old mascot for wildfire prevention has been chatting up fairgoers in Natural Resources Park for more than 30 years. The larger-than-life bear will strike up a conversation with your child and, once an hour, teaches kids the fire-prevention pledge.

The Giant Slide: Families have been hoofing up all 105 steps since 1969. It's a super family activity because even little ones are permitted to whoosh down the slide in a burlap sack.