In honor of the rain that hasn’t let up for over a week here, today’s post offers a list of places to take young children when they can’t play outside (and finger painting gets old).
Days cooped up inside with a toddler can drag on forever, and when they don’t get a chance to use up their energy, nights become restless nights too. Little kids thrive on fresh air and physical activity, so when you can’t go outside you have to get creative to make their days as fun and stimulating as possible. I hope something on this list helps you get through the next rainy day (or days) with your toddler!
In no particular order…
Mall Play Areas – Most malls have a special area for kids to play with climbable structures and slides. Don’t forget to bring quarters because most malls also have coin-operated rides and candy and/or toy machines. Offerings for kids are usually spread throughout the mall so it can be fun to usher your child along through the mall in search of them. Little legs wear out fast on a mall walk! Stopping by the food court on the way out (they are usually too excited to play on the way in) is a fun way to wrap up the outing and refuel. I also find that once Dylan has had ample time to play at the mall, he’ll even let me shop if I want to!
Bookstores & Libraries – Both bookstores and libraries have children’s sections filled with age-appropriate books. Most children’s section also have play areas with trains, puzzles, computer stations, arts, crafts and more. If you do a little research online or call ahead, you can also time your visit with a story time! In my experience, if you are going to do a story time, arrive at the library a good half hour or more in advance so that your toddler has time to explore before having to participate in a structured activity. Bookstores and libraries are also great because you can try out a bunch of new books with your child and see which ones he or she is responding to currently. I was surprised recently when Dylan was more interested in a story book than a pop-up book. Also, don’t forget to check out all the nearby libraries, not just the one closest to you. You don’t have to be a member to read, attend story times, or play in the children’s sections. You’ll find that some libraries have more going on for kids than others. Pick up their monthly calendars when you visit in person as well, as you will often find events that might not have made it on their online calendars (some libraries are also more techno-savvy than others as well, but that doesn’t mean they’re more fun!).
Department Stores & Supercenters - Places like Target and Wal-Mart are great for letting your kids burn off energy. I like to take Dylan to Target when I don’t have a big shopping list (and don’t need a cart) and let him run free for a while. I follow him around and prevent disasters, but mostly I just let him run and explore. He inevitably finds the toy section and spends most of his time checking out the selection. Again, it’s a good opportunity to see what toys he is currently responding to. He also likes to look through the book section. We usually end up buying one small thing, but you don’t have to. After running around for a while I will sometimes pop him in a cart, give him a toy/book/iPhone/snack and he’ll be worn out enough to let me do some shopping, if I still have the energy. (Usually, I hit up the Starbucks in the store and then head on home!)
Indoor Playgrounds – Google “indoor playground” along with your city or town’s name and see what comes up! Where I live we have a slew of them and they are excellent places for kids to play on a rainy day. Indoor playgrounds usually offer bounce houses, communal toys, climbable equipment, eating areas with snacks and drinks for purchase, energetic music, free Wi-Fi and places for parents to work or relax. If you happen to live near me in Cobb County, GA, check out a place called Catch Air! Its amazing!
Fast Food Places – More so than other restaurants, fast food places are a source of good entertainment. Kids can play on the indoor play structures (make sure the place you select has its play area inside), make noise and run around without causing a disturbance, since fast food places are notoriously loud and laid back. I prefer to go to fast food places after giving Dylan a “real” meal at home. I buy him a special treat, like a milkshake, and he gets very excited to sip it while he plays. Bonus for adults: enjoying a coffee and relaxing while your child plays! I’ll be real, the play areas at a fast food place are kind of germy and not that exciting, but when you just want to get out and don’t know where to go, they are a viable pick.
Self-Serve Yogurt Bars – These places deserve to be separated out from fast food joints because they are more special. Bright and colorful yogurt bars are fun for kids and adults! Kids especially love the whole process, from swirling frozen yogurt into big cups to sprinkling on their favorite toppings (with help from an adult, of course!). Depending on how agreeable your child is, you can even put together a pretty healthy and balanced meal at a yogurt bar(yogurt, granola and fruit, for example). Many of these places also have toddler-sized tables, chalk walls and designated areas for your kids to play. Yogurt bars are popping up everywhere these days, so even if you don’t think you have one nearby, go online and double check because you might be surprised.
Grocery Stores – Similar to Target, when I only have a few things on my shopping list I go to the grocery store, skip the pushcart, and let Dylan walk/run/spin beside me and “help” me shop. He likes to get a cookie from the bakery and then we go up and down the aisles. Dylan runs around while I grab the few things I need on the fly. He will sometimes stop and show interest in a new product, which is kind of a neat way to see if he is interested in trying something new. He usually only shows interest in chips and cookies, but I hope someday he’ll check out the apples with equal enthusiasm. Sometimes Dylan puts things in the basket that I don’t want to buy so I’ll discreetly remove them when he isn’t looking. Chasing a toddler though a grocery store is not a relaxing way to shop, but it serves the purpose of getting out of the house on a rainy day and accomplishing at least a tiny amount of shopping. Again, bring quarters if your little one is as obsessed with gumball machines as mine is, because these machines are almost always at the entrance of the store. (It probably goes without saying, but don’t let your child eat or play with choking hazards like gumballs. Dylan likes the process of inserting a coin, turning the crank and getting a surprise more than actually playing with or eating the surprise, but I don’t want to give out dangerous advice.)
Movie Theaters – Taking a toddler to a movie theater is doable – even enjoyable – if you go to the right movie at the right time with the right expectations. Matinee showings of children’s movies can be a lot of fun because the audience is made up of other kids making noise and squirming around so no one gets too annoyed by reasonable disturbances. Its also helpful to mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that you will probably have to leave early. Most toddler’s won’t sit through a full movie and I personally think its okay to duck out when it stops being fun. The more you go, the longer your child will last as he or she becomes more familiar with the process. I recommend arriving a little early to allow your child time to run around and get snacks before the show, but don’t go into the theater until right before the movie starts because you don’t want to contain your child in a seat any longer than necessary.
Children’s Museums, Aquariums and Other Local Attractions – More ambitious than the grocery store, these “indoor outings” are also more fun for kids. I live close to Atlanta so there are a number amazing local attractions for us to go, such as Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the Georgia Aquarium (though I wouldn’t recommend going to the zoo or botanical gardens in the rain!). Most towns offer children’s museums, which are bursting with interactive play stations for kids. Even if your town doesn’t have a children’s museum, almost all museums have at least small sections devoted just to kids. For example, there is a museum near us in Kennesaw, GA called the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History. While it is not geared directly at children, they do offer a lot train activities for kids and often have special events for toddlers. Visit the websites of the museums near you and check out what they are offering for kids.
Skating Rinks, Bowling Alleys, Arcades and Family Fun Centers – All of these places are fun for kids. While skating rinks and bowling alleys are geared more toward school age kids, many have special days and times just for younger kids. For example, there is a skating rink near my house that invites toddlers and preschoolers on Tuesday and Friday mornings to bring their tricycles for use on the rink. Most towns have Chuck E. Cheese’s, which are always great for toddlers, but any arcade can be fun with a little one because, if they are at all like my son, they get the most excitement just from putting quarters in the machines and pushing random buttons.
Gymnasiums – There are a few gyms near us that offer open play times as well as classes for toddlers. Open play times allow you to pay a of couple bucks to pop in and use the equipment under parental supervision, without a further commitment. The kids all run around, share machines, and generally have a blast. Local YMCAs may also offer these kinds of activities and possibly even indoor swim times, so be sure to check out the website for the YMCA near you. Gymboree Play & Music is a national company that offers great programs for babies and toddlers and they allow you a free visit, which would be great to cash in on a rainy day.
Local Event Listings – One of the easiest ways to discover new indoor activities is to sign up for newsletters with event listings to be delivered right to your inbox. City websites, local parents’ groups, newspapers, magazines and other such resources send emails with calendars and event listings on a regular basis and they often alert you to one-off and timely events, like a special holiday-themed events held by the city that you might not have known about. Dylan really enjoyed a big Halloween festival held at our community center this year and recently participated in a Mickey Mouse themed noontime apple drop on News Years Eve. One of my favorite local resources is a magazine called Atlanta Parent because they compile a very comprehensive events calendar both in print and online. Meetup.com, which is national, is another great place to connect with other parents to plan play dates in your area. I don’t use Meetup.com a lot but I know that a lot of people swear by it. Another great national resource is Patch.com where you can find your city’s news and events. I check out the event listings on the Patch.com newsletters for the four towns surrounding mine each morning and often plan my day around what they have listed.
When the weather is bad and your kids are cooped up all day, having indoor places to take them, outside of the house, where they can explore and burn off some energy is priceless. These were some of my go-to ideas but I’d love to hear yours and grow this list even further. Please share in the comments if you have any new ones!