Fun, Free, cold weather places for toddler and me

My little one had a blast this summer. At one, she’s already showing her outdoorsy personality, grabbing the car keys whenever she finds them and pointing to the front door. It was easy keeping her busy in the summer with daily trips to Grandma’s and their playhouse, evening strolls in the neighborhood and weekend visits to parks, beaches, pools etc. But now I have the task of providing healthy entertainment during the winter months. And I hate cold weather. If I had it my way I’d hibernate the winter away. So to keep me from finding excuses to get lazy this winter and succumb to the ever-present temptations of tv and wii, I put together a list of easily accessible, fun, and best of all FREE places you can enjoy with your toddler in this weather:

1. Pet store: a great and free alternative to the zoo, farm, or aquarium, a visit to the pet store will provide all the excitement and learning for your little one.

2. Book store: When we take my daughter to the local Barnes & Noble she doesn’t want to leave! Her favorite is the little  train set that she plays with in the kids section, while I read a fun story to her.

3. Library: Story time at your local library is a great way to introduce her to other kids and nurture the love for books.

4. Play area at the mall: I took her here when she was around 9 months old and she was amazed to see so many other people her size. It’s still a great place to take her when she gets tired watching Mommy shop. Mommy gets her rest, and baby builds her social skills!

5. Grocery store: Hard to believe, but it’s quite easy to turn a trip to the grocery store into a fun, learning experience. My baby loves riding in the shopping cart, picking up her favorite cereal box, and saying hi to all the people in the checkout line. You can also get a little toy shopping cart for baby so she can take charge of her own shopping!

6. Farmer’s market: What a great place to help your toddler learn to identify different fruits and vegetables listed in her Alphabet books! We took our daughter last weekend and she had a great time. An added plus for us was all the compliments she received from others there. One of the nice shop owners even handed her a free bag of Asian jelly candy.

7. Crafts: There are several stores that hold free DIY classes for kids. Some interesting ones you can check out: Michaels, Home Depot, Lowes.

8. Museums: With a little bit of research you can score some free visits to museums and other local attractions. Some state and university-affiliated museums do not charge an entrance fee or have one day of free entry e.g. Philly Art Museum allows free entry on Sundays. Also, check out other programs like (my favorite) Bank of America’s ‘Museums on Us’ program where card holders gain free entry to selected museums on the first full weekend of every month! Please Touch Museum, here we come!

9. Local events: Flip through local magazines that may show up in your mail or from your pediatrician’s office – they often have lists of free/low-cost children’s activities in the area.

10. Religious center: If you want to expose your kids to yours or other religious activities, take them to your mosque, church, or synagogue. It’s a great way to start religious dialogue. These centers also often organize group activities and can be a great place to make new friends for both baby and you.

11. Kiddie gyms: Gym classes are becoming quite popular even for little kids these days. However, these can be quite expensive. But even if you don’t want to fork out the money for regular classes, most gyms offer an introductory class. Look up the gyms in your area and take advantage of the free classes. You don’t have to sign up for more if you don’t see the worth.

12. Volunteer: Teach your child values of compassion and generosity  and enjoy some quality time together by looking up volunteer opportunities that you can participate in as a family: check out local medical centers, soup kitchens, or senior centers.

13. Family and friends: Sometimes a change of scene can do wonders to a child’s mood. Use this to your advantage to revamp your social life and take her to visit Grandma’s, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, coworkers. If necessary, just keep the visits short to maintain both yours and their sanity 🙂

We’ve pretty much tried all these ideas and they’ve worked well for us. The list is still work in progress as we try to explore a new place with baby each weekend. Would love to hear what kind of places you enjoy as a family!