Top Activities To Do With Kids On The Cheap

Do your little ones ever drive you so nuts with their need to be entertained or their bored whining that you want to chuck them out the window?

Days like that occur year round, but a long winter can exacerbate cabin fever. If you need to drive out the cooped-up crazies, pack up your diaper bag and stroller and head to one of these affordable outings sure to entertain kids:

1. Library

Your greatest freebie resource for toddler entertainment is the local library. Most offer children’s programs that are age specific and involve reading, singing and playing with toys. Some libraries also host special book readings, puppet shows and movie nights. Check out your library’s program schedule for more info. In addition to the weekly programs, you can borrow museum passes to get into your local centers for free and don’t dismiss simply checking out “new” music and movies from the library to occupy hours at home.

2. Play Cafes

For days when the park is buried under snow or summer heat has skyrocketed, play cafes offer a good, indoor park environment. Often times they feature two separate areas – one for smaller toddlers and another for preschoolers on up. Kids climb, slide, crawl and jump their way through the play structures while parents grab a coffee and chat with other parents as they watch the activity. There is generally a small entry fee and they also sell child-friendly snacks and beverages.

3. Shopping Malls

The mall may have been your shopping playground prior to having kids, but now it can be your mommy refuge. Find a mall that has an indoor play structure or some special activity like a build-a-bear workshop, nickel rides, a pet store, or even a ride on the elevator or escalator can be thrilling for young ones. You can top off the adventure with a long walk of window shopping and a bite to eat at the food court. 

4. Children’s Gyms

Places like My Gym and Gymboree offer the tiny set their own workout space. Kids can let loose in play-oriented dance and exercise classes and during “open gym” when they can swing like monkeys and run around like wild maniacs without getting in trouble. A charge applies for all classes and open gym time. However, My Gym offers a two-week free trial and Gymboree lets you try out the first class free. 

5. Pet stores

Turn an errand, like getting Fido some kibble, into a fun-filled outing. Children love to look at the birds, hamsters, bunnies, fish and kitty displays.

6. Children’s Museums

Encourage your child’s natural curiosity with a trip to a children’s museum. These aren’t dusty cultural establishments. Children’s museums offer kids hands-on learning experiences, couching scientific concepts in the “wow” factor. There are admittance fees, however, some libraries will loan out museum day passes for free. (See entry above on libraries.) Search the Internet for children’s museums and your home state to find one near you.

7. McDonald’s

With healthier lunch options, free toys and indoor play structures, McDonald’s makes for a fun lunch outing. Find one that has an indoor play structure by searching McDonald’s website (McDonald’s calls it a “PlayPlace”) and then sit back and watch your child burn off some energy. You can finish the excursion with a hamburger Happy Meal opting for the low-fat milk and apple dippers or you can just buy the toy for about $1. 

8. Car Wash

If your child loves all things automobile, than seeing his eyes light up as he watches the car go from one washing stage to another will turn a boring errand into a fun outing for both of you.

9. Indoor Bounce Houses

If your kid’s nickname is “Tigger,” you’ll want to spend an afternoon at an indoor bounce house where he can run, jump, climb and bounce until his hops are all worn out. Admittance fees range from $4 to $10. Search the Internet for indoor bounce house and your home state to find one near you.

10. Indoor Water Parks

When both children and parents are suffering from the winter blues, trouble erupts. Stem that tide of tantrums with some summertime splashing. Visit an indoor water park for a day of sliding and swimming and then crash overnight at the associated hotel. Obviously there is a bigger cost to this adventure, but quite possibly a bigger reward too.

11. Mommy & Me Exercise Classes

There are a variety of fitness classes where moms and kids can get fit and have fun together – from group strolls with your baby to striking a yoga pose with your toddler. Check out Stroller Strides, the YMCA, or search for mommy and me yoga and your home state to find a provider near you.

12. Factory Tours

You probably won’t be signing up for the Coors factory tour anytime soon, but you and your kids will both love a tour of places like the Jelly Belly factory, Eli’s Cheesecake factory, and Ben & Jerry’s for the fun facts and sweet sampling. Tours are generally free. Here is a list of kid friendly factory tours or you can search for them in your home state.

13. Bookstores

Bookstores often offer free children’s story hours and small play areas like a train track or puzzle table that can keep your kids occupied while you relax with your favorite magazine. Check out Barnes & Noble or your other neighborhood bookstores.