When Alya was born, my main activity became the outdoors stroll twice a day. This routine continued for a year. By her 11th month we travelled to Ukraine to visit my family, and I felt a need to find a baby appropriate place to get Alya more exposed to my native language. The first baby class she attended was a big step for both of us – Alya was the youngest in the class and first time in her life she had to listen to someone else rather than her parents. This short experience made me completely positive – I had to find more activities back in States.
My almost 3 year research started with very few items and ended up with a full list of great baby/toddler appropriate places available daily either for free or for a very small fee.
- Structured classes. There are several places (like My Gym, Gymboree Play and Music, local gymnastics) which offer classes for very young babies. We started attending a baby class once a week when Alya was a bit older than 1 year, and I wish I knew about it earlier. It was so good to let her play and learn something in a properly designed place and under teachers control. She also learned a lot while just socializing with same age peers, and I was able to get a little break as well. Many of these places have Saturday classes, which allow dads to participate and moms to have that peace-of-mind hour at home!
- Libraries. They usually have separate areas packed with various educational toys, some premises may be equipped with really great play zones as well. So anytime pop up is really welcomed. My favorite time to visit a library with Alya though is for story time (they have different age appropriate classes for as young as 6 months old). This free of charge half an hour a week adds a lot to our routine. Same age kids singing, dancing, and learning together while listening to stories read by a teacher is a perfect reason to get out of the house. They offer many other events going on for kids of different ages year round. Events vary by locations as well, so on the toughest days when boredom hits, we easily can fix the mood in one of the nearest libraries.
- Toy stores. Most of toy chain stores provide a free story time for toddlers once week! Check the website of Pottery Barn Kids, Learning Tree, Fat Brain Toys, Lakeshore Learning or any other local toy store next to you. Some of them also have other activities going on occasionally. And all of them expose the most attractive or latest toys specifically to make kids play and explore. And parents shop, of course. 🙂
- Museums. There is a great variety of kids museums or kids rooms/activities available. Even if there is nothing assigned for little ones, still I would go and walk around with a stroller and let Alya know that she should behave (meaning no running, no touching, no loud voice). Going to a museum is a great opportunity to see something new and discuss it together later on. Many of them arrange kids activities trough their monthly schedule.
- Community centres. These places are awesome! Usually they provide a variety of age appropriate structure classes, some of them may have toddler time once a week/month, and they usually have a room with a professional watch for kids while parents are using the gym. Definitely pay a visit to your local centre to find out more on all the options.
- Parks and recreation. Some parks have age appropriate classes where kids can explore nature through stories and hands on activities. They do concerts, plays and even painting classes. Just find the website for your cities’ recreation and see the section dedicated to kids.
- Zoos, nature centres, arboretrums, farms. They also incorporate kids classes/events into their schedule. We’ve already visited many of them and cannot wait for more.
- Amusement parks, kids theaters. Those are always great boredom busters.
- Completely unexpected places. 🙂 I was surprised to find that various local grocery stores (like Whole Foods, Trader Joe), book stores ( e.g. Barnes and Noble) and even music centers and equipment stores (School of Rock, Scheels, Home Depot) do lots of great interactive events for kids.
All these places easily accessible and affordable, keep us excited about the each new day. Sometimes I feel like staying home though, or just playing outdoors, but only because I want so, not because it’s my only option. I know there is an exciting activity available during the week, I always know in these places people are ready to tolerate kids. And also, a very important point, these places are full of fellow mamas – it’s great to get a compliment or engage in a friendly chat with a person who completely gets your daily struggle.
Go explore, mamas! 🙂