Even if you don't live somewhere as warm as I do, chances are you'll have days where you just don't want to lather sun screen on all the kids, bring a million water bottles, and spend the entire day on a stifling playground while your children burn their skin on the slides.
Here are my favorite free, indoor, fun toddler destinations! Grab a mom friend and her kiddos and head to one of these indoor locations for a day of air-conditioned toddler fun.
I've yet to find a city library that doesn't have a fun toddler program. Whether it's story time, singing time, or puppet time, there's always something fun happening, and it's always free. And even if there's not a class currently being taught, it's fun for toddlers to hang out in the kids corner with all the books, toys, kids computers, and beanbags. Most libraries have a summer reading program to keep your older children engaged as well.
Load up the kids and take them to the mall! Let's face it: some mall play areas are really sketchy, but some are great. They're always free, and sometimes all you need is 30 minutes of your kids running around screaming in an approved run-around-and-scream location. Extra points if you sip a nice cold drink while you watch them get their energy out.
Free Days at Music Centers and Gymnasiums
Almost all music and gymnastics venues will offer free classes or free days to try and get you interested in their programs. Google what's in your area and take advantage! I've taken my toddler to a few of these, and it's fun to watch her explore something new and different. It's also a great way to get a feel for good classes you may want to invest in when your toddler gets a little older.
Local Sports Games
No matter the time of year, you're not going to get into professional sports games for free. But I'm always surprised at how many previews, practices, scrimmages or high-school level matches are indoors and open to the general public. Who cares how good the team is? Your sports-loving toddler will be enthralled (and younger toddlers will just love playing in all the empty seats). And if nap time arrives halfway through, you can leave early without the pressure of getting your money's worth.
The rec center in my old city was fantastic, and well worth paying $350/year for a family pass. The one in my current city isn't worth a membership to us, but there are still fun things to do there for free. Whether it's free swim days, a big indoor playground, or a free kids sports day, look up what your city has to offer.
I'm always surprised by the number of lesser-known museums that have really great kids sections. There's a free city museum in my neighborhood that is pretty blah overall, but the toddler play place is gigantic and super fun. In fact, we paid to get into a children's museum last weekend, and my toddler didn't like it nearly as much as she loves the little free one down the street. Ask around with other parents in your area to find the free museums with great kids corners. If you have your heart set on a designated children's museum, look online for free days.
What am I missing?
Favorite indoor toddler destinations?
I'd love to hear yours (+ I might even add it to this list!)