Free places for kids to play indoors
Keeping kids entertained can be tough when the weather keeps you inside.
Today is Family Day in Ontario, so we’re enjoying Daddy having the day off. The temperature is going up to a high of -23C with the wind chill, so even though I’d like to go sledding, I know I won’t be playing outside! (Fun fact: last night the forecast was calling for Ottawa to go down to -39C with the wind chill. For all my American readers, -40C=-40F)
Because it’s Family Day, there’s a free public swim and skate at a local sports complex. So, that’s our big plan for the day. It could be the first time we (literally) strap a pair of skates on the Little Miss!
But if you’re a stay at home parent, you can’t bank on special free days to happen every day. So, here’s 7 places we’ve gone for some free fun when the weather has kept us inside!
Indoor play places for toddlers
7. The Mall
I won’t lie, usually, when we go to the mall we’re there to shop. But we don’t always buy something, so I’m including it on the list.
What do we do at the mall for free?
We visit the pet store (there’s a theme) and visit customer service to get a free balloon. The balloons make the Little Miss so happy.
6. Chapters Train Set
Chapters stores have a kids zone, usually near the back. If you’re lucky you’ll be there for storytime. I think they have regular hours, but they’re not posted on their website
Even if you’re not there for storytime or a special event, there’s usually a pretty cool train set for the kid to play with.
5. Pet Store
I can’t be the only parent that takes their kid to the big box pet store. We can kill a lot of time watching the fish swim and picking our favorite kitten/puppy/rabbit/bird/reptile/you get it.
So far we’ve been able to leave any new brothers or sisters for Bilbo (the engagement cat) at the store. If you think you’re likely to buy a new pet and regret it later, please skip the pet store, option guys.
4. The Library
We don’t do many structured activities, but we have gone to the library for toddler time. Usually, there’s some singing, a story, and a craft. Back when the Little Miss was napping, it was tricky for us to go and so we stopped. But, it’s something that I’ve been thinking of working back into our routine
Most libraries in Ottawa offer toddler time, and they might in your city too.
Even though we don’t usually make it for structured toddler time, the Little Miss loves to drop in at any time. She likes picking out books to borrow (she’s really into Ladybug Girl books with now), playing the kid’s games on the computer, coloring, and playing with new friends.
There’s been at least one night that ended in tears because it was too late to go to the library!
3. Drop-In Play Time
We have an Ontario Early Learning Centre pretty close to us and we’ve tried out their drop-in playtime.
It starts with free play/snack and ends with a circle time.
There were plenty of play stations for all sorts of interests. There was a section set up like a little house, a craft zone, and even buckets of dirt with trucks. We also got juice and cookies. The big draw is the specialists there that can answer your questions about your kid’s development.
Near us the program runs on a first come first serve basis and the day we went it was pretty full.
Check to see if there’s an Ontario Early Learning Centre near you. A quick search will tell you if there are similar free structured play groups near you.
Some of you hate to enter an IKEA. I’ve had enough $1 breakfast play dates to love going. There’s a lot of toys out on display to play with (spinning in the egg chair anyone?), plus there are play spaces in the restaurant area with carnival mirrors, beads on wires and other toys.
I can’t wait until the Little Miss is big enough to be dropped off in the kids only play area and I sit with my free coffee in the restaurant and just relax for a while.
1. Fun Haven
As soon as I found out that the indoor climbing gym at Fun Haven was free for kids 3 and under I knew I wanted to take the Little Miss. We had a blast and will probably go once a week until the weather gets better.
The climbing gym has three levels, two slides that make my stomach do a little flip and some neat guns to shoot foam balls and the kids/parents down below.
There’s also a play area for toddlers and big building blocks.
We’ve always gone in the morning and there are a lot of young kids there. It might not be as much fun for the little ones with older kids playing.
Be warned that the air compressors for the foam ball toys can be pretty loud and that can scare some kids. The Little Miss didn’t like the noise, but moved quickly because it was so much fun!
After we’re done climbing, we usually walk through the arcade and sit in the car games and dance on the dancing games. So far we haven’t spent any money, but the Little Miss has been really eager to get a big pixie stick. I have no idea how she even knows what it is, but I might need to spend some money to win some tickets to get one.
Oh, and there might be free cookies too. I haven’t figured that out yet.
Are These Really Free?
You’ll notice that many of our go-to spots are stores. Many stores specifically create a family-friendly atmosphere to get families to shop there.
So, are these really free activities if you end up buying something?
The activity is free. Whether or not you spend money is up to you.
I do take the Little Miss to stores and leave without buying things. I treat it like window shopping. When I do have something to buy, I know where to look.
It’s also a good opportunity to teach our daughter that treats are something special. So they stay a treat. Works for me too. I enjoy spoiling myself now and then because when I do, it’s special.
I know that some people work outside all year long and the cold doesn’t bother them. I’m not one of those people, -20C is cold! I’d like to take the Little Miss sledding or skating on the canal, but I’m too much of a wuss.
Next weekend temperatures next weekend are going up to a balmy -5C (-10C with wind chill) and I’m looking forward to being outside and soaking up some rays on the 1% of my body that’s exposed.
But, even when we’re stuck inside because of the weather, we can get out of the house and enjoy some free entertainment.
What About You?
Do you have a favorite free place to take kids to play?
Are you a cold-weather wuss? When is it too cold for you to enjoy being outside?
How do you feel about using free services at businesses without spending money?
Special Thanks to Courtney who answered the call and posted her favorite places to take her little one in Ottawa on our Facebook page.
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