We’ve had a lovely summer, but a lot of rainy weekends. It feels vaguely unfair to have a hot and sunny Friday and Monday, bookending a dreary and drizzly Saturday and Sunday. The question becomes, what to do on those wet days? Sure, there’s always the indoor playground ($), the kids museum ($$), or the trampoline park ($$$). But in addition to being crowded, noisy and expensive, they seem like a bit of a waste when you’re just trying to entertain a toddler or preschooler in the hours between the end of a nap and start of dinner prep.
With no further ado, here are my free (or cheap) rainy day outings of choice. Some of these can be done on no money, but all of them are a bit more fun if you can swing spending a couple of dollars.
The mall might be the pre-teen hang-out of choice, but let me make an argument for it being the ideal place to entertain a little kid. The wide hallways and smooth floors are the perfect spot for a new walker to practice their steps. And the elevators or escalators? They have never failed to keep my daughter entertained long past the limits of my interest.
If you’re lucky the food court will have a brightly painted, poorly maintained set of kids rides. My secret? Don’t put any money in the rides. The lights still flash, the buttons can still be pushed, and your kid will never know the difference. Lest you think I’m cruel or cheap, I’ve never seen another parent put money in the rides either.
Keeping it cheap? Bring a snack and water bottle for the kid and yourself to avoid the lure of the food court. Want to spend a bit? Grab yourself a coffee to sip while you trail behind your kid.
Libraries are awesome: public, tolerant of children, and full of books. Can you ask for anything more? All the public libraries in our city have a kids area with a ton of toys and all the kids books you could ask for. They do vary greatly in quality, so if you’re lucky enough to be close to a few branches, it’s worth your time to do a scouting mission or two.
Libraries are a great spot to meet up with friends as you can swap off child watching to get a few books for yourself. Adult conversation also staves off utter boredom.
Keeping it cheap? Not really a choice in most libraries, though one near us does have a dilapidated looking coffee shop inside. Want to spend a bit? Pay off your overdue fines.
Large chain bookstores have spread seemingly everywhere since I was a child. And they always have a brightly coloured kids section. I do my best not to be that parent that lets their child paw at new merchandise, rendering them unsaleable, but the stores near us have a train table (so grubby!), an area to colour (less grubby!) and a ride-on toy or two (almost clean!).
Keeping it cheap? Don’t even look at the coffee shop, or all the books, or the scarves/purses/framed art. Want to spend a bit? Pick up a bargain priced children’s book ($5-8 at our store) or a coffee.
That cheap museum
We’re in a city of approximately 200,000 people, and I’ve been surprised to find out how many museums are within a short drive of my house. The key is, however, pick the small ones, the run down ones, or the privately funded poorly advertised ones. The big shiny new kids museum downtown is packed, noisy and expensive. In addition to being overwhelming for my kid, it’s not a relaxing outing for any parent who wants to keep track of their child.
The entirely free aviation museum on the local military base? Empty, quiet, and no one cares how much my kid runs around howling at the airplanes (I don’t have any explanation for this behaviour). Limited opening hours are likely to be an issue, but Saturday afternoons are almost always a good bet. Call ahead to confirm and enjoy half an hour of your child asking, “What’s that?”.
Keeping it cheap? Don’t entirely cheap-out on this one. If it’s a free museum put a couple of dollars into the donation box (there’s always a donation box). Want to spend a bit? Check out the less popular museums that charge admission. They’ll still be cheaper and emptier than most other places. In my City I recommend the art-museum-that’s-always under-construction-so-it’s-half-price and the outdated-and-undersized-natural-history-museum. Most museums have free admission for little kids, and an adult ticket (or two) won’t set you back too much.
Wait! Hear me out! I know grocery shopping is legitimately the worst, but do you have something to pick up at the store anyway? You’re an adult, of course you do. Going to the grocery store means getting out of the house. Plus, it’s money you have to spend anyway. Keep it low key, be prepared to bail if your child pitches a fit, and don’t rush the adventure.
If you have a choice of stores, pick the one that’s more likely to be empty. Our closest, smallest grocery store is always deserted on Sunday mornings. Popular grocery store activities? Getting the “car” cart with steering wheels attached to the child seat, checking out the lobster tank, waving charmingly at fellow shoppers (they will be 75+, they will be charmed), and pushing the cart themselves even though it’s the slowest freaking thing in the entire world.
Keeping it cheap? Do your regular grocery shopping. May as well since you’re there anyway. Want to spend a bit? Let your child pick a new vegetable (don’t be ridiculous, they won’t actually eat it) or fruit.
Good luck fellow parents. You’ll make it through those rainy days. And just remember, it’s only a few more months until you have to figure out how to survive winter!