We all know about winters in WNY, but this past summer we had to endure some record-breaking heat. Summers aren’t usually so sweltering, so a lot of us don’t have air conditioning. At my house, we spent a ton of time in our humpback whale cool (ahem, pool) and basement while I was on maternity leave, but we also got creative with free activities that you can do away from home. There are a lot of inside play spaces for babies and kids where we live, but it can get expensive quickly. Between borrowing AC in the summer, and battling out cabin fever in the winter, we have a pretty well-rounded list of free indoor activities for kids. I’ll save the ones you can do at home for another day, but here are some of my favorite things to do when you need to get out of the house on a budget:
When I worked part-time, Lily and I went to the library once a week and we would sometimes stay for two hours. While the library in our old town didn’t have activities for under threes, it had an incredible children’s section. There was a big wooden dollhouse, complete with garage and wooden people, furniture (indoor and out), and car. There was a play food section with a shopping cart, a toy kitchen and table, few cozy reading areas, and hamsters. I haven’t spent much time in our new library because the girls go there twice a week (once with each grandma), but while it doesn’t have all of that fun stuff, it does have a ton of programming for kids. Most of it is for three and up, but there are often evening activities for families (so kids of all ages). The girls have been to a few, but I’ve only gone to one. There were monkeys, so I was over the moon.
Barnes and Noble
Barnes and Noble has various story and song areas for babies on up. They also have a train set and, of course, hundreds of books. We’ve gone there to do the stories and songs and then play, and other times we’ve just gone there to play. I recommend first heading straight for Starbucks, then over to the train set so your kid can play with the other kids and you can sit back and enjoy your latte.
One time I had planned to go to the Children’s Place with Lily in tow. Their website said they opened at 10, but they actually didn’t open until 11. Thankfully there was a PetSmart right next door. We spent the entire hour looking at different animals, watching the dogs in the dog area, and playing with doggie toys (because let’s face it, who can really tell the difference between them and baby toys).
The same mall our Barnes and Noble is in also has a cat adoption store! You used to be able to go in there and pet all the cats roaming around, but I heard they’ve stopped letting them out of their cages. Sad face.
Side note: I can’t stand our Children’s Place, and the customer service is terrible. I was at least 36 weeks pregnant with Maggie when I went there with Lily, because I figured (correctly) it would be my last real free weekend. No idea what I would have done if the pet store wasn’t next door, and the Children’s Place employees didn’t seem to care.
There was a day this past summer when it had been over 85 degrees inside our house, and between being hot and exhausted I almost passed out. I knew I had to get somewhere cooler, and that I also had to get groceries. So we headed to the grocery store, Lily hopped in one of those carts with the ride-in car on the front, and Maggie checked out all the lights and colors from her spot in the carrier. I did this a few more times over the summer with Lily, because those cars are basically a sure deal to get her to fall asleep.
Side note, we had gone to the farmers market before Tops, and by the time we were done getting groceries we needed some lunch. I took the girls to Taste, because I had my mom’s stroller which Maggie tolerated when she was much littler. Lily and I had a long, lazy lunch. Then the rain came. It hadn’t rained in such a long time, that I hadn’t thought to check the forecast. The windows in my car were cracked quite a bit, the groceries were right under these windows, Maggie’s car seat was in the car, and I didn’t have an umbrella. When it started coming down in torrents, it took me a minute to realize that everything was going to be soaked. There wasn’t any point in rushing out to the car, since we were going to get soaked, too. We got drenched on the walk to the car, and Maggie’s bucket seat was full of water. I had to put her in it, and she didn’t even cry on the way home as the water sloshed around her. Chillest baby.
Fisher Price Store
We’re fortunate to live in the hometown of Fisher Price. Their store is chock full of every toy they have on the market, and is really spacious. Lily LOVES looking at all of the different toys, and pressing everything that makes sound. She’ll go up and down the aisles visiting her favorite toys over and over. They also have this room with ride-on cars, which are in huge boxes. The balls are also stored in this room, and she loves to throw them around and let them bounce off the boxes.
It might sound crazy to bring a toddler to a toy store, and I have to credit my MIL with establishing toy stores as an environment for play. She was the one who gave me the idea, as she used to bring Lily there while babysitting her. She does usually get Lily fruit snacks while they’re there, and I’ve occasionally gotten her a Little People (they were only $1 last time!), but Lily never expects for or asks for anything (at least when she’s with me). I also LOVE looking at all of the baby things. Kids’ toys don’t really change much, but there is always new baby gear out there. When I was little I used to pour over the baby section of the JC Penney catalog. It’s a good thing that our friends and siblings are starting to have kids because even if we have more, we probably won’t need any new gear (except a car seat, and I love researching car seats so the thought gets me excited).
Yes, there are two toy stores in our town. Toy Loft is more high-end, and they carry a lot of Melissa and Doug. It’s my go-to for gifts, and between Lily’s classmates and our friend’s and family’s kids, I’m there more and more often. The best part is they have an area set up in the middle with Magna Tiles and a little toy house full of doll house people and Calico Critters, and a train set. We had to go there to get presents a few times this summer, and I always lingered so Lily could play and I could check out the books (and baby toys–again, I can’t get enough). It’s really tight in there, and you can’t usually get a side-by-side double stroller any further than the ramp. It’s also not ideal if your kid is in a really rambunctious mood. Bonus: they have a great bathroom.
In case Fisher Price wasn’t enough to get East Aurora on the map, we also have Vidler’s. In the winter, the Christmas decoration section will keep any kid entertained for a while. They’re all in themed groups, so it makes it easy for kids to pretend play. Not that that’s what ornaments are intended for or anything, but they don’t seem to mind as long as you’re not breaking anything. There are a ton of toys upstairs and all manner of nooks and crannies to get lost in (cards! lunch boxes! books!), but the highlight is Sandy, the ancient mechanical rocking horse that’s only 10 cents per ride. They also have cheap popcorn, which can occupy a toddler for a good 20 minutes.
What are some of your favorite free indoor activities?