Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where to get the wiggles out in bad weather

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors.

Seattle has about nine months of drizzly gray skies to contend with — but I have three (count 'em!) little kids who need to run off some energy each day, and a small home in which to do any of that. We have to rely on getting out of the house regularly — so, in particularly grim weather, that means having indoor spaces we can fly to that allow for boisterous movement and loud voices.

I wrote, when Mikko was two, a top 10 list of my favorite places to amuse kids during wintry weather, but since Mikko (now seven) has aged out of many of those excursions, I've added to and expanded my list here to include options for elementary-age kids as well. I've found, unfortunately, that many kid-centric locations cater solely to the five-and-under crowd, which has made life challenging when I want to take more than one kiddo with me (which is to say, most of the time!). I know it's just that most places assume kids over the age of five will be in school all day, so we've had to source some homeschooling-friendly (or at least -tolerant) options. I hope this list can help you, too, if you're in the same boat!

Friends' houses

We live in a building with quiet-loving adult neighbors who don't always understand children's needs to be total hooligans all day long. Getting away from the grown-up grouchiness to friends' houses where kids are allowed to stomp around, jump off furniture, slam doors, and yell at the top of their lungs is so dang freeing. Plus, great for all ages!

Play cafés & indoor playgrounds

We have various coffeehouses & cafés around that offer play spaces for the kids along with hot beverages, wifi, and snacks for the parents. Admission prices vary, as do age limits. There's a nice, big indoor play structure downtown that allows a high range of ages, just giving young tots a small safe place blocked off within the larger area and otherwise allowing the older goobers free rein. And, um, don't shoot the messenger, but fast food joints also sometimes have some sweet climbing structures.

Mall playspaces

Several indoor malls and outdoor shopping centers around here have a decent indoor or sheltered playspace for kids to enjoy. The huge upside is that they're free (if you don't count any begging your kids might do for the mall's offerings) and that they're lightly policed for age violations. (Ok, if you have only younger kids, you might not think that's an upside, but I do!) I've never yet seen any kids over the suggested height limits (usually around 48 inches) kicked out or asked to leave, and my 7-year-old is just over. Instead, I've noticed that the energy at these places is usually plenty high enough that the older kids blend in, and there are always kids in these spaces even bigger than mine (for now). I just make sure to let my older kiddo know he has to watch out for the little ones. I can see offering the reasoning as kids grow older, too, that the big ones are babysitting or assisting the littles (if such is the case), since I see tweens and teens playing with young siblings in these places regularly. The mall can work well before and after playspace time as well — make yourself as cleverly inefficient as possible by parking far away from the playspace and encouraging your little ones to walk or run all the way there (assuming they can do so without running into other shoppers).

Child-centric museums

If you live in or near a metropolitan area, museum memberships can be a huge boon (and a great gift-list idea for the upcoming holidays!). Children's museums and science museums especially are hands-on and family-friendly places, usually for all ages. Zoos and aquariums might vary in how much indoor space they have available — ours have at least some spots that are inside or well sheltered, so you can brave the elements for awhile and then retreat indoors. One downside, however, is taking public transportation or walking to and from a distant parking spot if the weather's really craptastic.

Public library story times

I almost didn't think to put this on here, though maybe not for the reason you're thinking. It's not that a library's typically a quiet place — the story times we've been to have been in kids' areas or in dedicated rooms (with a closed door to muffle the ruckus) that allow for singing and motions to follow along with the leaders. No, for us it's just that Mikko has a horror of library story times. But if your kids like them and the ages line up all right for you, they're a good free option. If your kids are spaced widely as mine are, it might be more challenging, since the ones I've seen are usually geared toward a small age group at a time. Check to see how open the groups are to siblings joining in.

Community center play times

Check your local community centers for open gym times for kids or tots. The ones around here are named things like Toddler Play Gym, cost only a few bucks, and are geared for ages five and under, featuring drivable vehicles, various balls and toys, small play structures, and even bouncy castles. We did sneak Mikko into lightly attended toddler play gyms at age six, with no quibbles from the gatekeepers, but it's true that most of the kids who go will be on the younger side and might object (or their parents might) to more boisterous activity. There are open gym times for older kids to play games like basketball or volleyball, though it can be challenging to find appropriate times for mixed ages (but see below).

Homeschooling cooperatives & groups

The homeschooling and unschooling community around us is a thriving one, and there are a lot of possibilities available for building friendships and allowing a release of children's energy, for preschoolers on up through teens. The homeschooling cooperative nearest us offers classes twice a week at a local community center, with open gym times in between scheduled classes. Unlike the toddler times, these are open for all ages, so older kids can play basketball or tag while young toddlers drive the little cars. But that's just one facet: There are also the classes themselves, which feature P.E.-type options alongside more academic fare. (We're currently taking Family Tae Kwon Do, for instance.) There are also regular park days for the various homeschooling groups here, which I realize is not indoors, but maybe the ones near you have a regular playdate inside instead! Check places like Facebook and Meetup for groups in your area; people in the ones here are always inviting others to playdates, craft parties, cultural gatherings, museum visits, field trips, and more.

Recreational play times

I'm not sure what to call this one, because I'm not sure how widespread this is, but there are a couple fitness places near us that have fun play times for little kids. The gymnastics academies have an open gym time each day for kids who are one to five years old, and there's an indoor beach volleyball place that opens up the courts to the same age tots for a digging play time with plenty of beach toys. Unfortunately, Mikko's aged out of those options (poor Alrik and Karsten, too, since we're kind of a package deal!), but they were lots of fun while they lasted. You could check recreational fitness places like that near you for similar play opportunities.

Fitness classes & leagues

This would be a lot more regimented and might be harder to coordinate with a mixed-age group of siblings, but straight-up fitness classes or group sports can offer plenty of running-around time for kids of multiple ages. Sometimes classes for various age groups are held simultaneously, shortening your time spent chauffeuring. Alrik's enjoyed the aforementioned tae kwon do as well as swim lessons, gymnastics class, and indoor soccer. Mikko's enjoyed nothing. Your mileage may vary.

Bouncy places

Speaking of soccer and recreational play both, the indoor soccer arena hosts a bouncy castle play space for kids on a regular basis. In this case, Mikko thought it was fun and Alrik was freaked out, but, you know, it's a thought. There are other bouncy-house opportunities at community center events and festivals. Another option I've seen but not navigated personally is indoor trampoline places, which usually have times or spaces set aside for younger kids as well as older.

Chuck E. Cheese's (or an arcade)

Hear me out. If you've only ever been dragged to Chez de Charles Fromage for weekend birthday parties, you're missing out on the weekday possibilities. We find CEC much lower key at the off-times, and surprisingly affordable with the coupons that are always available. I just show them on my smart phone to get cheap tokens and discounts on any food we buy. You don't have to eat there, naturally, though I do enjoy taking my time at the salad bar while the big boys play games together and leave me in blessed peace! Note: One time a long while ago, I did a sponsored post about a smartphone app for CEC, but this here is just my honest opinion based on many an enjoyable hour whiled away in the arcade during objectionable weather. The other arcades near us are more expensive and not geared toward the younger set, so I prefer Chuck's for my kidlets, but there might be similar arcades near you that are affordable and comfortable enough for parents to enjoy, so you can check around!

Family swims

You won't get to sweat, but you will get soaked. If you have enough arms for the non-swimmers in your group, family swims can be a fun way for kids to move their bodies and learn some safety and fitness skills besides.


Year-round and seasonal ice rinks are fun for all adventurous ages. I like that the ones near us offer slidable walkers for unsteady kids. The community center near us offers weekly roller skating at a cheap price with optional skate rentals.


This is our go-to {Not} Back to School event and also an occasional Family Day option. You don't have to be overly rowdy, but you can be, particularly if you go during the day when the place is pretty empty. Scope out a place with automatic metal bumpers for the little ones to prevent endless-gutter-ball frustration. Just accept that Sam will win. Sam always wins.

Run errands

This last one might seem sort of desperate, but I do tend to make my kids come along on all my shopping trips, if only to wear them out a little. I like to park far from the store (that's what strong legs are for!), walk to multiple locations if possible, and scope out empty aisles that allow for impromptu races without bugging anyone else. I'm not a Sagittarius, but I am a dedicated traveler of local errands {must read this link for a smile*}, and my kids are my carry-ons.

That's the list I've come up with for now. I'd love to hear your suggestions and fun outings in the comments!

See also:

Rainy-day movement ideas for toddlers

What are your favorite places to run & shout in bad weather?

* Thanks to Shannon for the link to a good laugh!
Running girl photo courtesy Clover_1 on flickr (cc)


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon November 11 with all the carnival links.)


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Great list! For our kids' birthdays this year, we're asking grandma for an indoor pool pass. The YMCA is prohibitively expensive, but we do have a local middle school with an indoor pool that offers annual memberships. The hours are funky (since it's a school), but I think we can work around them to have some fun.

Holly Scudero said...

This is a fantastic list of things to do! I only have one child, and he's still pretty young, so he thankfully can usually be entertained in our home on rainy days. But as he gets older, I know I'm going to need some new ideas, so I am definitely filing this post away for future reference.

San Diego has a lot of indoor play places for kids (although here it's more because hot summer days make playing outside difficult), and while a lot of them are geared toward younger kids (which is great now), I know we have a few for older kids too. We do have a lot of great museums here, which is fantastic, and I know we will be going to them much more often as my son gets older. (We already have a zoo membership, but as you said, that's not always an option on a rainy day!)

I must admit I've only been to Chuck E. Cheese once since my son was born, and it was a rather terrifying experience. For me, anyway. ;) But I can see how it could have value simply as an indoor arcade during the week!

marijasmits said...

Thanks for this great list! Where we live in the UK I don't think we have quite as many indoor activities geared towards children, but there are a few indoor play centres which I still know I can reliably take both kids to. And swimming is still a good one for us. We also really like the library, but that's now because my eldest (quiet + sensitive girl) likes browsing the books while my 4 year old plays with the toys in the kids area. And I even get to have a bit of a sit down. Bonus!

Kati said...

This is a great list I am sure to revisit as my ideas run dry over the winter season!

We are also "kind of a 'homeschooling' package deal" and with 2 + 1 on the way I can see that I will need to do some thinking ahead about places that can accomodate all of us.

Jennifer Saleem said...

Ohhh! Great list. I can find plenty to do AT HOME but have a hard time thinking of rainy day activities away from home. (Mostly out of being a homebody). This gives me some good ideas for this hopefully super wet winter!

PeelingClementines said...

Brilliant; I love that one of the ideas is to boycott a friends' home instead - with our home in the throes of renovation I often do this in search of a safe-crawl zone!

I love that you help your boys get their energy out in errands too - cue a blog on how you make said errands extra fun?! It's not yet a challenge I have but give it time...!

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