I have found with a three-year-old, getting out of the house is important. Very important. Here are some of the places my boy begs to go.
- Any fast food restaurant with a play land. Whether it is hot in the summer and you need some air conditioning or snowing outside in the winter, this is one of our favorite stops. The play area is the perfect release for my active little guy. Afraid of the cost or nutrition? Don't be. I usually buy a snack from the healthier options like apples or yogurt, though I do buy the occasional ice cream. My child is really there for the play area not the food. I love it. I often get a diet soda and two hours of reading time.
- Swimming pools--especially indoor pools. Many cities now have rec centers with indoor pools at steeply discounted prices with water features and even slides (the one by me is free for kids 3 and younger and adults are a mere $4.50). With no sunblock to worry about and a year round option, swimming is two hours of fun at a minimal cost.
- Children's Museums--highly interactive, educational, and fun, but a more expensive option. I only go if I have a 2-for-1 coupon or on a discounted day (although the museum can be excessively busy). Many museums also offer a yearly pass which may be the best option depending on how many times you plan to visit. These museums require a high level of supervision which can be exhausting on mom. So I only go if I also have a lot of energy.
- Chuck-E-Cheese--More expensive than a fast food place, but my child LOVES it. This also requires a lot of energy on mom's part to supervise and help your child go on rides and play the games. The noise level can also be excessive during busy times. If you have more than one in your area, you may want to try the different ones. Like play lands in restaurants, they vary widely. All of my children have hung a picture of me with them taken at the photo booth at Chuck-E-Cheese. It is often the last thing they see before closing their eyes. Priceless.
- Inflatable Slides and Bouncers--Our area has several places with inflatable slides and bounce houses. Our favorite has a $2 day and a foam ball area. Not only does our three-year-old love this place, the older ones beg to go as well. We have even had birthday parties here at $2 a kid.
His top FREE places
- Parks--He needs a place to run around and be loud. The only problem--the weather. So we go as often as we can on non-rainy days in the spring and fall and go early in the morning or after dinner in the summer. I also scope out the different parks in the area for variety and go to parks farther away in conjunction with another errand. That way we get to try new parks without me having to drive out of my way. It also helps my child during an errand know that good behavior will be rewarded with a stop at the park.
- Play dates or Mother's Group--Friends for both him and me, what could be better? From a swap with a neighbor to an organized group, these get togethers help your child learn to share, make friends, and try new toys. For mom, you can talk to other adults about adult things or share advice on what your kids are doing. My only advice, try to find a group that is positive rather than competitive.
- Church--Yes, he actually asks if it is church day. He loves the children's class which is full of toys, snacks, friends, and a coloring activity.
- Library--My child loves to see the library pet, play with the toys in the children's area, and look at the books. He also enjoys checking out the movies and picking a book to bring home. The only challenge is he has to be quiet and he is not allowed to run. I keep library visits short, around 20 minutes. Our library also offers a toddler class that includes stories, games, crafts, and songs.
- Feeding the ducks--I don't know what makes this so magical, but all of my children have loved this when they were two and three. I wait until I have leftover bread--a few hamburger buns, maybe a tortilla, or half a loaf that we didn't quite finish. Also, I have bought expired bread from outlet bakeries for a quarter. My only caution is your child will take a few bites himself while throwing pieces to the ducks. Smaller children find this better than the zoo and definitely cheaper.
So get out the house, and do something fun.