Sunday, November 20, 2011

Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball ...

So we sat in the house and did nothing at all.
(Can you tell I've read The Cat in the Hat just a few times? :)

[Warning: This is long.]

Over the years, there have been a couple of people who have asked me what I do with my kids in the colder months to get out and avoid going stir crazy at home. So I decided to post a handy-dandy little blog for reference. :) Please note that I do not do ALL of these things every year. It is very dependent on 1) the age of my kids, 2) how much our schedule allows with naps, etc., and 3) how much my own energy level allows. That being said, the more kids I've had, the less I've been able to do, especially when the youngest is very young. Right now, we dabble around in these different activities, doing as much as we can in anticipation for the day when C understands the words "no running around" and "stay by Mommy". Oh, how I long for the day ... But anyway, here goes. And please add on your own suggestions if you don't see them here! I'm always looking for new ideas. :)

What to do when the weather gets cold:
Note: I am a self-professed cheap person so most of my main suggestions are free or relatively cheap (under $10), unless otherwise noted. :D

The Library
One of my favorite places to take the kids in the colder months is the library. Every library is different, but I suggest you check yours out if you haven't yet. Ours has an entire children's section filled with various toys, play kitchen, lego table, puppet theater, puzzle table, kids' computers, blocks, and more. And that's not even the programs. Aside from the usual storytimes for different age groups, they have craft times and other programs where they'll bring in magicians, musicians, other storytellers, people with animals (a la Jack Hanna) and many different children's programs throughout the month. I always pick up a calendar at the info desk (or just check it online) so I can keep track; there's so many! So if you live in the Wheeling area, definitely check out the library; but if you don't, check your own out - you may be surprised! The best part - it's free! (Or pre-paid if you consider taxes. :)

The Children's Museum
This option isn't quite as free, but definitely worth it if you have a children's museum close by. Our family gets a membership so we can drop in anytime, for however long, without feeling obligated to "get our money's worth." If we get there and someone turns out to be too crabby, gets sick, pees in their pants, has a diaper leak and we don't have any extra clothes - one of the many in the long list of things that can go wrong on a trip with young kids - we can leave and it's not a big deal. We haven't wasted $30+, the kids will probably be sad, but you can reassure them that you'll be back soon since it's not going to cost you another $30+. That also being said, the children's museum near us charges about $6.50 (I believe) per every child and adult over the age of one. This adds up pretty quickly! If I'm going to take just the L&C, it's already $19.50, $26 with M and $32.50 for the whole fam. And that's just one visit. Our membership costs $90/year, which would be more than paid for by 5 visits with just L&C. Can we manage that in a year's time? Most definitely.

Some added bonuses to our museum membership are:
getting to wait in the "member's only line" to get in, which usually consists of no one, at most 1-2 people. This is VERY nice when you're waiting to go into a very fun place with very young children who have the patience of a 6 month old puppy.
discounts at various local merchants by showing your membership card. For us, this basically means almost anywhere in the Glen. And the key is remembering to bring it out at these different stores/restaurants, which I rarely remember to do. =P
free admittance (usually for up to 4) into reciprocal museums that are part of the Association of Children's Museums (ACM). This has been the best part (other than the line thing) for us as we've been able to go to museums in St. Louis and Michigan while on vacation for completely free! We also got into the DuPage Children's Museum for free when visiting my cousin. There are many museums on this list, all over the country, and we try to remember to check it anytime we travel.

The Mall
Pair this with a little Christmas shopping and you can have a pretty productive day! Depending on the age of your child, you may want to avoid the mall play area on days when there is no school as it can get quite rowdy in there. But this can also be a great opportunity to meet some new moms! Some malls have family clubs/memberships that you can join for free (i.e. Westfield) and then they'll email you when Curious George comes to the mall, etc. They may also have other activities hosted by Gymboree or other kid-friendly venues within the mall that include coloring, meeting different characters or a free Gymboree class!

Mom & Tot Bowling
Pinstripes has Mom & Tot bowling Monday through Friday from 10 AM to noon for $5/child (moms - and I'm assuming dads - are free). They used to have a buffet set up with fruit, granola and yogurt that you could help yourself to, but it doesn't say anything about that anymore on the website so they might not offer it anymore. Pinstripes is normally pretty expensive, but this is a great deal and their bowling alley is very toddler-friendly. Not only can you select which players you want the bumpers to come out for (so you don't have to play with bumpers too), but they also have those tall mountain-esque things kids can carry their ball to and just push off of so they don't try throwing it down the lane, roll it so slowly it gets stuck just before it hits the pin, drop it on their toe (ok that might still happen), etc. I know some people don't think this is REAL bowling, but for the parent who 1) hates the sound of bowling balls smacking the hardwood floor and 2) doesn't want to wait for someone to help them get another stuck bowling ball, these contraptions are godsends.

Pottery Painting
If you have children like mine, painting is one of their favorite activities. And where better to do it than NOT in your own home?? :) Check out places like Color Me Mine or The Painted Penguin and you can pull double duty and make some cute gifts for the grandparents this Christmas!

Nibbles' Play Cafe
This cute little cafe/play area is great for meeting with other mom friends or just taking your little one when you're looking for something to do indoors. They have a very CUTE (but slightly expensive) children's menu with everything you could ever want, including cheerios by the scoop, sunbutter & jelly sandwiches, apple juice in sippy cups, organic options and more. Their grown-up food is quite delicious as well. They don't allow any outside food - boo - but why else would they sell cheerios by the scoop? And you also have to pay for admission on top of any food you purchase (per child over 1, I believe adults are free). So the bill can add up pretty quickly, but they keep a tab for you at the counter so you don't have to keep bringing out your wallet and so you hopefully spend more, probably. It's sort of like half-children's museum, half-cafe, with cafe tables on one side with TVs and wireless internet and different nooks/stations for various activities, kitchen/"house play area, train table, baby play area with soft padding, craft/coloring area. There is a gate so that kids cannot run out the door, which is very nice. It's catered very well to moms, especially moms with more than one, but can also get pretty expensive. So we save this for when we have a coupon, win a free admission somewhere or for special occasions. :) M has outgrown this place, but loves their kids meals so much because of their cuteness factor (sippy cups, smiley face fries, everything bite-size) that she does get jealous if we go here without her.

Other places you can check out for events/activities in your area:
Your local park district website
Look for your town on Facebook (Wheeling just joined to announce events and deals in the area).
And don't forget ... activity guides!
My two favorites are Oaklees' Guide and Chicago Parent. I usually pick them up every season at our library, but if you can't find any hard copies, they also have a website and both can be found on Facebook. Personally, I prefer the hard copy just so I can circle and flip back and forth between pages easier. If you're unfamiliar, Oaklees' Guide is a compilation of fairs, parades, festivals, shows, museums, and many many more family-friendly activities and events in the Chicagoland area. It organizes it first by month (there are usually 3 months/issue) and then by type of event, in chronological order. I love it because a lot of times, it tells me about something going on that I never would have thought search for, but we might enjoy as a family. Chicago Parent is similar, but in magazine form with articles as well. It's not as comprehensive but also not as overwhelming to look through, so I like it for that reason also. Back when I had just one, I referenced these almost daily to find things for us to do. We had quite a fun time and this is one of the reasons I would have a very hard time moving away - in spite of the winter weather.

Other ways to have fun when you really can't get out
Sorry these are mostly food-related. Can I help it if the cold weather just makes me want to curl up and eat? ;)

Decorate gingerbread houses.
Have a "slumber party" during the day, complete with blankets, popcorn and a movie.
Make/decorate Christmas cookies.
Make a Thanksgiving garland, writing one thing they're thankful for per strip of decorative paper, linking it up and then using it to decorate your Christmas tree after Thanksgiving. (We did this last year - I may have posted about it, but I'll check and link to it or post about it if I haven't.)
Find your favorite craft, activity or game at Family Fun and do it! :)

Okay, I have officially reached the end of my ideas, I believe. Anyone have any others? Please share!

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