If you are the parent of one or more energetic toddlers, you are likely looking for things to do that won’t break the bank, but that will put smiles on your childrens’ faces. If you find yourself during the week with one of you versus one, two or three or more toddlers, sometimes adventures can be difficult to manage. It needn’t be so.
Boston is a veritable treasure trove of self-contained places for little ones, and if you are willing to venture out a little beyond Boston, there is also a vast assortment of places to go and things to do, and so many can be inexpensive or free.
As a general rule, local libraries have pass programs. What this means is that if you have a library card, you can obtain a free pass that will reduce or eliminate the admission fees of many otherwise costly Boston venues. The list is extensive, and varies between libraries, but many town libraries offer passes to the Museum of Science, the Children’s Museum, and the New England Aquarium (along with other “grown-up” museums). This is a wonderful bargain, as entrance fees to these places for a family can add up quite a bit, normally. These passes typically allow for free or dramatically reduced entrance fees for four to six people, and because the passes are disposable, there is no need to return them to your library. To obtain a pass, usually a phone call and a library card will reserve it, and then all one needs to do is pick up the pass.
There are museums all across the Commonwealth. Boston has a particularly wonderful family of museums that offer educational and play options for toddlers. Each of the below museums has a Web Site to provide you with any additional information that you might need, which is included at the end of each museum’s description.
The Children’s Museum (300 Congress Street, Boston). This quality museum is geared toward children of all ages, but for toddlers (who tend to run wild and cannot be easily corralled in a place as vast as a museum), the “PlaySpace” is a wonderful resource. It is self-contained, enclosed, and your child can run free in a toddler-designated area. There are places to climb, places to pretend play (play shopping carts, etc.), and areas to do puzzles and other quieter activities. If your children are old enough to play without you being on their backs at all times, you can keep them in view while sitting your weary body down to chat with other parents and caretakers on the benches. The kids can play on the various climbing apparatus. And should you find yourself with a poorly-timed visit, fear not. There is an area to prepare snacks and/or lunches within feet of the play area. (If your children are still crawling, there is a separate little area for such tykes and their caretakers). Should you be courageous enough to venture outside of this area, there are scheduled performances of short plays (e.g. Goldilocks and the Three Bears) that include kid participation. And should you miss out on the free pass, after 5:00 p.m. on Fridays admission is free.
Parking lots in the area are expensive, but often there are metered spots ranging from right outside the museum to a few blocks away. Depending upon the time of day (mid-afternoons are better) that you arrive at the museum, you might find an extremely close spot, and because with one or more toddlers you probably won’t be in one place for more than a couple hours, metered parking can be a good option. If you come via the “T,” you will need your stroller, but it is a manageable walk from South Station (the Red Line). (www.bostonkids.org).
The New England Aquarium (Central Wharf, Boston). The Aquarium is a wonderful option for toddlers who are mature enough to appreciate things without having to actually play, though there is a hands-on area as well where children can feel starfish and other ocean life. The Aquarium is a wonderful place to navigate with a stroller, as the large tank that contains the sharks and other fun sea creatures is right smack in the center of the building. It is designed so that you can walk all the way to the top with your stroller in tow, and your child will be able to see everything ranging from sharks to divers feeding the fish. At every level, you can stop and see smaller tanks as well, and there are benches for snack/rest breaks. Sea lion shows take place outside of the aquarium at designated times, and can be fun for almost all ages. The IMAX theater always has a nature-related movie playing, but the cost is not included in either the free pass or the cost of general admission, and it is not designed with very young children in mind.
Parking for the aquarium is available in nearby lots, but as is usually the case with city lots, it can be quite costly. There are meters in the vicinity, but they are few and far between. Public transportation, if available to you, is highly recommended, as the Aquarium “T” Station is within walking distance (Blue Line). (http://www.neaq.org
The Museum of Science (Science Park, Cambridge). This amazing museum caters to all ages, allowing those under 3 in for free, and children between 3 and 11 in for a reduced rate. As with the other museums, a museum pass from your public library can dramatically reduce your cost of admission. The “Discovery Center” is an area in the museum that is exclusively for toddlers. If you are not one to brown-bag it, there is a nice variety of food options available in the cafeteria area for your picky eaters. There is a parking lot on-site, but as with other museums, it can be cost-prohibitive. Metered spots are not available close enough to the museum to make them worthwhile, but the “T” is very close, and highly recommended. (The Green Line). (www.mos.org).
All of the above museums offer yearly memberships that are very reasonable for those who plan to frequent them-under $100 per year for a family. At the New England Aquarium, for example, a family of five, with one toddler and two older children would have to pay approximately $50.00 for one day’s visit. With an $80.00 yearly membership, the entire family will only need to go twice for the pass to pay for itself, and then some. The membership card to the Aquarium comes with discounts for parking and the gift shop. The same general principals apply to the other museums; so if you find one that you particularly like, membership might be a good investment.
There is nothing like seeing a group of children listening to a story to make you smile. Most larger bookstores, and some of the smaller ones, offer some version of a storytime, and it is a great way to balance your children’s physical activities with a little intellectual stimulation. The following storytimes require no advance reservation, and are free.
Border’s Books; Barnes & Noble-Multiple Locations. These two bookstore chains have locations all over Massachusetts, and each offers a reading hour designed for very young children. On the coldest of winter days or the hottest of summer ones, a storytime is the perfect venue for your little ones, and a nice opportunity to have someone other than you read them a story. This is also a nice way to begin the kids’ day (usually they are scheduled in the morning once or twice a week), and before you leave, you can grab coffee and a muffin at the in-store cafÃ?Â©. Times vary, and are often listed in the magazine “Parents Papers,” a free publication available in most bookstores and museums, but can also be found if you go to the bookstores’ Websites, and find the “store locator” link. (www.bordersstores.com; www.barnesandnoble.com)
Barefoot Books-Cambridge, This is a specialty bookstore that caters to children, and has beautiful toys, artwork and books for window shopping or purchase. It too hosts a reading hour and is located right between Harvard Square and Porter Square, making it a perfect spot to take the kids before heading out to stroll around Cambridge. The hours are pretty regular (10:30 on Fridays and Saturdays) but are subject to change, so check out their Website for any updates. (www.barefoot-books.com).
If you have had one too many playdates and are ready to just let the kids run wild without destroying your home, an indoor playspace is your spot. They are offered in many local community centers and churches, but if you do not have one in your town, or just want to get out a little, these are great options, and the following ones offer free admission.
Playspace at the Atrium Mall, Chestnut Hill. This playspace is medium-sized, has some good climbing structures, and offers a reasonable amount of seating if you need to nurse a baby or sit with an infant or just want to chat with other parents or caregivers. From any seat you can see your children, so it is designed well. There is a vending machine in the area, in case you need snack or drink supplements. This playspace is a great destination in itself, but is also a great way to recharge the kids’ batteries if you decide to indulge in a little Chestnut Hill Mall shopping. It is located right in the mall, so you can shop, play, shop, play, if you so desire. Parking is available right in the mall.
Playspace at the Natick Mall, Natick
As playspaces go, this is a convenient one for West-of-Boston parents. Located right in the Natick Mall, you can let your children run free while sipping on a latte from the food court, which is right across the way. It too has seating along the sides for you, and is a good place to meet other parents. The parking is located at the mall.
Great Harvest Bread Company, 15 Enon Street, Beverly. If you are a bread lover, this is a must-try place. Though it is small and not conducive to large groups of children, if you hit it right, you can have a great pick-me-up with the kids. You and the little ones can enjoy a little music exposure as you nosh on the delicious, homemade bread. Sample slices are available to anyone who asks, and everyone asks. Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:00 a.m., a guitar-playing singer comes in and entertains anyone who will listen. There are other Great Harvest locations in Massachusetts, but this one is the only one that offers the music option. (www.greatharvest.com).
Finagle A Bagel, Multiple Locations. This chain bagel shop offers wonderful bagels for breakfast and lunch, but has the added benefit of music at certain times. “Children’s Music Hour” is a great time if you want to grab a sandwich while providing your kids with a little musical influence. A musician comes in and performs children’s songs and kids can participate too. (www.finagleabagel.com).
Endicott Park, Danvers. This is a fantastic place to spend one hour or an entire day, depending upon your children’s stamina. Located only about twenty-five minutes from Boston, the options here are endless-from playground fun to an animal farm to a 1.8 mile hiking path. You can pack a lunch and sit at a picnic table with the kids, or just take the kids to the great playground. If you are up for a walk, you can head down the hiking trail for some exercise. Parking is only $3.00 to non-residents ($2.00 for town residents) and everything else is free. There are soda machines on-site, but otherwise, it’s up to you to pack what you need. Bathrooms are available as well. This is fantastic place to arrange a playgroup meeting or picnic.
Miriam and Sidney Stoneman Playground, Esplanade, Boston. While you watch your kids play, you can look out at the Charles River and sit on a bench. The kids can enjoy the slides and swings, and afterwards you can stroll down the bike path with your kids in tow and watch skaters, bikers and runners speed by. The playground is pretty and the view is to die for. It is accessible via the “T” but will require a short walk (Green Line).
The options with toddlers are endless, and with summer on its way, even more so. Take full advantage of the wealth of information your city or town librarian should have on hand. He or she will likely be able to point you in even more directions of places to go and things to do with your babies. Enjoy!