Most people can’t remember anything from before they were three years old. Still, it’s important to expose our babies and toddlers to the world and all its sights and wonders. Plus, what we do with our children now has an impact on them even if each moment doesn’t last in their memory. If we don’t show our kids love and affection until they’re three, we will have scared and insecure children that don’t have a warm, loving relationship with their parents. I say all this semi deep stuff to get to a lighter point – outings and experiences are important for your baby.
Getting out of the house and the daily routine on a regular basis is important for the parents, too. I go stir crazy if I spend more than one day shut inside my house. I have to take a walk or get out into nature or the world at least once a day with my baby in order to feel sane and happy. It’s not affordable to go to children’s museums or go shopping every day, so I’ve gathered a repertoire of easy outings for parents and babies.
The Park and Playground
This is an obvious choice. Kids love playgrounds! Try out a new park or playground once or twice a week until you find your favorites. For a pre-walker, it’s best to find a playground that has a baby swingset and the games they build into the play set. For instance, a lot of playgrounds feature a spinning match game. This is fun for your baby to spin and look at the colorful pictures.
It’s always great to find a shady spot at any park and lay out a blanket. You can let your little one explore nature and have a picnic lunch. Bonus points if the park has a duck pond, like Audubon Park in New Orleans. Those ducks and other wildlife make for great baby entertainment.
Botanical Garden and Sculpture Garden
Does your town/city (or one nearby) have a botanical garden or a sculpture garden, or any nature preserve? Usually the price to enter is fairly cheap, and there is a lot to look at and teach your child about. Smell the flowers, discuss the colors of different flowers, and practice crawling and walking on the lawns.
Bookstore and Library
Here in New Orleans, the Latter Library branch has a cute children’s area. It is carpeted, has low bookshelves for your child to browse, and has a bunch of large stuffed animals and some toys to play with. At first, I brought Baby A to the library in our neighborhood. To our disappointment, the children’s book area was mixed into the rest of the open floor plan of this Carrollton Riverbend branch and had hard floors and no toys. Needless to say, we got out of there quickly.
If your library isn’t conducive to baby play, Barnes and Noble sure is! They always have a separate kids area with tons of books to browse, a reading area with small tables and chairs, and a toy section with age-appropriate toys to look at. Some of them you can get away with playing with inside their packaging so you don’t have to buy anything. Sorry, B&N! I promise I have spent plenty of money in your stores over the years.
The best part about spending an hour or two in Barnes and Noble is the Starbucks coffee in the store. Enjoy yourself a latte, moms and dads!
Speaking of coffee, you can always waste a little time at a coffee shop. Coffee shops always have customers, so there is plenty of people-watching opportunity for you and baby. Many folks will wave and play peek-a-boo with your little one, too. If I’m desperate to get out of the house and can’t manage to get dressed in normal (aka not what I slept in) clothes, the local coffee shop is my saving grace. You can spend pocket change on a small coffee or splurge on your favorite caffeinated beverage, while giving your baby something different to look at. Bonus points for switching it up and trying the hippie coffee shop, the hipster coffee shop, and the weird one with zombie drawings all over the walls, on different trips to really change up the atmosphere and clientele vibe.
You can find a lot of strip malls that have my big three favorite chain stores – Marshall’s/TJ Maxx, Michael’s Crafts, and PetCo or PetSmart. So when you’re out running errands, stop by at the pet supply store and let your little one explore. Babies and toddlers will love to look at the birds, small rodent pets, and fish that are on display and for sale. There are also usually cats up for adoption that you can play with through their cages and dogs milling about the store with their owners. Ask if the dogs are friendly and if you can pet them (if you’re comfortable with that). You can let your kid walk around and touch things because the workers there have seen worse – they have to clean up poop and pee from the animals.
This one doesn’t sound affordable at first. However, your city’s zoo, if you’re so lucky to have one, probably has great family membership deals. Our family received an Audubon membership for Christmas last year, and it has served us well. An Audubon membership gets you and your family into the zoo, aquarium, and insectarium for free. I looked up the price and worked out that after only two visits to one of the attractions, the membership is paid for. So it is definitely worth it! And once you know you’re getting in for free, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to head out to the zoo. You don’t have to feel pressured to make a day of it. In fact, we have covered the aquarium in less than an hour and headed home satisfied. There is so much to look at and learn about, so these animal adventures are wonderful for any child or adult.