Winter Fun for Tiny Tots on a Shoestring Budget

It’s been said that kids spell love T-I-M-E. Spending one-on-one time with your child, from an early age, can be the beginning of a healthy and loving parent/child bond. Those hours together are a treasure, but outings often can be expensive. These are favorite ideas for outings with little ones—on a shoestring budget!

FREE Faves

  • Check out children’s programming at the local library. The Mid-Continent Public Library (, Johnson County Library ( and Kansas City Public Library ( all offer free story times, puppet shows, science programs, crafts, children’s concerts and entertainment for families. You are always welcome to attend events at any branch in the metro. A few programs ask for reservations on their websites, but most are open to walk-ins.
  • Explore the gallery. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ( is FREE and open until 9:00 on Thursday and Friday. The museum offers family activities on weekends and special preschool story time on the second Sunday of the month.
  • Feed bison. The 110-acre Native Hooved Animal Enclosure ( in Fleming Park is home to bison, white-tailed deer and elk, and visitors are welcome feed them apples or pears through the fence.
  • Watch fish. Bass Pro (locations in Independence and Olathe) and Cabela’s (in Kansas City, KS) are home to large aquariums where visitors can watch fish native to Missouri and Kansas.
  • Go to the park. When the weather is nice enough to play outside, pack a picnic and visit a new park. Search “Best Parks” on to try a new one.
  • Create a masterpiece. Attend a FREE family session at Kaleidoscope (, where children create their own masterpieces with unique supplies provided by Hallmark and Crayola.
  • Visit a favorite nature center. Burr Oak Woods (1401 NW Park Rd., Blue Springs, 816.228.3766) is one of the largest nature centers in the area. They have an aquarium, hands-on play area and walking trails. The Little Acorns programs for preschoolers and family nature programs for all ages, offered throughout the year, are FREE and fantastic. Lakeside Nature Center (4701 E. Gregory Blvd., Kansas City, MO, 816.513.8960) features one of the BEST animal exhibits in the area. The staff at the center rescue injured animals and keep them in a safe environment. See falcons, owls, eagles, toads, frogs, fish, insects and wonderful exhibits on the animals in our city and in our homes.
  • Enjoy model trains. At the far end of the Grand Hall in Union Station (, you’ll find the KC Model Rail Experience. The 8,000-square-foot exhibit is a delight for visitors of all ages and especially loved by little ones. From tiny N-scale model trains to the big G-scale giants, the trains travel through displays including local landmarks and countryside.

Dollar Dates

  • Go on a dollar store fun hunt. Give your child one dollar to spend at the local dollar store or dollar bin. Let him select an activity–a coloring book, craft project, puzzle or game. Then, spend the afternoon enjoying the new prize together.
  • Taste frozen treats. Treat your child to a slushie at the local gas station or food court, or buy a soft-serve ice cream cone at your local fast food restaurant.
  • Go for a ride. Dig into your coin purse and let your child ride the mechanical horse at the local grocery store, the carousel at the mall or ride Ferris wheel at Scheel’s, where tokens are just one dollar.

Treats for $15 or Less

  • Play for the day. Paradise Park ( offers lots of fun for little ones. The Children’s EduTainment Center has many areas for imaginative play. The child-size village with a grocery store, pizzeria, bank and home is a favorite for children. Plus, moms are free on Mondays!
  • Watch puppet shows. Kansas City is home to several puppet theater groups that put on shows specifically for young audiences. Mesner Puppet Theater ( performs a variety of shows all year long, from classic children’s stories to newer productions, fostering a love of storytelling and imagination. Tickets range from $7 to $13 each. The Puppetry Arts Institute in Independence ( offers shows for $6/person and is home to a museum with puppets from around the world. Preschoolers and early elementary children even can make their own puppets at the workshops.
  • Attend children's theater. Theatre for Young America ( performs live theater for preschool and elementary-aged children year-round at Union Station, with tickets under $10 each. JCCC’s Performing Arts Series ( offers a selection of children’s shows throughout the year at less than $10 each.  And the Folly ( offers $6 tickets for their Family Series during the school year.
  • Visit the planetarium: The Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station ( offers shows for $6 each, and some of their programs are specifically tailored to little ones. One favorite is One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.

Kristina Light’s youngest daughter is a big fan of the slushie date.

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