Tiny Tot-Friendly Field Trips
Beat the winter blahs with an engaging family outing with your little ones.
1. Visit Animals
Super Simple: My firstborn loved visiting the local pet store as a toddler. We watched tropical fish, exotic birds, even gerbils running in cages. Best of all, the pet store is next to our grocery store, so we were able to use it as a reward for good behavior in the food aisles.
Extra Special: Visits to the Kansas City Zoo are wonderful opportunities for young children to see unfamiliar animals up close and personal. In the winter, enjoy the indoor attractions like the bird show, polar bears, penguins, Discovery Barn and Tropics. A Friends of the Zoo membership is a great family investment to enjoy free admission to the zoo year-round.
2. Explore Books
Super Simple: Attend story time at your local library or bookstore. In addition to story times, local libraries host a wide variety of fun events for kids of all ages. Check out their websites for upcoming events.
Extra Special: Take in a special event at the bookstore or library, like a costumed character visit from the Cat in the Hat or a puppet show at the library. Let your child choose a book to purchase for her very own.
3. Food Is Fun
Super Simple: Make a trip to the grocery store fun by joining your supermarket’s kids club. Price Chopper, for instance, offers free cheese, cookies, juice and treats to kids. They receive coupons on their birthdays and they soon enjoy shopping.
Extra Special: Make trips to the store extra fun by including your child in the trip. Let him choose fruits to purchase. Ask her to help you find red apples, green grapes and yellow bananas to learn her foods and colors, or have him count the number of carrots, boxes of cereal and potatoes you purchase.
4. Hands-On Attractions
Super Simple: Paradise Park, KidScape at the Johnson County Museum and the free exhibits at Crown Center are specially designed for young children. They love to explore the hands-on activities. Your best bet is to visit these sites when school is in session and the sun is shining (other moms are probably at the park).
Extra Special: Take your child to a “grown-up” museum. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures offers many chances for being inquisitive. They have stools for little ones to climb up to look inside dollhouses and explore. This whimsical museum is especially fun to explore with multiple generations of family members.
5. Get the Wiggles Out
Super Simple: Go for a winter walk in your own neighborhood or visit a nearby park. Winter months can be cold, but in the Midwest we experience occasional days where a light jacket does the trick. Check out KC's Best Parks or Nature Centers to find a new stroller-friendly trail to explore.
Extra Special: Sky Zone has several local locations and they offer special Toddler Time events on Wednesday and Sunday. Little ones have the chance to play at this indoor trampoline park without older children’s interfering with their playtime. Many times throughout the year, Sky Zone even hosts character-themed meet-and-greet events at Toddler Time. Urban Air in Overland Park offers a special Friday Jumperoo session for little ones, in addition to their regular open jump times. They offer a special indoor playground exclusively for little ones with an affordable admission price.
Eight Excellent Tips for Field Trips with Little Ones
As you embark on local adventures with your family, here are some helpful hints.
- You set the tone. If Mom is happy and excited, the family will have fun.
- You don’t have to do it all in one day. This is especially true for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Several short outings may be better for your child than a full day. When going on a local field trip, remember, you can go back! Our family invested in museum and zoo memberships so we can return often without feeling pressure to “get our money’s worth.” Many of our favorite local attractions are even free.
- Bring snacks and picnics when permitted. From the time my girls were little, I took them to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in their strollers. Sometimes we participated in the museum’s Junior Jaunts programs, other times, we explored the galleries on our own. It became our habit to spend 30-60 minutes in the gallery, then take a snack break on the lawn and go back for another 30-60 minutes afterward.
- Relate to young interests. When we visit the art gallery, I don’t expect my toddler to appreciate the differences between Rembrandt and Bingham, but I did make a habit of taking her to explore art when she was young to foster an early appreciation it. When my oldest daughter was 2, her fascination with everything princess was beginning. She saw the knight in shining armor in the galleries and immediately squealed with glee at discovering Prince Charming!
- Create games. Ask children to find objects one at a time. At the art gallery, I glance at paintings and spot familiar objects (cats, hats, wagons, etc.) and ask Emily to find them. For older children, create a list using words or pictures, or go on a hunt finding objects that start with A, then B, etc. It’s also fun to play, I Spy. Hunts are especially good at museums, markets or other places that aren’t instantly entertaining for tots.
- Cameras are not just for parents. Bring a disposable camera or inexpensive digital for children. Just be sure to observe rules. At many museums, for instance, you may not use a flash.
- Finish with a treat. Have a treat at home or on the way home and talk about the fun you had together.
- Be spontaneous. Keep a map and a few resources in the car (KC Going Places magazine and a local map). Refer to them often and be willing to go where the road takes you from time to time!
Kristina Light truly loves to explore her hometown, and her girls have been her adventure partners since birth. The zoo and local art galleries were their regular favorites for stroller-friendly outings.