Wondering how not to go stir crazy this winter? Grab your hand sanitizer and take a look at this round-up of local indoor play/entertainment places for the preschool and younger set.
A little background. I’m a mom to two boys, ages three and a half and one. I stay home with them and while my older son is in preschool five mornings a week, we still find ourselves needing to work off the heebie jeebies by early to mid-afternoon. He doesn’t nap and little brother is walking. They are both active and when the weather is nice we literally spend the majority of the day outside, so winters are tough. We love going to some of our area’s amazing museums and resources like the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, the Philadelphia Zoo and the Please Touch Museum, but Philly is a haul and sometimes we just need to kill an hour and mix things up locally. Here’s what I’ve found so far in the Hopewell Valley area. Dear readers, if you know of any other local spots, or if you have older kids but remember busting the winter blues somewhere, let us know!
We are frequent visitors to both the Pennington Boro Library on Main Street and the main Hopewell Branch Library on Pennington-Titusville Road behind Central High School. Both have little kid corners with wooden toys and blocks, puzzles, kids books in easily-accessible baskets, and readily-available craft materials like crayons. The Hopewell Branch recently added a train table and has large stuffed animals that my kids love to snuggle and squeeze. Both run great children’s programming including AM story times and PM crafts. Schedules and more information are available for the Pennington Library at: http://www.penningtonlibrary.org/justforkids.html and the Hopewell Branch at: http://www.mcl.org/branches/hopbr.html.
Local Coffee Shops
Both the Boro Bean in Hopewell and Viva Gelato in Pennington are great meet-up locations for friends with kids. Boro Bean has a great nook in the back filled with puzzles, games and small toys to keep kids entertained. On warmer days, they also have a train table on the back porch, making for a nice contained area for kids to play and get some fresh air. My friend Jess and I frequently meet at Viva Gelato after our younger sons nap and before she picks up her daughter at a nearby nursery school. The babies love to play with the shiny wrapped candy while toddling around and we often bump into other parents there as well. No toys, but good for a quick coffee chat.
I recently wrote about Motion Gym and their awesome open play opportunities here, but will reiterate how great this place is for an hour of running, climbing, jumping, structured, fun sensory play. We usually go at least once a week to one of the playgroups and my kids love it. Definitely a must-do for winter.
Bucks County Children’s Museum
I joined this local nonprofit children’s museum as soon as we moved to the area in 2011. Although it is a little outside Hopewell Valley and requires a 30 minute car ride, I find it more accessible than driving all the way to Philadelphia with the kids, and the museum is the perfect size for an hour or two of fun. Plus it is in New Hope, PA across the river from Lambertville, NJ: two of my all-time favorite towns. Any excuse I can find to head over there, I will do it. The museum features educational play-based exhibits such as a Lego car-building station and race-track ramp, a dinosaur dig, a crank and pulley system with whiffle balls, a giant bubble-blowing station, pretend play with a grocery store, ice cream shop, garden and train restaurant, a slide and my personal favorite, a giant lite-brite. My older son’s favorite exhibit is a new one – giant Styrofoam boulders that you can build into a fort, knock down, rebuild, etc. They offer storytimes, crafts, musical and seasonal events. Plus if you become a member you receive reciprocal membership at children’s museums across the country. In warmer weather, combine a visit to the museum with a stop at Cavallo Park in Lambertville to play and feed the ducks. Grab lunch at Triumph Brewery, Marhaba or Sneddon’s Deli – all great for young children. Love this place!
In the era of anti-fast food, I can’t help but admit that sometimes you just gotta hit up a fast food joint with an indoor play space. Lo and behold, I just learned that there is a little play area in the Burger King on Rt. 31 in Pennington. A climbing structure, tunnels and one slide plus a little toddler area with steering wheels and other spinning things for the baby are great when I need to break things up in the afternoon. Plus I’m a sucker for one dollar ice cream. The Burger King across from Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne is a farther drive, but has a huge play structure with two giant slides, lots of climbing space, a helicopter and car and a big outside playground for nicer days.
I’m not a huge fan of going to the toddler play areas at malls because they get super crowded and feel like giant petri dishes in the winter, but again, when you are desperate a little running around soft climbing structures in a contained area is worth the risk. In its recent renovation, Quaker Bridge Mall added a contained little-kid play area hidden behind the food court. I try to go at off-times like mid-day when many kids are napping, so it will be less crowded. I always run into someone I know there, and the kids love it. Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne also has one of these areas, plus several stations of ride-on toys. My kids don’t even ask me to put in the money for these – they are just happy to sit in the bus or helicopter or what-have-you for a few minutes of imaginative play.
OK now tell us, where are your favorite places for breaking up winter boredom with little kids?