People are always asking me; "What do you do all day with a toddler?" and my answer, funny enough, is always; "What do we NOT do?". :) I feel so blessed that we live in The San Francisco Bay Area because the plethora of activities, parks and camps for children is nearly overwhelming and I often feel badly when I speak to other SAHM (Stay At Home Moms) who don't have as many resources.
So, in an effort to try and spread our good fortune, here is a list of ways you can find activities for your child in your area:
* Check out your city's official website for local pools, classes, and activities
* Also check your local High School's and Universities for their pool programs - most have programs for Tot Swim
* Google your "city/state parks & recreation department" for local parks, programs and camps for kids and for your family
* Go to Yelp.com and search for your "city/state kid fun"
* Google your " city/state toddler activities"
* Go to your local Libraries and check their calendar's for puppet shows and story times
* Check Yahoo Groups for local Mom's Groups in your city/state to get together with other moms and dads and trade information on fantastic local activities
* Sign up at Thebump.com and check out your local board for other moms & dads to share local resources with
* Check Craig's List in your city/state under "community" and "activities"
* And be sure to ask moms you meet in the grocery store, library and at the park, as well as your neighbors (no matter how old their kids!) for their favorite activities
This week's Thursday Thirteen is all the great activities, parks, and play places that Emily and I frequent with a synopsis of each one and age-appropriateness:
1. Ruby's Tumbing
Starting at age 16 months, your child can enroll in a fun, gymnastics-geared 30 minute activity with other kids his/her age. We have been going to Ruby's monthly for over a year now and Emily has graduated to Level 3. SHE LOVES IT and we love Ruby! We even had a group 2nd birthday party at Ruby's last year that was by far the BEST birthday party we've ever had and ever attended!
2. Music Together
A fantastic opportunity for children and parents to get-together once a week to sing, dance and enjoy the music from this National Program. The CDs and music books are extraordinary, Emily still demands to listen to them daily and the kids really do have a great time! Emily loves to play with the rythym sticks, shaker eggs, scarves and getting a chance to beat a drum and strum a guitar and we were so lucky that one of our closest friends (from my Mom's Group) is an Instructor and got us involved in this program. We first enrolled Emily at 5 months old (more so for ME to meet and socialize with other SAHMs!) and have continued to enroll every year!
3. Studio Grow indoor play place
With a "Crawlers" room and a "Nursing/Mother's" room in addition to all the rooms full of blocks, magnets, climbing structures & slides, ride-on toys, ball pits, and books, as well as a disco dancing room, patio of water tables and a make-believe room with dress up clothes and doll houses, this place is perfect for ALL age children! The staff has a Music time, Story time and Parachute time every day, beginning at 10:00am, that all kids just LOVE. They also provide a "Mealtime" room that they insist all patrons use in order to eliminate food/drink accidents throughout the play place as well as to ensure children with allergies are protected from kids running around with food. The Mealtime room has tables, highchairs, a sink and microwave. All the bathrooms have changing tables and the place is massive, there is tons of room to walk (or run!) around and socialize with other SAHMs and kids. We frequent Studio Grow monthly, mainly on rainy and cold days.
4. Crosstown Coffee House
Right down the stree from us is this wonderful Coffee House Community Center where there is a Kid's Corner (conveniently roped off with a playyard children's gate!) with TONS of toys, paper & crayons and comfy couches for the moms to sit and watch their little ones interact with others. The coffee is wonderful, the food is a real treat and there is a free activity nearly everyday of the week, including a Craft Hour for Toddlers on Wednesdays and Cowboy Jared Sing-a-long on Fridays! We love meeting up here, in fact this was our very first hang out when the Mom's Group first came together.
5. Habitot Children's Museum
Very similar to Studio Grow but with train tables and a climbing wall, Habitot is a wonderful place to take any age child! They have a Mealtime room as well and a padded, gated, soft space with infant-appropriate toys. Emily LOVES the water table room and painting on the giant wall. We have an annual membership to Habitot (only $80!) and we frequent monthly.
6. UCBerkeley Strawberry Canyon Pool
It's rarely hot enough here to swim in a regular pool, 90% of all the pools around here are heated AND indoor but on those really hot days, a dip in the University of California at Berkeley's outdoor pool is incredibly refreshing. The pool is heated but only to 80 degrees (still feels incredibly cold to me!) and offers a 3" deep wading pool for infants & toddlers. This little wading pool is much warmer and just perfect to plunk the kids down in with a few bath toys. The changing facilities are AMAZING complete with huge showers (I bring my stroller in with me to hold all our stuff and Emily after I have rinsed her off!), changing tables and lockers. The larger pool is safely fenced off so the kids can't go running into it from the little wading pool and there is a huge parking lot that only costs about $5.
7. The Oakland Zoo
What child DOESN'T like the Zoo? We love The Oakland Zoo in particular because of the petting zoo, climbing structures, new sandbox, carnival rides and wide open spaces to spread out and have a picnic lunch. At only $80 a year, we definiately get our money's worth, visiting the zoo almost weekly! We always bring out lunch and usually skip nap so we can stay most of the day.
On a SUPER hot day or a rainy day, you can find us playing indoors at Superfranks. With a real Starbuck's and great food inside as well as a TON of really comfortable chairs for us moms to sit in, Superfranks is the place to be, although I hate that it is so far inland, what a drive! Superfranks has several rooms that are properly gated off so your little one can't escape, great bathrooms, tons of highchairs in the restaurant area and something really cool - Plasma cars inside a room that looks like a gym where the kids can zoom around the room and have a blast! Emily loves the climbing structure and ride-on toys up in Taught Town and, when she's a bit older, we'll let her play Minigolf!
9. Sadie Day's Cafe (previously Tumble & Tea)
A fantastic cafe inside an indoor play place that is the perfect place to meet up with friends, especially those without kids - your kids can still have fun and you can have a conversation over great food! :) The play area is (finally) gated off so your little ones can't run through the cafe nor out the front door and has things like play kitchens, train tables, dress up, soft climbing structures and some great puzzles. Adults and infants not crawling yet are FREE and other children are only $5.95 for a full day of fun and hanging out. Their menu is really great, perfectly geared towards children under age 5 and they are very strict about not allowing food in the play area, which I love!
10. Berkeley Public Library Story Times
Although we live in Alameda and frequent our public libraries here, we have yet to find a Story Time hour that we LOVE as much as the one we attend every Tuesday at The Berkeley South Branch Library. The entire Berkeley Public Library system has so many wonderful programs, including puppet shows, story times and even a Music & Movement sing-a-long hours! The Story Times are split between infants and toddlers and even older aged-children to ensure safety and fun for everyone. The South Branch library has great, FREE street parking and changing tables in both bathrooms, as well as a cute Children's Section of books complete with small tables & chairs and tons of toys, puzzles and games. We spend hours here every week!
11. Tilden Nature Area - Little Farm and The Steam Trains
Tilden Park is just amazing and HUGE - a great place to go any day for a ton of free activities, including our favorite: Little Farm! You can bring celery to feed (and pet!) the animals. We end up spending hours here when we go, about once a month! The park is huge and has pony rides, a carousel, tons of biking and hiking trails and real Steam Trains you can ride for $2!
12. Wee Play
We particularly love Wee Play because it's a true Drop-In class - it requires no registration, no committment and is always there when you need it, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For only $6, you and your child (perfect for 18 months and up!) can enjoy 3 full hours of wide-open space to run, jump, roll and play with toys and other kids. This place is massive (think school gym!) and Emily loves going every single week! It's a great place to meet other, local Alameda SAHMs (as well as a few out-of-towners!) in a safe, confined environment.
13. Berkeley High School Indoor Warm Pool Waterbabies Sing-a-Long
While not heavily advertised, this program spread quickly via word-of-mouth and we were so happy when we caught wind of it when Emily was an infant because she loved the water so much but she was way too young for swim lessons! Every Friday, at 3:30pm, the Berkeley High School Indoor Warm Pool opens to the public (after school is out!) and a very sweet, bubbly woman named Sandy greets you and welcomes you to the "class". You pay your $6.50 (cash only!) and head to the huge changing room/shower to get you and baby into your swim suits (swim diapers required!) as well as to park your strollers. Then, you get into the very warm (think a warm bath or hot tub warm... so nice!!!) 4 foot deep pool and enjoy an hour of singing, light splashing, and socializing with the other SAHMs. Sandy leads the songs, everyone sings and the babies just eat it up! I could spend all day in that pool, it's so warm and relaxing and Emily has loved it for so long. Mostly, infants and children under 18 months old attend but the "class" is open to all children over 6 months of age. You can click ***HERE*** to download the flier.
14. My Play Place
Something new we have added to our repretoire of class is My Play Place here in Alameda. For 2 hours, one (or two!) days per week, Emily can play, paint, run, roll, read, jump, draw, play, and build at this indoor play place. Think Habitot, Studio Grow and Wee Play: they have puzzles, art, blocks, books, water tables and everything else inbetween! It does require registration and committed enrollment for 3 months (summer classes are only 6 weeks) but the program is unstructured so you child can move from activity to activity at their own pace in a safe, supervised, environment. Parent-participation is required until your child is ready to separate and then, the glorious drop-off 2 days per month kick in: I can leave Emily on Fridays for those 2 hours and go do whatever I want! :) We love the owners/instructors of this program and can't wait to get started again this summer! My Play Place is only for children 16 months - 3 years old.
15. Alameda Public Library Community Sing-a-Long
A local Alameda parent started a sing-a-long in the public meeting room of the new, Alameda Public Library a few years ago and word quickly spread about this new, FREE program that lasted 2 hours every Monday and Friday morning at 10:15AM. Friends of ours told us about it and we started going 2 years ago and really liked it. The room is contained and removed from the Library (so your kids can't tear books off the shelves!), is big enough for about 50 parents and kids and has musical instruments, blocks, toys and a parachute that the kids can use. The "instructor" isn't always the same SAHM (sometimes it's a dad!) but they are all local parents who frequent the program and desperately want it to continue! All the parents are wonderful and some came together and printed up laminated song sheets that they pass out at each class so everyone can sing a long to favorites like "Wheels on the Bus" and "Where is Thumbkin". The kids can dance and move around, it's not a formal program, just a FREE place to socialize and have fun.
16. Little Star Cafe
Think Sadie Day's Cafe out in the East Bay, in Walnut Creek only I have heard the food is extraordinary and it's much bigger! We have yet to go to Little Star Cafe but it's on our calendar. This place is perfect for all aged-children but especially good for new moms who need to get out of the house and socialize with other parents all while having the comforts of home at hand.
17. San Leando Family Aquatic Center
THE COOLEST place to hang out on a hot day (it does get hot down south, in San Leandro) but it's often crowded and they quickly close the doors once they hit the limit of people allowed. Zero entry, padded surface into the play structures, spray fountains, a huge slide... a great, fun place to be with your toddler! All ages are welcome but with all the older kids hanging out here in the summers, I wouldn't recommend going with a child under age 2 and you should try to go during the week!
For an amuaement park feel at only $7 per person over age 1, you can't beat Oakland, California's Fairyland! This place is beyond adorable, with 5 rides for toddlers, animals and Storybook Sets where kids can explore, climb and play around in or even slide down! We can't wait to go back to Fairyland and I honestly can't believe it's been so long since our last visit! Any age child will LOVE Fairyland but kids age 2-5 will get the most out of it!
19. Pump It Up Indoor Bounce House, Oakland, CA
Pump It Up is Emily's newest LOVE as far as indoor play places are concerned! She can bounce her little heart out every Thursday at their Pre-K Drop-in Playtime from 10-11:30am for only $8. Spendy, I know but she LOVES it and is worn out by the time we get home! This place is clean and is normally only open for parties so, be sure to find a location near you and check for their Drop-In days/times! Ages 2 and up!
Another fantastic, toddler-appropriate amusement park is Pixieland up in Concord. It gets HOT in Concord so be sure to check the weather, bring lots of water and wear sunscreen but also, prepare for a full day of F-U-N!