My name is Maria, and I am a full-time mom living in Beltsville of a sweet and active 3-year-old boy named Leo. Filling time with an active toddler is a challenge, so I wrote an article in the December 2017 issue about free local activities. (A copy can be found in the Beltsville News' online archive in case you missed it and would like to read it.) In this article, I want to share some further-away-but-totally- worth-it activities to pass the time with a toddler.
Storyville at the Woodlawn Branch of the Baltimore City Library System- this is an amazing, interactive indoor play space. It has a series of separate play spaces that include a fully stocked grocery store, Puppet Theater and a house with a second floor. It is totally free so long as there is space. There is a limit, and on the weekends it can have a waiting list, so weekday mornings are best. There is no time limit, and there is actual story time with the librarians. Visit their site www.foundationforbcpl.org/ programs/storyville/ for more information and restrictions. The library is about 30 minutes away, and you'll want to plan for a minimum of an hour and half of time in the space. It's a great half day morning activity.
Wegmans Wonderplace exhibit at the American History Museum- this is an interactive exhibit specifically for younger children. It has a small kitchen area, a boat with a slide, a construction area with different kinds of blocks. It is popular with pre-schools in the area so be prepared for a little chaos! There is another exhibit right next door that is for slightly older kids that is more STEM-based. There is also a cool technology of tomorrow exhibit on the other side the kids can explore. It’s a trip to downtown DC which is always a fun challenge, however, have driven down for several morning trips and have honestly never had too much trouble finding parking in that area on a weekday morning. http://americanhistory.si.edu/ exhibitions/wonderplace
Watkins Regional Park, Upper Marlboro- this is an amazing outdoor playground. Best for a nice weather day of course. The whole playground is Alice and Wonderland Themed complete with ruby slippers twin slides. It is a wonderfully innovative playground. It has a nice recycled tire, painted floor which is very soft to fall on. (Which my son as thoroughly tested!) There are fun optical illusions and chimes to explore. There are several jungle gyms including Aunt Em's house (with the witch's feet sticking out!), the farm, the munchkin's houses, and the Emerald City. Then, when your child is tired or hot, you can take a short walk to the Nature Center down a path behind the playground. It's got small live animals on display, aquariums, and a reading nook. Across the parking lot, there is also a Carousel and Mini Golf for a fee when it's opened. And past the Carousel, there is a small farm with live farm animals to go see. It's about a 35-minute drive and has a full day of activities so leave plenty of time for this excursion.
Pro tip: Beware of the Emerald Castle jungle gym! Once you are up, it's pretty high with lots of openings only designed for much older kids. In fact, the way you went up is the only way to get back down for anyone under 6yo. If you let your little one go up, stay VERY close to them.
Swim class at the Fairland Aquatic Center in Laurel- ok so this isn't a half day outing OR free, but I wanted to share it because I think it's a great use of time and money. There is a Bubblers 1 class which can be taken over and over until your child is old/able to move on to the next class. The class is 30 minutes long twice a week for 8 classes (about 4 weeks give or take with Holidays) at $60 for the session for PG residents. That's only $7.50 per class! However, you do need to have a swim diaper, and the lockers are 50 cents if you choose to use them, so it’s a little extra for the total cost. You will need to get into the water with your child, but you do not necessarily need to know how to swim. The pool used is 5 ft at its deepest, and it's heated with a nice water fountain in the shallow end. It is entirely possible to the class without getting your whole head wet.
The actual class may only be 30 minutes, but if you do it my way, you will kill over 2 hours taking the class- which is totally worth $8-ish bucks in my book! When the weather is nice, I arrive 45 minutes before class to take my son to the very nice playground that’s there. I let him play for 20 minutes or so and then head over into the building. I prefer to dress when I am there, so we arrive in the locker room about 25 minutes before class. It takes about 10 minutes to get us both dressed and rinsed off before class. We then go into the pool 10 minutes or so before class starts. You are allowed to go in a little before class to let your child acclimate to the water. You are asked to leave as soon as the class is over which is why I always go in a little before class to extend my pool time. I bring all the supplies I need to give us both a proper shower after class to get the very strong chlorine off our bodies as soon as possible. The handicapped shower is the best one if you can snag it. It can take 30-40 minutes for us both to get bathed and dressed after class.
I honestly believe that taking a swim class gives your child exposure to water and some valuable water survival skills that everyone should have. It's a really fun, low-key class with very achievable goals. And my son is pretty pooped afterward, so it always leads to some nice sleeping. So really, there is no downside!
Pro tip: Take the morning class if you can help it. I have taken both the morning and the evening classes, and I prefer the morning one. The older kids/teen swim class are all in the evening, so the locker room is a bit of a madhouse after class. Also, bring your child a snack to distract them as they are waiting for you to get dressed.
Play N' Learn playground Superstore- now that it’s getting cold having an affordable indoor playspace is great! For a small fee of $8, you can take your child to a huge indoor playground for 2 hours. They are located in Columbia MD http://www.playnlearn.com/Columbia-Open-Play-General-Information-s/1895.htm. This is actually a store that doubles as a fun indoor playground. It’s a great way to still take your kid to the park on a cold winter day.
Well, that's all for now! We hope to see you around!