Once you've gotten through breakfast and downed your second (or third) cup of coffee, have you ever looked at your toddler and thought, "what the heck am I going to do with you today?" Too young for many full-time schools or camps, too old to just tag along on errands all day, toddlers are suited for fun, interactive activities that don't require a long attention span and will tucker them out for their afternoon nap. Fortunately for parents and caregivers, there are a plenty of great local activities that will entertain your tot and get you both out of the house.
1. Hit the books.
The Boston Public Library has a booming events calendar and many of the activities are geared towards younger children. Whether it's a dance party at the Central Branch, preschool films at Fields Corner, or Story Time in Hyde Park, you can find something to do at branch near you, or bounce from branch to branch. Some events are offered in English and Spanish. Advance registration is not usually required but some of the activities fill up so plan to arrive a few minutes early to secure a good spot. Best of all, activities are free.
The touch tank at the Aquarium is a big draw for little ones.
2. Touch some slippery and spiky creatures.
The New England Aquarium is a great place for kids of all ages. If you're bringing your toddler, be sure to check out the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank. Your little one can explore a tide pool, touching the inhabitants which includes sea urchins, sea stars, mussels, and snails. For families who make more than one trip a year to the aquarium, an annual membership might be the most cost effective option. That way, if your toddler melts down after just 10 minutes, you won't feel bad about heading home.
The Swan Boats are very little-kid-friendly watercrafts. Photo by Julie/CC BY-ND 2.0
3. Make your way to the ducklings.
Pack a blanket and head for Boston's beautiful Public Gardens. Setup near the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets and read the classic, Make Way for Ducklings. After you've finished the story, you can visit Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings for photos at the famous sculpture inspired by the book. If you want to keep the theme going, take a ride on a swan boat. Swan Boat tickets: $3.50 for adults / $2 for kids 2-15, kids under 2 are free
4. Get up close to some exotic animals.
Boston's Franklin Park Zoo offers city kids the chance to walk on the wild side. Exhibits include the all new Children's Zoo and the Franklin Farm with a contact corral where kids can pet some of the barn animals. Daily activity offerings include mystery animal encounters and education stations where kids can create faux critters while learning about animal life.
5. Bop around the Boston Children's Museum.
The Boston Children's Museum is the city's ultimate play zone with something for every age group. In addition, the museum offers a robust activities schedule that you should peek at to align your next visit. Music and Movement is a great class for toddlers, allowing them to dance and sing along to popular kiddie tunes while trying out new musical instruments. All the classes are led by trained music educators from Little Groove.
The Puppet Showplace Theater is constantly rotating performances that appeal to small children.
6. Catch a puppet show.
If your child is able to sit through a short performance, consider taking in a puppet show at Puppet Showplace in Brookline. All of the shows come with an audience age recommendation and there are a few that are appropriate for kids three and up. Ticket prices vary.
7. Don't let rain slow you down.
If a rainy day has you fearing a case of cabin fever, head to Kids' Fun Stop in West Roxbury. Your little one can work off some energy on the indoor play space and you can supervise while socializing with other parents and caregivers. As a bonus, on Mondays nannies get free coffee. On Tuesdays, moms get free chair massages. $12 for the first child, $8 for each additional child
Muckykids has many stations where kids can get creative.
8. Get messy at Muckykids.
Want to encourage your budding Picasso but hate the mess arts and crafts leave behind in your kitchen? Check out Muckykids in Cambridge. This urban art studio offers art classes for kids as young as 18 months. The drop-in studio is a great impromptu option for art enrichment on your own schedule. $15/hr
9. Bust a Move at BU
Many of the area's colleges open up their world-class facilities to the public for classes and lessons. Teeny Tykes is Boston University's introductory gymnastics class for two-year-olds. Your tyke won't be navigating the uneven bars, but fun, age-appropriate movement activities are a great way to pass a morning. For the three-year-olds, Gymny Crickets is all about activities that help with gross motor skills development, including basic tumbling and balance beam work. See schedule for dates, times, prices.
10. Get wet.
The YMCA of Greater Boston offers swimming lessons for kids as young as six months. Your toddler isn't expected to do laps, but lessons will encourage comfort in the water and help build confidence in preparation for learning strokes. An adult does have to participate. Classes include an educational component on drowning prevention and the importance of water supervision. Session dates, lengths, and costs vary.
11. Get a feel for science.
While the Museum of Science may not jump out as the best place for toddlers, the museum does have exhibits and programs for even the youngest scientists-in-training. The Discovery Center is a hands on area designed to encourage learning through play. Because your toddler might tire out before getting to enjoy the entire museum, this is another place where an annual membership goes a long way towards helping families get a little more bang for their hard earned buck.
12. Cruise the Charles.
Why not work some fitness into your toddler time? Take your little one for a bike ride along the Charles River. Child seats or trailers can be rented at bike shops around the city if you need a spot for your tot. You do the pedaling and your kid can enjoy the sights. Make a pit stop at the playground near the Hatch Shell for some added fun.
13. Stop and smell the flowers.
With their winding paths and focus on the simple pleasures around us, nature centers are a great place to wander with a tot. The Arnold Arboretum has loads of space to walk, hunt for natural treasures, spy a tractor, and observe ducks and geese.
14. Grow your village.
With locations in East Boston, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, Play to Learn is part of the Boston Public School's Countdown to Kindergarten program. Groups meet in school settings. Activities are as much about helping early learners with developmental and social skills as they are about introducing families to the resources available to them in their own neighborhoods. Check website for 2017-2018 schedule.
The great outdoors is Tinkergarten's classroom.
15. Make friends with nature.
Tinkergarten brings the classroom outdoors to local parks and green spaces in and around Boston. Trained class leaders guide children through seasonally appropriate activities, such as learning about the winter solstice, building an outdoor shelter, creating handmade paper using natural materials, and exploring bugs and their homes. With classes in Charlestown, Jamaica Plain, Somerville, and Cambridge, and more than a dozen additional nearby towns, you're sure to find a class near you. Fall registration is open now.
16. Keep it simple: Hit the playground.
One thing city kids have going for them is their access to great parks. Every neighborhood has playgrounds and green space, many with equipment designed for toddlers.Check out a new park or log some quality time in your favorite neighborhood spot. Maybe venture to one of our very-favorite destination playgrounds or one of the city's hidden gems for an extra special adventure. Free
Cool off at the Greenway's Wharf District fountain.
17. Roam the Greenway.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is not just pretty, it's packed with activities. With seven water features and a carousel, you and your toddler can pass a lovely morning strolling on the paths, frolicking in the grass, exploring the art installations, and capping off your adventure with a spin on the carousel. Though not a traditional park, the Greenway is a great place for city kids to stretch out and enjoy some fun in the sun. $3 per ride on the carousel.
18. Keep it brief at the beach.
Going to a major beach with kids is a lot of work. Going with a toddler is even more work. But a quick trip to one of the city's super-accessible beaches could be a more manageable way to introduce a little one to our region's waterfront. Pack a pail and snack and stay just long enough to dip your toes in the water and make a sand castle. Castle Island in South Boston has ample parking and is adjacent to Pleasure Bay. Or you can head down the road a bit to Carson Beach. Free
19. Get to know Hill House.
Hill House is a super-popular community center in Beacon Hill that offers programming all year long, serving some 2000 children every year. Among the offerings for toddlers is an open playgroup. Sessions are free but you are asked to register online.
20. Master first position—or just Duck, Duck, Goose.
Toddlers are not too young to start learning ballet. At the South End's Litttle Lovage Club, ballet classes are offered to children as young as 18 months old. Who knows—an early start could set them up for a staring role in The Nutcracker down the road, right? If your tiny dancer is not quite ready to tackle ballet, Little Lovage also offers a Big Movers class for kids and caregivers that might be more appropriate. Fall registration is open online.
Top photo courtesy of Tinkergarten; unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the venues/classes