Play is synonymous with childhood; it develops physical strength, social skills, imagination, and it’s a whole lot of fun. What's important is that it's available to kids four seasons of the year, whether the forecast requires indoor active play or allows for fair-weather forays to a playground or park. Throw in a free opportunity for play, and most parents will be as giddy as their kids. So here are some suggestions where to burn off energy, but not cash.
Barnes Nature Center - Bristol
The playroom here offers many hands-on learning opportunities for little ones. Between puzzles, toys, and games, preschoolers will be entertained for a couple of hours. The center is open Thursday through Sunday. While in town, you can also check out the Bristol library, another free place to play.
Ansonia Nature Center - Ansonia
Puzzles, books, and puppets will delight young children, and the adjacent playground will release energy and add to the fun of a day spent learning about nature.
Westmoor Park - West Hartford
The indoor discovery center is tiny but colorful, and little ones can find a couple of puzzles to complete, or small reptiles to look at. Outside, you'll find a farmyard and nature trails.
Kidcity Children's Museum - Middletown
Play for free on the third Thursday of every month, between 5pm and 7pm Children will enjoy the themes of each room, including a pirate ship, fishery, space age, and farm. A special sea-themed area on the lower level is designated especially for toddlers.
Stepping Stones Children's Museum - Norwalk
Children can play for free on the first Thursday of every month, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Exhibits including Express Yourself, Toy Town, and Energy Lab will make for a fun and educational evening.
Libraries - Various Locations
In addition to miles of books, many libraries have play areas that are quite impressive, whether they include kitchens, pretend banks, or puppet theaters. Some kid-favorite libraries are in West Hartford, Farmington, and Westport.
Fun times at KidsPlay in Torrington can be free with a museum pass from your local library.
KidsPlay - Torrington
Though this museum does not offer free play times, many libraries offer museum passes and KidsPlay is on the list. Check with your local library to see if you can score this awesome freebie.
Buckland Hills Mall - Manchester
Adventures under 42 inches tall will enjoy the little slides and tunnels in this carpeted play area located in the back of the food court, next to the carousel (not free). Kids will also enjoy climbing different creatures, such as a turtle, ladybug, and bunny.
Westfield PlaySpace - Meriden
Kids can climb and explore in a bright, colorful area filled with animal characters and large puzzles. PlaySpace is located on the upper level, near Best Buy.
Danbury Fair Mall - Danbury
Children can ride a pretend train, climb animal sculptures, and crawl and slide. The enclosed area is carpeted and offers abundant seating for parents. A nearby carousel (not free) will add to the excitement.
New Britain Museum of American Art - New Britain
Admission is free on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. The play area offers books, Legos, a pretend kitchen play area, and a puppet theater. Check to see if your local library offers free museum passes, good for any day of the week. Adjacent to the museum you will find Stanley Quarter Park, featuring trails, open fields for ball games, and a playground.
Local playgrounds are a great place for free play, fresh air, and fun exercise.
Playgrounds - Various Locations
Slides and swings abound in our state and while all playgrounds offer something to do, some are quite extravagant. Favorites include Hannah’s Dream in New Haven, The Sky’s the Limit Playground in Ridgefield, Rockwell Park in Bristol, My Friends’ Place in South Windsor, Kids in Motion in Cheshire, Hubbard Park in Meriden, Adam’s Adventure Playground in Tolland, and Jonathon's Dream in West Hartford.
Beaches - Various Locations
You don’t need to splash in the waves to have a good time. Bring shovels, buckets, and snacks, and the kids will have a blast building in the sand. Bonus: many beaches have pretty awesome playgrounds adjacent to them, including Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven and Ocean Beach Park in New London.
If we missed any fun and free areas, please let us know in the Comments section. Other awesome moms and dads will appreciate it.
Photo Credit: All photos courtesy of the author