Dreary January weather always inspires me to get crafty and creative with my kids. I break out the play dough, glitter glue and dress up bin. Heck, I’ve even used masking tape to make hop scotch on our hallway floor. But then it dawns on me that I’ve got two little ones to entertain (indoors) for at least a couple of months to come and my limited craft skills can only take us so far! Some days, we just need to get out of the house – an engaging activity for the kids and a cup of coffee for mom do wonders to beat the winter doldrums! Here are a list of stores that offer story time/play time to keep NJ kids entertained and parents sane.
IKEA (Elizabeth, NJ and Paramus, NJ)
The land of build-it-yourself bookcases and Swedish meatballs is also a perfect oasis for parents and young kids to get out of the house for a few hours. Drop older preschoolers off at their supervised play area (with a ball pit and play kitchens) or take ‘em around while browsing - they’ve got areas set up throughout the store for impromptu play including mini slides, tents & tunnels and fully furnished children’s rooms on display where little ones can climb and explore to their heart’s content. After everyone has burned off some energy, head over to the café where options such as mac & cheese and organic pasta will please everyone. And did we mention that kids under 12 eat free on Tuesdays? Not too shabby! The Elizabeth location tends to be quieter than the Paramus store and is conveniently located next to Newark airport. My kids always get a kick out of watching the huge planes take off and land while we eat. And if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, the downstairs bistro sells frozen yogurt cones at $1 a pop – a nice way to end a fun morning. Please visit IKEA’s website for more information.
Barnes & Noble (Various locations in NJ)
Here’s to hoping the rise of eBooks doesn’t completely shut down both chain and mom & pop bookstores, because both are wonderful places to introduce children to reading. The Clifton Barnes & Noble (and many other branches too) host a weekly Saturday Story Time at 11am in their children’s section. Many Barnes & Noble stores have special kids events in the winter months as well. Can’t make it to a scheduled event? Barnes and Noble stores are still great places to get out of the cold for an hour. Bring the kids to browse through the children or pre-teen section filled with books, colorful displays and toys. Most locations even have a Thomas the Train set up for free play. And don’t forget to refuel with a Starbucks coffee for mom & dad on the way out! Please visit the Barnes & Noble store locator for more info on New Jersey events.
Pottery Barn Kids (Short Hills, NJ)
The beloved kids furniture and toy store is a favorite of my 3 year old daughter. She loves to wonder in and out of the beautiful room displays checking out the frilly comforters, double doll strollers, Melissa & Doug beading jewelry sets and even the bunk beds in the ‘boys’ section decked out in Star Wars designs. The staff are always friendly and helpful (not to mention understanding as our daughter energetically pushes a toy shopping cart through the store!) Pottery Barn Kids at the Mall at Short Hills offers a weekly “book club” each Tuesday at 11am for little guys ages 18 months through 4 years. Each time a child completes a book club session and hears the story of the week, they get a special stamp on their club pass – after 5 stamps, they’ll receive a PB Kids gift card. Associate Manager Carlo Tanzola is excited about this winter's schedule: "Instead of the usual hushed library story time, we're encouraging kids to have fun and even explore the store if they get restless. We've got some great activities lined up to go with our weekly book club, including a face painter." Pottery Barn Kids also has locations at Riverside Square in Hackensack and Market Fair Mall in Princeton. Please visit the Pottery Barn Kids store locator for a complete list of stores and events.
Michael’s (Various locations in NJ)
If the kids are itching for an indoor activity that’s a bit more hands on than story time, get in touch with your artsy side at Michael’s. I'm not terribly crafty and have always found the dizzying array of fake flowers, scrap booking supplies and sewing kits a tad overwhelming. But the arts & crafts mega store helping to foster creativity at an early age with a slew of children’s classes. Budding bakers (ages 8 to12) will have a blast with butter cream at their cake decorating or fondant cupcake class and buddies can make jewelry at their friendship bracelet class or preserve memories with mom at their scrap booking kids workshop. Please visit Michael’s website for class schedules at each of their New Jersey locations.
Symposia Bookstore (Hoboken, NJ)
Located on bustling Washington Street in Hoboken, Symposia is best described as one part book thrift store and one part community meeting place. You can stop by and browse their quirky titles or see if they’ve got an offbeat art exhibit on display. But probably the best reason to visit is their popular daily Puppetonia shows. Pick any weekday morning when you’ve got some time to fill and bring babies and toddlers to enjoy the lively show. Kristin Stokes, one of the show’s performers, says there’s no reason to sit inside on a cold winter day: “I think our shows are great for little ones – they’re interactive and their imaginations will come to life in front of them. Much better than sitting passively watching TV all day!” You can catch the puppet shows weekdays at 10 & 11am and if you’ve got an infant in tow, stick around for one of the baby-friendly performances, Tuesdays at 2pm and Thursdays at 1:30pm. Please visit the Puppetonia website for more information and a complete performance schedule.
Whole Foods Market (Millburn, NJ)
If you’re like most parents, you can pretty much find a reason to head to the grocery store nearly every single day, whether you’re out of milk, bread, bananas or all of the above. Whole Foods Market in Millburn gives you extra incentive to shop by hosting free story time and then a craft each Wednesday morning at 10:30am in their lunch area. Enthusiastic staff member (and mom) Ms. Marissa really knows how to keep restless toddlers engaged, starting with a song & dance circle time and two books that relate to the week’s theme. My daughter always is excited to see what craft activity we’ll be doing – some of her favorites have included making a cut out rainbow fish with glitter (after reading the favorite children’s book The Rainbow Fish) and using different vegetables such as zucchini and apples to make veggie prints from paint. After the hour session, stay and shop and even grab lunch (or dinner to take home) from their bountiful prepared foods section. Please call 908-688-1455 for more information.
Originally published February 2013