We have just five precious years or so to spend with our little ones before they head off to kindergarten. In these years, kids grow and develop faster than they will at any other time in their lives, so many of us want to fill their days with as many opportunities to learn, laugh, and love life as possible. That means taking advantage of the many play spaces, mommy-and-me classes, storytimes, playgrounds, and other treasures the Garden State offers toddlers.
Enjoy these great opportunities throughout New Jersey while your preschoolers are young enough to appreciate them—and, in some cases, young enough to score FREE admission.
For more can't-miss NJ offerings, check out 100 Things to Do in New Jersey with Kids Before They Grow Up.
2. Hit a Play Space
Let imaginations run wild at indoor play centers, including these options in North Jersey, Central Jersey, and South Jersey.)
3. Visit a Preschool-Friendly Amusement Park
Have a blast on rides geared toward the younger crowd at Storybook Land, Land of Make Believe, or nearby Sesame Place.
4. See the Holiday Lights
Dazzle little ones with impressive holiday lights across New Jersey, including at the amusement park for preschoolers, Storybook Land.
5. Jump for Joy
Bounce the day away at an indoor trampoline park. Many facilities, like Sky Zone, offer special toddler-only time slots for little jumpers.
6. Celebrate a Milestone Birthday
Plan a great preschooler birthday bash with these party destinations. Grab gifts at cool NJ toy stores ahead of time.
Take a Class
7. Get physical at these mommy-and-me classes.
RELATED: Great Amusement Parks for Preschoolers and Toddlers in New Jersey
Kids get hands-on learning experiences at the Liberty Science Center. Photo courtesy of LSC
8. Explore the Liberty Science Center
Encourage hands-on learning at Liberty Science Center's Explore exhibit, which is aimed at 2- to 5-year-olds. Or catch a show at the enormous planetarium.
9. Visit a Free Romper Room
Play for FREE at these indoor playgrounds and stores around the state.
10. All Aboard a Local Train
Take a ride on an antique train on a rainy day, or plan a trip with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus during the holiday seasons.
A trip to the boardwalk isn't complete without a Kohr's frozen custard. Photo by Kevin Jarrett via Flickr
11. Introduce Them to Boardwalk Fun
Or hit the kiddie amusement park rides and try skeeball for the first time at these popular boardwalks.
12. Hit a Local Bookstore
Take part in storytimes at indie bookstores.
RELATED: Top New Jersey Playgrounds for Toddlers
Spend a fall day at Alstede Farms. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
13. Enjoy a Day on the Farm
Plan the perfect fall day picking pumpkins, taking a hayride, navigating a corn maze, and jumping in a corn pit at one of New Jersey’s great pumpkin farms.
14. Immerse Your Kids in the Arts
Introduce your little one to the magic of the theater at bergenPAC's Performing Arts School.
15. Build a Love of Nature
Embark on an outdoor nature adventure during Discovery Saturdays at Reeves-Reed Arboretum, a treetop walk at the Morris Arboretum, or on a scavenger hunt at Frelinghuysen.
16. Visit Trains at Northlandz
Take your Thomas and Chuggington fans to see the world’s largest model railroad at Northlandz.
RELATED: Great Day Trips to New Jersey State Parks and Forests
Visit the homes of the fairies on the South Mountain Fairy Trail. Photo courtesy of the trail
17. Go on a Fairy Hunt
Walk through the woods and search for the tiny fairy houses nestled among the trees on the South Mountain Fairy Trail, Hopkins Pond, or at Morris Arboretum.
18. Get Musical
Dance, sing, and make music at a mommy-and-me music class.
19. Hit the Theater
Some of our favorite spots to visit with kids include Mayo Performing Arts Center, State Theatre NJ, Count Basie Theatre, bergenPAC, and Paper Mill Playhouse.
20. Enjoy Creative Fun
Get messy (and create a keepsake of the day) at an art studio meant for little hands.
You can't beat a beautiful day at the Jersey Shore. Photo by Kate Lewis Andrews
21. Find a Jersey Shore Gem
Build sandcastles and play in the surf at these Jersey Shore beaches.
22. Take in all Van Saun Offers
Enjoy a zoo, carousel, train, and super-sized playground at Van Saun County Park.
23. Visit a Local Water Park
Let kiddos conquer their fears with a whoosh down the slide at a Jersey water park this summer or at one of these indoor parks year-round.
24. Visit the Charming Children's Garden
Enjoy a hands-on exploration of nature with mazes, rides, and festivals at Camden Children’s Garden.
RELATED: 25 STEM Activities Easy Enough for Preschoolers
See dinos in the wild at Field Station Dinosaurs (open seasonally). Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
25. See the Dinosaurs Roar
Go prehistoric at Field Station: Dinosaurs, a dinosaur theme park right here in Jersey.
26. Explore Duke Farms
Take a hike and enjoy the monthly Storytime for Sprouts program at Duke Farms.
27. Make Some Animal Friends
Visit furry friends and ride the train at Turtle Back Zoo, Cohanzick Zoo, Cape May Zoo, or another of Jersey's top zoos.
28. Learn the Meaning of Garden State
Pick your own apples, strawberries, and blueberries at the Garden State’s wonderful pick-your-own farms.
RELATED: Best Nature Centers in New Jersey To Visit With Kids
Have a construction-themed adventure at Diggerland. Photo courtesy of Diggerland
29. Drive a Big Rig
Indulge your young builders in construction adventures at Diggerland.
30. Get Close to Nature
See live creatures, dig for fossils at the sand table at Trailside Nature & Science Center, or hit the playground or a nature trail at Watchung Reservation—and don't miss the new sensory trail!
31. Visit a Petting Zoo
Meet some baby animals at a family-friendly farm, including Brookhollow's Barnyard.
RELATED: The Best NJ Zoos and Aquariums for Animal Encounters with Kids
See sharks up close at Adventure Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium
32. Meet Seafaring Residents
Have some fishy fun at Jenkinson’s Aquarium or Adventure Aquarium.
23. Splash at a Local Sprayground
Make a splash with the sprinklers at one of New Jersey's many (mostly FREE) water playgrounds and splash pads.
34. Find a Destination Playground
Swing and slide at your favorite playground, enjoy a picnic lunch and watch the clouds roll by.
35. Bug Out at Insectropolis
Learn about, and even touch, creepy crawlers at Insectropolis, New Jersey’s “bugseum.”
36. Tot Tours at the Morris Museum
Explore something new—like insects, dinosaurs, or geology—and then make a craft to take home during a Tot Tour at Morris Museum.
37. Explore the NJ State Museum
Try the Small Explorers Series on the third Saturday of each month at the NJ State Museum. Learn about the theme of the month through stories, crafts, and play.
38. Get Fire Smart
Climb into a fire truck, try out gear, and learn all about fire safety at the Fire Museum at the Newark Museum of Art.
Originally posted in 2014, this article has since been updated.