Extracurricular activities create enriching experiences for kids, but they can also take a toll on your wallet. While kids are encouraged to explore their passions, the price tag on sports teams, dance classes, and art lessons can be overwhelming.
The good news is that stores throughout the state offer free—and nearly free—classes that allow you to save money while developing your family’s interests. These low- or no-cost classes, crafts, storytimes, and other activities are great ways to fill in schedule gaps without busting your budget.
Many stores have various locations, so be sure to check the websites for local schedules.
Create a robot maze, draw characters, and more at the Apple Store.
Apple Store – Various Locations
Your tech-savvy kids will learn the latest and coolest technology at select Apple stores’ free classes. Recent workshops for kids have focused on creating music, drawing characters, and concocting a robot maze. If you think the little ones are miles ahead of you with technology, sign up for Apple’s adult learning events as well.
Barnes & Noble – Various Locations
Barnes & Noble storytimes are an ideal go-to for toddler and preschool parents looking to get out of the house. The themes vary each week and sometimes include other activities. Make a longer morning of your Barnes & Noble time by visiting the train table and other hands-on displays. Plus, grab a cup of coffee for yourself!
Disney Store – Various Locations
A trip to the Disney store is an adventure in itself, with the wall of movies, coloring sheets, and play castle. Disney fans are also treated to events on weekends, including trivia contests, costume parades, character visits, crafts, and animation demonstrations. In the summer, the store offers these types of events throughout the week as well.
Home Depot – Various Locations
Home Depot’s Kid Workshops are the perfect remedy for a rainy/snowy/need-something-to-do Saturday morning. The free workshops take place on the first Saturday of every month and feature great wooden projects, such as bird houses, fire trucks, and banks. Participants also receive an apron and pin for completing their work.
Lakeshore Learning – Cherry Hill, East Brunswick and Hackensack
If you’re feeling crafty, stop by any Lakeshore location every Saturday morning for a free art project. Recent workshops featured door hangers, bird feeders, and autumn wreaths. No registration is required, and East Brunswick hosts an additional Sunday session. While you’re there, browse the store’s extensive collection of educational toys and supplies.
Learning Express Toys – Various Locations
If you’re looking for unique and educational toys and gifts with a more personal touch than the big box stores, peruse the great selection at Learning Express. In addition, the shop offers free or inexpensive creative workshops throughout the year, with topics such as rainbow looms, slime-making, American Girl creations, and holiday crafts. Classes vary by location, so check the individual websites for event schedules.
LEGO Store – Various Locations
If your kids are LEGO fans, don't miss the free monthly mini model building events where 6-14 year olds can create and take home small projects. Participants must be members of the LEGO VIP club, which is free to join and offers other cool benefits and goodies.
Michaels – Various Locations
For just $2 a class, kids can unleash their creativity in a store full of craft supplies. Classes take place on the weekends and have spotlighted projects such as slime-making, pumpkin-decorating, and friendship bracelets. Adult art workshops are available as well.
Pottery Barn Kids – Hackensack, Shrewsbury, Marlton, Short Hills, and Princeton
As if you need another excuse to shop at Pottery Barn Kids, the store offers free and fun workshops and events for the little ones. Every Tuesday morning, the store hosts a free storytime with weekly themes. Plus, check out the store’s special events that pop up on the weekends, such as holiday celebrations or character-themed activities, with Thomas the Train and Star Wars as recent examples.
Short Stories Bookshop & Community Hub – Madison
Downtown Madison is home to this relaxed, independent bookstore, complete with comfy reading spots, a children’s area, and a performance space. The shop creates a sense of community with its neighborly events, such as author visits, weekly storytimes, a Pokemon League, and game nights.
Toys 'R' Us – Various Locations
My kids can easily spend an afternoon walking up and down the aisles of this supersized chain. For even more in-store entertainment, Toys 'R' Us hosts occasional events and workshops for kids on the weekends. Recent happenings have included My Little Pony and Shopkins crafts and giveaways, plus LEGO building workshops.
Watchung Booksellers – Montclair
This charming neighborhood bookstore features a diverse selection of literature, plus houses a welcoming children’s room and teen corner. Stop by the shop for stimulating events like Saturday morning visits by children’s authors and illustrators, Wednesday Mommy & Me Storytime, and a YA Advisory Board with teen meetups.
Whole Foods – Various Locations
The kids won’t fight going to the market when you take them to Whole Foods’ Kids Club workshops. Twice a month, young shoppers are invited to the cafe area for free stories, snacks, and crafts. Keep an eye out for free grownup craft and food classes as well. Not all locations offer these events, so check individual stores for days and times.
RELATED: Drop-In Arts & Crafts for Kids at New Jersey Art Studios
Go shopping at Williams Sonoma while your kids learn to cook. Photo by the author.
Williams Sonoma – Various Locations
Bring your chef-in-training to Williams Sonoma for Junior Chef Classes, which take place on sporadic Saturday mornings throughout the month. While parents do a little shopping in the store, kids will learn to whip up tasty dishes with different themes. Please note that some classes are free, while others charge a fee. The freebies book up quickly, so check the website early in the month for a schedule.
Word Bookstore – Jersey City
Books and coffee? Score! In bustling downtown Jersey City lies this cozy independent bookstore, complete with an in-house cafe. The family-friendly shop presents events for kids, such as author visits and storytimes. There’s even a book club and author panels for middle schoolers.
For more free classes, don’t forget to check out your local library. Storytimes, coding lessons, maker workshops, and reader’s theater are just some examples of the types of classes libraries have to offer!
Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the stores