The older my son gets, the more I appreciate having free places to take him. In the warm months, it’s a cinch – just head to one of the wonderful Richmond parks or outdoor spaces and let him loose.
Winter? Not so easy. Frugal entertainment gets scarcer. As the cold weather (thankfully) winds down, I thought I would try to compile a list of ongoing FREE local resources for entertaining restless youngsters that can’t go outside.
So in no particular order, here are some places to go with kids that don’t cost a thing!
Local libraries – So much free entertainment potential at your local library! In addition to browsing and checking out books, libraries offer weekly storytimes and kid’s activities. You can take advantage of movies, music, and books on CD to borrow as well.
Barnes & Noble – Holds storytimes on a weekly basis (plus many stores have Thomas the Train tables to play with!)
Pottery Barn Kids – Storytimes every Tuesday at 11:00am. Members receive an official Book Club Passport at their first Story Time, and a special gift after attending five Story Times (Short Pump Town Center, 11800 W Broad St)
Malls – Indoor play areas are located at Short Pump Town Center, Regency Square, Chesterfield Towne Centre and Virginia Center Commons malls. Short Pump and Chesterfield also offer monthly kids clubs which meet indoors.
County Parks & Rec Departments – The counties run a number of free and low-cost programs through the winter
A few of interest:
Mom & Tot Gym Jam – for ages 5 & under (and their parents) at the Goochland Sports Complex Gym, 1800 Sandy Hook Rd. Takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to noon, in 8 or 9 week sessions. There are not organized programs; it’s just a big place for kids to play Contact the Goochland County Park & Recreation Dept for more info: 556-5854
Three Lakes Nature Center – Three Lakes Park and Nature Center (400 Sausiluta Dr. Henrico) bring together the three worlds of air, water, and land for visitors to explore. The Nature Center is a 6,500 sq. ft. facility featuring a variety of exhibits designed to provide hands-on experiences. The 50,000 gallon aquarium also gives visitors a “fish-eye” view of the underwater world. (Open Saturday & Sunday noon-4:30pm December-February, Tuesday through Sunday the rest of the year)
Bass Pro Shop (11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland) – Gigantic indoor outdoor-sy space complete with enormous aquarium and other attractions to entertain kids. Also holds free events on a regular basis.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts – Free culture available every day. In addition, check the calendar for the occasional free programs (such as Open Studio Sundays on the first Sunday of every month through May from 1-4pm – free do-it-yourself art project inspired by works from VMFA’s world-renowned collection)
Virginia Historical Society – For older ones, the VHS is open every day with free admission to exhibits. Twice monthly on Saturdays, the museum offers “Stories at the Museum” with group reading of the selected book and a craft activity related to the text
Pet Stores – The pet store has been a favorite haunt of ours this winter. My son’s favorite animals are the rescue cats, followed by the fish tanks. Stores include Petco (6 Richmond locations), Petsmart (8 locations), and Fin & Feather (5208 Lakeside Avenue)
Richmond SPCA – I love Robins-Starr Humane Center! There are lots of dogs and cats to visit – we enjoy the two “catillion” rooms where a number of cats are housed together and allowed to roam (2519 Hermitage Road)
Car Pool – Big-time thrills for my little guy. Basic washes start at $13.95, but you could also park nearby and walk in to observe the car washing process through the windows.
Krispy Kreme – Not technically free because you’ll have to buy your kids a donut, but if you go when the donuts are being made (“Hot Doughnuts Now” sign lit up), you get the entertainment of observing the whole process. Plus, Krispy Kreme gives a free donut for every “A” on a report card, so the donuts could be free if your child is a good student (4910 West Broad St)
Whole Foods Half-Pints Kids Club – From 3:30-4:30pm every Tuesday. Bring the kids for a free craft and snack. Remember to dress for a mess. Register your child at customer service or call 364-4050. (Haven’t verified this one lately)
Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics – Two Saturdays a month at 10am
From project basics to giving your child the opportunity to say, “I built it!”, our Build and Grow kid’s clinics are a great way to help build confidence! Bring the kids into any Lowe’s store and build a FREE wooden project. Each participant also receives a free apron, goggles, a project themed patch, and a certification of merit upon completion of their project. The first 50 kids to register and be present at the store at 10am will receive a kit, aprons and googles (Register online)
Home Depot Kids Workshops – First Saturday of each month from 9am to noon
Kids Workshops are FREE “How-To Workshops” designed for children ages 5-12. The workshops teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety, while at the same time helping to instill a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, this fun time allows for quality one-on-one time between adults and children. In addition to the newly constructed project kit, each child receives a kid-sized orange apron, similar to The Home Depot associates’ aprons, and an achievement pin.
These ideas are slightly biased towards the preschool-aged boy that I have the pleasure of raising. I’m sure there are plenty of others! Where in Richmond do YOU go to escape the house in winter?