14 Fun—and Free—Winter Activities for Kids

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I hate winter, and not just because it’s cold. I hate it because there are limited things to do with my 2-year-old daughter–and they tend to be expensive.

Gone are the free jaunts to the playground and the beach; now I’ve got to ponder $100 music classes and Gymboree memberships.

Luckily, in my search for cheaper options, I’ve unearthed a ton of ideas that cost nothing at all! Here’s a list of my favorites to tide you over for the next few weeks:

1. DIY Play-Doh

Why buy the stuff when you can make your own–and have fun doing it? Mix together 1 cup of flour, ½ cup of salt and ½ cup of water. Separate the mixture into balls, and add food coloring. Here are 10 more toys to DIY.

2. Indoor Mall Play Areas

Forget that Gymboree membership: Many shopping malls have elaborate indoor recreation areas that kids can climb on for hours. At a loss for where to go? A simple web search can help you find good indoor playgrounds, like this list of indoor playspaces in New Jersey.

3. Crafty Building Projects

Kids love constructing things, and local DIY chains can help. Lowe’s hosts free “Build & Grow” workshops that teach kids how to make everything from birdhouses to mini Santa sleighs. And Home Depot has “Little Helper Headquarters” workshops where kids can create toolboxes, mail organizers and frames.

4. Free Museum Days

Love museums, but hate the price of admission? Many institutions have certain days of the week or month that are complimentary. For example, here’s a list of free times for museums in New York City. Aquariums and other attractions also have gratis days, so a little research could pay off big.

5. Story Times and Puppet Shows

Check out your local public library or large chain bookstore, like Barnes & Noble, for these free events. If you live far from a metropolitan area or can’t find any good options near you, try Barnes & Noble’s online storytime–authors and celebrities read books aloud via online video.

6. Get Cooking

Kill two birds with one stone—make dinner and keep your kids entertained—by turning your kids into chefs. They’ll love rolling out pizza dough, and then sprinkling the pie with their favorite toppings. Tacos and chocolate chip cookies are also big hits, and easy enough for kids to tackle.

7. Play With Animals

If your kids love the zoo, head to a free alternative: your local pet shop, where you can cuddle rabbits, talk to parrots and ogle reptiles and fish. Ask store owners about their feeding times and you’ll get a real show. You can also do a good deed by volunteering at a local animal shelter, where you can walk dogs or play with cats a few hours each week.

  • Alex

    Thanks for these great ideas. Now I don’t have to stare at my kid for the rest of the winter. :-)