Keeping kids busy is a struggle at times, especially during the winter or because their age limits what they can do. There have been several times this season where I was going to lose it if we stayed inside one more day. Our kids do so much better when they can get energy out.
With a budget we can’t always do the big things, so we’ve been trying to find free or cheap things that our kids enjoy. Below are some outings we’ve enjoyed.
On our Christmas trip we discovered that our kids loved the coin rides at the malls and they didn’t even have to be working. They just hopped from one to the other pretending to drive and waving at everyone. I discovered that the Northgate Mall has some of these coin rides along with an indoor play area. It’s nice and quiet since it’s not a bustling place but I find I like the indoor play area at Hamilton Place better because it’s larger and has more things to climb on. The only downside is that the mall doesn’t open until 11am, so finding something to do in between dropping off one kid at MDO and the play area is a little tough. It’s a great option though for cold or rainy days because the kids can run and play while you sit and read a book or catch up on emails and texts. Or have a playdate and have a real conversation while the kids are busy.
The library offers storytime and activities for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers at various locations throughout the week.
They also have STEAM fun for kindergarteners through 8th grade and a free movie on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at the Downtown branch from 2-4:30pm. The Downtown branch also hosts a cooking class once a month for tweens, and Ballet & Bookworms for preschoolers on Fridays. If you’re stuck at home, there are virtual escape rooms where you can put your knowledge to the test as a family. Each branch of the library has a pass for the Chattanooga Zoo, Creative Discovery Museum, and Hunter Museum that library card holders can check out once per year. The pass is good for a week and you can use it as many times as you want during that time.
The Creative Discovery Museum offers a Free Night once a month for families to access the exhibits after hours. You have to register for tickets online and it opens the first of the month.
We’ve taken our kids a few times to these and they’ve loved them. The first time we went it was crazy, but the second time was calmer. Maybe it was because we got there having dinner. They also have two new exhibits: Doc McStuffins and a new Farmyard play area for ages 4 and under. If you have a child with sensory sensitivity, the museum offers a special night for your family. On the first Thursday of the month, they hold a Sensory Night to allow children to play with limited extra sensory inputs and attendance is capped at 100 people. Registration for these nights opens at the first of every month as well.
The Chattanooga Gymnastics Center holds Open Gym for ages 5 and under every Friday morning at all three of their locations. It’s not free, but at only $5 per kid it’s worth it to let them bounce around and expel energy.
Make sure to sign up early in the week because the spots fill up quickly, especially if it’s rainy weather ahead. They have a Homeschool Open Gym at their Ooltewah location every Friday for ages 12 and under, also $5 per kid. They also have Saturday Night Open Gym for ages 4-12 years, but they are at certain locations and cost $15 per kid. Modern Play also does Open Play occasionally, at $5 per kid.
This isn’t necessarily free or cheap, but kids 17 and under are free. The Hunter Museum has an upcoming Family Fun Day in March and Sunday Studio in April where you can create art, see special performances and more based on the current special exhibitions at the museum.
Since you can borrow a pass from the library, you could get in free to the fun day as an adult if you planned it correctly.
As the weather warms, don’t forget about all the parks, playgrounds, and splash pads in Chattanooga and the surrounding areas. We like going for a walk with a picnic lunch and playground visit on a sunny afternoon. The city has updated some of the playgrounds in recent years and is currently putting in a new one at Heritage Park. Be on the lookout for a blog post with an updated list of playgrounds in the area. Cloudland Canyon is only $5 per car and you can get a visitor pass to Reflection Riding for a suggested donation of $15 per car.
I’ve also done several craft things for the kids at home like baking soda with colored vinegar, shaving cream with paint and paper, sensory bins, water beads, or crafts from the dollar section of Michaels. My 4-year-old could sit and play with baking soda and vinegar for hours while making rainbows and patterns.