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3 Free (or Almost Free) Ways to Entertain Your Toddler in the Summertime

Updated on June 29, 2011
Dining out - not a free thing, but a fun thing, especially when you're eating McDonald's chicken nuggets in a Pizza Hut!
Dining out - not a free thing, but a fun thing, especially when you're eating McDonald's chicken nuggets in a Pizza Hut!

Use Up Some of That Bundle of Energy

If your toddler is anything like mine he/she has more energy than you think you’ve ever had in your entire life (ask your parents, and I’m sure they’ll say that you’re wrong about that). So how do you get your little ones to use up some of that seemingly endless supply of energy? Get them outside!

Summer is the perfect time for engaging in more outdoor activities, especially if you live in my neck of the woods. In Kentucky, it is much too cold, snowy, and lately even icy in the winter. The snow usually isn’t even the kind with which you can make a decent snowman. Talk about disappointing. And, anymore, spring and fall seem to be an extensive of winter and summer, respectively, so summer is really the only decent time of year to get outside and play.

But what do you if you have toddlers and limited funds, as I do? You can’t afford to take them to amusement parks, and they can’t really ride many of the rides anyway, at that age. There just isn’t that much for little kids to do in the summer that is free (or at least cheap). Or is there? Here are three ideas this budget-conscious mom has recently come up with to keep her little girls happy and occupied in the hot summer days ahead.

Here's Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park:
Mammoth Cave National Park, 1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, USA

get directions

My four-month-old really likes to be outside, too!
My four-month-old really likes to be outside, too!

Go for a Hike in the Woods

My little girl, like most young children, loves to be outside. Since we are in Kentucky, there are lots of national park and forests to explore within just a few hundred miles. One of the best of these is Mammoth Cave National Park. They are only about a two hour drive from us, and they have a number of fantastic, family friendly hiking trails that are all free to use.

The cave tours themselves cost some money (from $15-$70 for a family of four). The park only charges for children over the age of 5. When we were there just this last weekend, we didn’t bother with the cave tour. My little girl is not terribly fond of the dark or strangers, so this didn’t sound like a good option to me. Having been on a few cave tours myself over the years, I have to say that taking a toddler on a cave tour is probably not a good idea. It’s a much better idea to just take them exploring around the park, which is what we did with our two-year-old and four-month-old.

Since I’m still recovering from my last delivery, we didn’t want to try anything too strenuous. We found a short trail (about a quarter-mile one way) and set off into the woods. It was one of the best times my daughter has had in a long time. We saw several deer, and a couple of them got really close to us. It was amazing!

Then a tree fell in the forest and scared my little girl, so that wasn’t very fun, but my husband and I did our best to explain that sometimes things like that happen in nature. The tree wasn’t trying to hurt her, and we were completely safe as long as we stayed on the trail and kept our eyes open for any hidden dangers (my husband is always watchful for poisonous snakes when we’re out in the woods).

All in all, it was a wonderful day. And you have the added bonus, in the summer, of all the natural sun protection from the tree leaves, so when you’re walking through the nice cool shady forest, you get a little break from the heat!

Of course, if you don’t live very near a national forest, you will have to spend gas money to get there. For our family, though, the gas money we spent was very well worth the fun we all had hiking through the woods and enjoying a bit of nature. Even our baby seemed to enjoy it!

A playground is a great free way to entertain your children.
A playground is a great free way to entertain your children.

This Is Where You Can Find Crosby Park

Crosby Park, Middletown, KY:
Middletown, KY, USA

get directions

Find a Church Playground or Other Neighborhood Playground

We are fortunate to attend a large church in our community that puts a major focus on helping children and families. They have a wonderful, large playground with slides and swings and monkey bars that they leave open year-round for anyone to come to visit anytime (except in the afternoons on weekdays because that’s when the school uses the playground). I love it because it is fenced-in, even though it’s not locked, so you don’t have to worry so much about your child escaping (or someone taking your child) without you noticing. We visit this playground at least once a week - sometimes twice!

If you don't have a church nearby, try looking for local parks that have playgrounds in the city where you live. Even if you don't live in the city, your community might have something similar. I've seen some little bitty towns here in Kentucky that had a public park and playground area larger than the town itself!

One of the parks we visit frequently is Crosby Park. It's not that far from where we live. It's got a wonderful playground facility (with a miniature rock-climbing setup, even). My daughter loves it! And I love the fact that it's hardly ever crowded at all, except when Little Leagues are in season because there's a big, popular baseball diamond there. We just stick to going there during the day on the weekdays, so we don't run into anyone else at all!

Sandy the Meijer horse.
Sandy the Meijer horse. | Source

Go "Shopping" at Meijer

Go shopping? Are you kidding? And why, specifically, at Meijer? What is Meijer, anyway?

If you live in one of five states – Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky – you probably know about Meijer stores. There are almost 200 Meijer stores spread out across these five states.

So why should you take your toddler to Meijer? Because of Sandy, one of those old-fashioned motorized horses that you used to see all the time in grocery stores when I was a child. Yes, all the Meijers have horses that are named Sandy (at least all the horses in the Meijer stores in my city). While it’s not free to ride Sandy, it only costs a penny, and the ride lasts a surprisingly long time. All you have to do is take your full penny jar, and your toddler can ride Sandy for hours. My daughter loves it, and I’m amazed that whenever we are there, no other kids are trying to ride Sandy. I don’t know if that’s because nobody else likes Sandy or if it’s just because no other parents take their children shopping with them.

Be aware, though, that if you come to the Meijer stores here in Louisville with your toddler, you might have to spend a little more than a few pennies. See, the marketing people at Meijer are really smart. They’ve made it so that when a child is riding Sandy, he/she has a great view of all the balloons in the card/gift section, so if your toddler is anything like mine, you will most likely be faced with having to either break down and buy a balloon or else experiencing the temper tantrum of the century when you refuse.

Still, the price can't be beat, and it's a great excuse to get away from the heat and into some cool air for a minute!

This little girl sure could use a pony ride!
This little girl sure could use a pony ride! | Source

Quit Dealing with a Bored Toddler

They may be small, but they're mighty, and their anger is especially powerful. There is nothing worse than listening to an angry, bored toddler - except maybe listening to an angry, tired toddler - but now you don't have to.

No matter what your budget, you can keep that little one entertained all summer long with these three activities, and you can do them over and over again (in fact, your child will probably beg you to). They never get old or boring (at least not to the toddler).

So tear your child away from the preschool cable channel, fasten him/her into the carseat, and get going!


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    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Streetcar trip - now that does sound fun. We used to have trolleys here, downtown, but I'm not even sure if they run anymore. I'll have to check on that!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      I remember those rides, my kids would get on them. When my older son was about 4 of 5, we lived in Gulfport, MS. When my husband was deployed overseas, we would sometimes go to New Orleans. We loved riding the streetcars from one end of the line to the other. That was always good for killing a few hours.

      voted up

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, prairieprincess. :-)

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      7 years ago from Canada

      These are great practical ways of keeping those little ones entertained. My two nieces (7 and 9) still absolutely love parks, and always like to find "new" parks if they go somewhere new. I enjoyed your engaging writing style.

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Yes, it definitely is, Silver Poet. As a matter of fact, my daughter asked about that "pony" today. We didn't have time to go to the store today, but I'm sure we'll be making a trip soon!

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 

      7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      It's always good to spend more time with our kids. The mechanical horse is a very fun idea!

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Hi, Simone. Actually, the horses are INSIDE the front of the store, which makes it even better! :-)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I've never heard of Meijer before, but I LOVED those old motorized horses as a kid, and it's fun to hear that one store still has them out front :D

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Alicia. I love showing off my babies.


      Hi, Denise. Meijer is such a great store, and now our family is going to have all kinds of Meijer memories, too!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      WM-I LOVED the hub. Why? Because of the 'shopping at MEIJER' trip. Oh does that bring back memories. Great job, LOL Thanks.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These are great ideas for entertaining a toddler! I love the photos of the children too.

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks for reading and commenting, cardelean. Glad you like them. :-)

    • cardelean profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Great ideas for some summer fun! I love taking my kids to the park and go on nature walks. Thanks for sharing your ideas.


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