Entertainment on the Skinny: “Free Entrance” Ideas to Pass Time with Kiddos

As a parent, I value the structure, rigor, and discipline that school instills on my child. School is a wonderful place for students’ to be encouraged, guided and taught how to navigate the social structure we live our lives through. However, in order for schools to properly accomplish these tasks, they must implement a strict code of conduct, enforce rules and teach our children to be good listeners. These are all positive life skills. However, I have found, from personal experience, that after a few hours of this structure and social negotiation my child wants to have some free time without all the rules.

For a while, and on some occasions up to today, her room was her sanctuary. She is allowed to dump her toys on the ground, finger paint and dress up our dog. Although once she realized she must always help clean up she is less enthusiastic about “playing too hard”. Still, since she’s an only child and my imagination and stamina aren’t what it used to be, she prefers to play out of the house for a little while on most days. Therefore, I have had to get creative with where and how we spend our time. Especially since I don’t want to invest a small fortune on indoor play places and extracurricular activities on a daily basis. So, for the days when there is nothing to do, I have found that the following “free entrance” places help us pass the time. The best part about these places is that they can be found in almost every city!

The Park

The park is hands down the best place, in my opinion, to take a kid who needs to blow off some steam. There are almost always other children to play with, animals to see and sticks to inspire the imagination. However, it is also hot and dirty. Therefore, I always make sure I bring some items with me to maximize our time in the park. They are the three Ws (water, wipes, and wallet). I also make sure that I have a carrier to store everything in since I do like to slide down the slide with my daughter, I will inevitably be “it” in a game of tag, and it’s too hot to have a giant diaper bag or backpack attached to my shoulders. Therefore; I put my phone in my wallet and place the wipes and wallet in the backpack. I also invested a few dollars on a water bottle carrier so that her water is easily accessible, and we are ready to expend some energy.


Barnes and Noble

This is my go-to place when I have some extra time on my hands because we have been known to spend a couple of hours hanging out within the aisles of the bookstore. Hence, I like to come prepared. Since my daughter only goes to school for half of the day, I pack up her lunch and we eat while reading or flipping through the pages of a book. My picky eater eats more when she is entertained and laughing at the printed images, so I tend to use this as an opportunity to introduce a new type of food or make sure she gets some vegetables she would otherwise turn down. After lunch or reading time, we entertain ourselves playing with trains, stuffed animals and friends we meet. I would also like to point out that the public library is an equally fun place to hang out where you can take the books home to read later as well. However, they don’t let you eat indoors, and they don’t sell the sweet caffeine boost I usually need around this time. So, depending on the day and situation it’s a tossup between the bookstore and library.



I know that I initially started boasting that you would not need any money to come to these places, and that is still true. However, I have found that giving my 3-year-old 3 dollars (since that is her favorite number because of her age) really goes a long way here. We can spend well over an hour walking through the store until she finds something she wants to spend her money on, she is much more careful about spending when it involves “her dollars”. Although I know plenty of moms who complete this very same activity at the dollar store, I have found that when we go to Michael’s she is much more likely to pick a craft we can do later, get stickers for her sticker book or choose playdough than when we go to the dollar store, where she is much more likely to pick three toys that she will loose interest in almost immediately. I also enjoy taking her when the store is getting ready for an upcoming holiday, which is almost always. Since we can talk about the holiday that’s coming up, make cards for family members with the new stickers she bought and talk about how we want to decorate the house, which really sets the mood for the upcoming celebrations.


Pet Supermarket

This is probably the most unorthodox place on my list and not one that is often visited especially if you don’t have any pets. Still, for us, this always becomes a fun experience where we have the opportunity to interact with animals without driving 45 minutes and paying $30 per person like we would if we wanted to go to the zoo. Another activity my daughter enjoys here is taking pictures. I’m assuming she became interested in photography because she has literally had a camera in her face since about three seconds after her birth (I tend to take a lot of pictures of her). So, a few months ago we got her a very cheap, battery-operated children’s camera. I bring it with us, and she entertains herself by taking pictures of the animals or of toys she wants to “show the dogs later”. Another plus, she loves showing her pictures to the dogs and my husband when he gets home which means I’ll inevitably have a few moments of peace when we get home as well.



I picked Chick-Fil-A because it is the only fast food place with a play area near my house. However, the same is true for any fast food place with a play area. This is my absolute favorite place for mom dates! This is my new “Starbucks”. I can order a small snack or drink, which will not cost nearly as much comparably. And I can sit at a small table, inside the air conditioning where we can watch our children play within a confined space where it is acceptable to run and scream and cleaning up takes less than 30 seconds (depending on how many toys you let them bring). This is nirvana. I love play dates at my house or a friend’s house, but there is always a little bit of tension about how much of a mess they are making, parks are big and open and I don’t feel comfortable letting her wander too far, stores are not good in groups because someone always wanders off and picks the worst object to play with. Fast food places with play areas offer the best environment for moms to sit, talk and catch up. My secretly favorite part, after about an hour the kids will get bored because space is limited, and it will be time to go home. I let so much time pass between mom dates that I need at least three hours to catch up with my friends, but I never have that much time to spare. This scenario keeps me on track and allows us to have a pleasant time where we can each move on when we need to and schedule a play date for the not so distant future (which one of us will cancel, and we will continue to do this dance until we finally meet up).

Whether its parks, a bookstore, the library or your local pet store I hope this gave you a fresh perspective on places to get out that after school energy that’s definitely worth a try. Do you have a go-to spot that we didn’t mention? Tell us in the comments below. We love hearing the inventive places you enjoy with your kiddos. 

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