Ugh, February. By this point, isn’t everyone just over it? Like, REALLY OVER IT? It’s the time of year many of us are at the end of our ropes, having run out of fresh ideas for inexpensive things to do with kids when the playground isn’t really a great option because it’s wet or blustery or snowy or freezing. (Which is almost always.)
So here, a February lifeline in the form of our annual (updated) list of fun things to do that don’t require a) much planning b) spending a fortune or c) freezing your face off.
Ikea. The South Philly mega-store boasts a supervised play space for kids who are between 37 and 52 inches tall (and potty-trained) — and it comes with the bonus of letting you get a little uninterrupted “me-time” with the Malm and Fjellse. That said, if you’re not cool with the play space, just wandering the store and letting the kids play in the display rooms works, too. (Note: the playspace inside the Chick-fil-A, which is located in the same shopping center as Ikea, is also clean and usually not over-crowded.) The Ikea in Conshy has a similar play space, as well!
The Big Museums. PAFA, the PMA and the Barnes all offer free (or pay-what-you-wish, in the case of the PMA) admission and/or activities. In fact, brand new, beginning in March, the Barnes is making their popular Free First Sunday program completely family-focused, with programs for all ages spaced throughout the day — so programs for littles from 10 a.m. to noon, then activities for older ones in the afternoon. (Read: That means no more having to show up at 9 a.m. and cross your fingers hoping you get a ticket — tickets are simply reserved throughout the days for families, and they’ll even have separate lines just for families. Cool, no?) Also! PAFA also offers free Sunday art workshops and activities — story drawing, bead work, painting, facepainting and beyond — geared toward families, from 2 to 4 p.m.. And kids under 12 are free at the PMA, and there are tons of family-friendly, kid-focused hands-on programs and activities throughout the year.
Fireman’s Hall. The great little Old City museum housed in a former firehouse features historic tools, uniforms, a bunch of carriages and trucks to ogle, and a fun interactive area for kids upstairs. Kids can even try on real fireman boots and gear — it’s adorable. (Bonus: It’s staffed by current and past firefighters, which is cool.) Admission is free, though donations are suggested. One tip here: Hours can be erratic, so you might want to call before you go. (Bonus: It’s a few short blocks from Franklin Fountain, where nothing is free, but you can spring for a cone or hot cider for about $5.)
Please Touch Museum. On the first Wednesday of each month, the admission here is just $2 — a MEGA-deal, compared to the normal admission of $19.
The Kimmel. One of the great benefits of city living: Culture at our fingertips. And on a regular basis, the Kimmel offers us a taste of FREE culture via their “Grow Up Great” programming — an interactive program teaching children about jazz and musical theater — and the next one, held in the Kimmel’s Commonwealth Plaza, is March 10. (Check here to keep an eye out for more.) Additionally, the Kimmel hosts monthly organ demonstrations as part of the free tour of the place. It’s very cool — and it’s held on a Saturday!
Smith Memorial Playground. Kids won’t even miss the potato-sack slide (which is closed until April) after they realize they have the run of this three-floor playhouse. Make sure to head downstairs, where there are trikes and scooters to ride around a track and little “town”, and also to the art rooms, where staffers lead activities. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Storytimes. Not only do storytimes make for great, no-fuss outings, but there are SO MANY great free ones around town. Some of our favorites: Momo’s Treehouse has them Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m.; Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse has them Wednesdays at 4 p.m. and sometimes Saturdays at 11 a.m.; Smith Playground has them at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for kids 5 and under; and Head House Books has storytimes for littles Fridays at 11:15 a.m; and And of course, the Free Library branches offer a huge array of storytimes, held on different days, at different times, with different themes, geared toward different kids — truly a city treasure. Many, many suburban libraries offer storytimes, as well. (Note: For any and all storytimes, days and times can change, so call before you go. Please!)
Libraries. Beyond just storytimes, Philly’s Free Libraries are constantly making room for kids to be kids by opening play areas with toys, tiny tables, beanbag chairs, books to flip through, puzzles and computers with pre-loaded games. Almost all branches in the city offer quality programming in addition to their storytimes — things like Lego clubs, preschool yoga, cooking classes, knitting clubs and family playgroups, some of which are held on the weekends. We especially adore the children’s area at the Santore Branch in Bella Vista and the programming at the Parkway location and Walnut Street West.
Wagner Free Institute of Science. “Free” is such an important part of this historic museum’s mission that it’s in the name. Almost untouched from when it was founded in the 19th century, this quirky and odd little jewel near Temple U. has a ton for your kids to gawk at, from animal fossils to weird things in jars.
The Malls. Ash is the queen of hitting the mall on a crummy day. (She is, after all, from New Jersey. : ) But seriously, it’s a great way to kill an hour or two, and the King of Prussia Mall offers a couple sizable play zones, which have tunnels, slides and foam structures built for climbing, plus interactive toys that encourage kids to pretend to be doctors and nurses (likely because CHOP is a sponsor). You’ll find one at the Court (near the food court) and one in the Plaza (outside of J.C. Penny). Bonus: There’s now a Shake Shack at KOP Mall, as well! At the Moorestown Mall, you can hit up the garden-themed play area (kids under three will have the most fun here). It’s just outside of Macy’s.
STAMP Pass. More parents should know about this amazing program. Philly teens aged 14 to 19 can visit most of the city’s best institutions (The Barnes, Franklin Institute, PMA, the Zoo, Constitution Center, and more) for absolutely free, with occasional time/date restrictions, with one of these passes. You just need to request one online.
Sister Cities Park. Because some days are gross, but not unbearable. And while all parks are kid-friendly, Sister Cities on the Parkway offers a little more than the usual swings and slides: Kids happily climb on the rocks and the “mountain” that surrounds the boat pond area (still drained for the winter) and enjoy the foam building blocks at the Imagination Playground. At the park’s Logan Square Cafe, you can warm up (or use the restroom, if need be) and grab a hot cocoa or other snacks for a few bucks.
Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, et. al. This is Philly, yo. Very little ones probably won’t do so hot on the FREE Independence Hall tours (you can sign up for a time slot in person at the Visitor Center, or online) or waiting to see the Liberty Bell, but probably anyone over the age of 7 will be a reasonable companion for a few hours of American history. In that one little stretch, you’ve got a bunch of free stuff: Independence Hall. Carpenters’ Hall, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, the Declaration House, Ben Franklin’s grave, the U.S. Mint, and all the horse-drawn carriages you care to watch amble by. (PS. The self-guided tour of the Betsy Ross House is only $5 for grown-ups and $4 for kids.)
Photo Credit: Photo by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®