Moving to Illinois from Arizona was a big shock. We were accustomed to being outdoors just about every day (except the days over 100 degrees when it was neither safe or comfortable). Even when it was hot in Arizona we could still go swimming to cool off and spend time outside, but here in the Midwest, certain days during the Winter make it impossible to enjoy the outdoors. We have lots of fun at home, but there are times when we just have to get out and find a new environment to avoid Cabin Fever. Yes, I remember the money thing. Many of us don’t have an extra $50 or more money to take the kids out to the movies or bowling, so I have some recommendations for no cost options to get out of the house and have some fun while learning a lot too! These places will also accommodate a variety of ages at the same time so if you have a toddler and a teen you can all enjoy your time together.

1. Visit the Pet Store – No, you don’t have to buy something to be there. You and your children can talk about the various types of fish. Learn the Difference between fresh and salt water fish. See animals that look like plants (sea anemone) ! Some pet stores have snakes, lizards, turtles and even giant spiders! Guinea Pigs, mice, ferrets and more furry animals are always fun for children to see.  And many stores have gorgeous birds and parrots that talk. My son and I got to various pet stores and play with the puppies! We feel great taking out a puppy or kitten and playing with them for a bit because it gets the animals out if their cages, gives them some human interaction and is just plain FUN for us! You can tie a trip to the pet store into a learning experience to continue once you get home by having each child pick an animal to research and present their findings to the family. Even little ones two or three years old can sit in your lap and look at online information, color or draw a picture of their animal and learn a fact or two to share.

2. Conservatory/ Botanical Gardens – In Chicago we have a Free Conservatory where we go to soak up all the green nature in the middle of winter. Check your city for something similar because it is warm inside and lush like a paradise to refresh your mind. Many indoor gardens have ponds, play areas or craft centers for children – all free. This is another fun and fabulous learning experience for children! Have the kids take paper (scientific journal) to sketch on to draw and label some of the cool plants that they see. They will be able to learn about the plants there from posted signs so that they can write down new information they learn. You can talk about why plants look different outside in the cold and snow than they do in the warm environment. Upon returning home you can go online and find some great videos about photo synthesis! You could have them color in their plants from memory or reference digital pictures the children take themselves while you are there.

3. The Library – You knew I was going to throw in this most obvious free, indoor attraction. Well, sometimes my son or I feel like we have just been there too many times to go back for awhile but every time we go back we end up having a really wonderful time. Even when we think we may be bored, we find ourselves sitting on the floor in our own little corner of the library quietly reading a book together and it takes us to a different place filled with new adventures or information. We are always glad that we went back. It is also fun to go to the adult section and take out books about US states,Greek Mythology, History, crafts, even cooking and do a coordinating project at home. My son has researched and written about states that he has heard about or where a favorite sports team is from. We have found a recipe to make together or a craft to duplicate at home. I may surprise him today when I am done working and take him to the library to find books on how to do  magic tricks! We could practice today and he could put on a show for Dad when he comes home tonight.

Do you have suggestions for our dapper friends on other Free or Inexpensive places to go when the weather makes it difficult to be outside? Please share your ideas in the comment section below. Thanks!!