While I overall LOVE the chance to stay at home (and appreciate it greatly, maybe even more so because I had to work the first year of Raven’s life), there ARE aspects of it that can become a bit wearing after awhile. After going through somewhat of a SAHM identity crisis last year, I discovered a really important truth about myself:
It’s SUPER important for me to leave the house nearly every day (not to mention that it’s good for my daughter, too).
In the summer, it’s fairly easy to meet this goal, especially now that we’ve moved to a house that’s literally a block away from a park.
In winter, however, the situation gets quite a bit trickier, though my need to get outside the house doesn’t seem to change much.
Therefore, I have been devising several free (or cheap) ways to make sure that we’re regularly leaving the house most mornings, and let me tell you—
I feel like a different human being because of it.
So, if you feel like you and your kid(s) have been going a bit stir-crazy lately, try out some of the suggestions below:
11 Free/Cheap Ways to Get Out of the House in the Winter
1. Take advantage of storytime at your local library.
Every Monday, Raven and I have a standing date at our local library for their toddler storytime. It’s free, it’s close, and Raven LOVES it. But don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to just the activities available at your closest library–widen your net a bit, and you’ll find that you could easily take up 2-3 mornings a week if you wanted at library activities (not all of which are the traditional “storytime” fare).
For us, we live close to the Hyrum library, but we’re also within a 15-minute drive from the Logan library (which has different story days and often does fun events for kids, like having “special visitors” like ballerinas or firemen come and interact with the children) and a 25-minute drive away from the North Logan library, which does a special “Musical Storytime.” Basically, search out your options—you might be surprised by what you find.
2. Bring a stroller and take a walk inside your local mall.
Growing up, my mom was always a big walker, and in the colder months, she would take early-morning walks with her walking buddy in the local mall. I always thought this was weird until I was an adult desperately needing a free and not freezing cold place to walk in the winters myself.
Of course, if you tend to impulse shop or get tempted by the wares on display at the mall, you might want to leave your wallet in your car, but otherwise, it’s a great free way to get in some exercise and just be out and about.
(Also, at our mall they have some little cars and other toys set up, so I’ll sometimes bring a few quarters along so she can “drive” the cars.)
3. Go grocery shopping.
Okay, okay—I know this sounds lame, but I TOTALLY count grocery shopping as quality time outside of the house. Part of it is because I just love to grocery shop (is that weird?), but part of the fun is that Raven and I have a little ritual around it. Before we go, we always make our lists together (or rather, I make the grocery list and look for coupons while Raven “colors” a list) and talk about some of the things we need to buy.
Then, at different stores, we have different little “rituals” that we do. At Smith’s, we make sure to take advantage of the free produce they offer for kids while you shop (it’s something so small, but it’s something she gets crazy excited about every time). At Walmart, I let her use their bathroom. (So weird, but Raven really likes going to the bathroom in new places, and she especially likes that our local Walmart has a shorter sink that she can actually reach by herself. Normally I make sure she goes to the bathroom before we head out to go shop, but when we’re going to Walmart, I usually just load her in the car and don’t worry about doing that beforehand). Lastly, at Sam’s Club, we take advantage of their super cheap cafe options and eat lunch before or after we shop, since we only shop there about once a month. (And–bonus–Matt’s usually able to come eat with us too, so it’s like having a fun little monthly family date.)
4. Bundle up and go on a walk.
Sometimes, the weather is not conducive to this, but at other times (like lately, for us), the weather is warm enough (read: 32 degrees or a little warmer) and the sidewalks all clear of snow, so it’s actually quite refreshing to get outside for a bit and go on a stroll. As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” so make sure you layer it up!
If you want to get especially brave, you can go the whole snowpants-and-snow-boots route and just enjoy the snow as it comes down. (Or shovel the drive while your kid enjoys the snow, ha ha.)
5. Plan a play date.
I’m notoriously bad at doing this, but luckily, I have a friend close by who’s pretty good to suggest playdates about once a month, and I also have a built-in monthly “play date” thanks to a practice in my church called visiting teaching.
(In case you’re unfamiliar with the LDS church, visiting teaching is where each adult sister (woman) in the ward (congregation) is assigned to go with another sister every month to visit 2-4 women in the ward. Because my visiting teaching partner has kids Raven’s age and both the women we visit happen to have young kids as well, it basically becomes a great excuse for our kids to have a blast playing together while we moms just catch up on life.
6. Check out your local museums.
Our current residence is in a town of just over 8,000 people, but we still have a museum here, so I’m imagining that this would be an option at a lot of places. While the traditional museum walk right now is not a great option for the age of my toddler, the local museum here DOES offer free children’s classes for one week each month that are geared towards pre-school age children (though it says all children can attend). It’s a half-hour long class that teaches a historical principle while letting the kids participate in a craft, and there’s always a treat, too.
If we’re willing to take some longer day trips, Utah has some awesome children’s museums (like the Treehouse Museum in Ogden, The Children’s Museum in Salt Lake, and Thanksgiving Point out by Lehi), but those usually cost quite a bit more.
7. Take advantage of indoor playplaces.
I used to never, ever eat at McDonald’s, but since we moved into our current house (which is located just up the street from one, with little else in the way of fast food offerings super near us), we’ve changed our tune a bit. Some of the funnest play dates or just solo mornings we’ve had lately have been at that McDonald’s, and you can keep it fairly cheap, too—just order yourself $1 drink and let your kid run wild. If I’m wanting to have a girl talk with my friends and want to have our kids occupied doing something that doesn’t require too much supervision, McDonald’s (or other fast food joints’) playplaces are where it’s at.
8. Space out your errands.
I realize this would only work if your kid, like mine, is pretty good with tagging along to whatever and being happy about it, but I’ll often space out my errands so that I just do one a day, even if it sometimes would make more economical sense to combine all the trips into one. For example, rather than piggyback a bank trip or quick library run for a book on hold into the same trip, sometimes I’ll just do one a day so that we’re guaranteed to get out of the house at least once per day. (Desperate times call for desperate measures, basically.)
9. Find out if there are play groups that meet near you.
In my last ward (church congregation), we had a great twice-weekly play group that we attended pretty regularly. On one of the days, if the weather allowed, we would meet in the empty church parking lot and we adults would chat while our kids rode bikes or scooters or drew with chalk or threw balls on the pavement (obviously, this one requires dry weather). On bad-weather days, we had access to go inside the church’s gym, where we would basically do the same thing (minus the chalk drawing, obviously).
10. Check out your fitness/gym options.
Here in Hyrum, our community offers free exercise classes in the morning and evenings, and from what I can tell, a ton of moms bring their kids along. My friend Katie also was just telling me this morning about how her gym offers daycare for only $1/hour, so since she already has a pass for herself, that extra cost is minor and worth it to her so she can get a good workout in on most mornings.
11. Join a local play group on Facebook.
Through the Let’s Play, Cache Valley group on Facebook (a local group that’s basically open to anyone in the area), I find out about all sorts of free or cheap goings-on around the area. For example, one of our local businesses (Johnny-O’s Spudnuts) does a weekly storytime on Wednesdays, where you can go and listen to stories and get your spudnut (aka, donut) for $2. Or, our local Bounce and Slide place also does free weekly storytimes, which I never would have found out about if I wasn’t a member of the group.
Basically, I’ve found that when I prioritize getting out of the house on a regular basis (even if it is just to run errands), it seems to keep us all a little more sane.
What are some of your favorite cheap or free ways to get out of the house during the winter?