Something I’m really going to miss about Columbus are all the family friendly activities. With Pookie in full toddler mode now, we need to get out of the house so we don’t both lose our minds.
Thankfully the weather is warming, so we can do more outside! But even in cooler months, Columbus has some pretty great options for kids. I used to dread the thought of going out and having to figure out how I was going to handle this little human in a large space. But, we had to start venturing out because too much time at the house started making us both stir crazy. When we do get out, our interactions become more pleasant between each other and she takes much longer naps.
Have I told you? I love naps.
And I really love long naps. More of those, please.
When you do a google search for “kid friendly activities in Columbus,” you get the obvious favorites: The Columbus Zoo and COSI to name a couple. Columbus also has ample parks with great playgrounds all around the city. Some of our favorite things, however, have been free – or very affordable – activities that take up a couple of hours without much planning involved.
It took me years of internet searches and connecting with local moms to get “the scoop” on all the hidden gems. To make it easier for those who might also be looking for these types of activities, here are a few of Pookie’s favorite things that we do together!
I cannot tell you enough how much I love, like LOVE Play Gym. Pookie is a huge fan too. She wakes up almost every morning asking if it’s Play Gym day. It’s usually the highlight of our week.
What is Play Gym?
Several Parks and Rec programs have something similar, but our experience has been at the Columbus Parks and Recreation program at Whetstone. Whetstone has a large, full-scale gym for gymnastics classes complete with bars, various levels of balance beams, large foam structures, and everyone’s favorite, a tumbling trampoline.
In the mornings everyday during the week, the center holds numerous Play Gym classes (called Parent/Child Play Gymnastics) where kids grouped by age play in the gym (18 months – 5 years). The classes are pre-register, with a specific amount of children in each class, and the class is taught by an instructor.
The classes are 45 minutes and consist of 15 minutes of free play, 20 minutes of circle time and instruction, and 10 minutes of group parachute play. The instructor is fantastic and the kids just love her!! We have attended Play Gym since Pookie was 18 months. I am so serious about Play Gym, that I mark registration on my calendar and log in to sign-up the second the course opens. It’s super popular for those in-the-know, so spots fill up quickly.
Pookie has learned so much from class. We usually go to class and then have snack in the waiting area by the fish tank. If the weather is nice, she plays on the playground outside, or if it’s cold, she runs around in the large gymnasium.
It’s super affordable and it is hands down our favorite activity. I’ve met so many moms from Play Gym and it’s a great community.
To find out about class times and to register, go to this link and type “play gym” in the search field. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays from 12:30-2:00pm, the center also holds open play gym, where anyone can swing by and pay admission to play. You can also get passes ahead of time online. No instructor is at the open play gym.
“Bunny Park” is one that is SO random. It is almost impossible to find online if you don’t know what you’re looking for, BUT it is one of the coolest parks you can take your kids to in Columbus.
It’s actual name is Ballantrae Park. The park has a little hill with large iron rabbit sculptures on top, hence, “Bunny Park.” There is a nice playground, plenty of green space and picnic areas, but what’s amazing about it is the water play area.
Beginning at 10:00am, water sprays up from the ground at varying heights and it’s completely open for people to play in. Kids and parents show up in their bathing suits with various toys such as buckets, cups, and balls. The kids have such a great time! The big kids can play in the larger fountains while the little ones stick to the small sprays.
I highly suggest going first thing in the morning so you can get a good spot to unload your stuff and have some play time before it gets busy. We usually play until around 12:00pm and head home for lunch. By that time, the place is a slammin’!
It’s one of the most inviting and fun water areas for kids that I’ve found and it’s totally free! Click here for more information.
Side note: there are fountains kids can play in at the Waterfront, however, they spray much higher into the air, so smaller kids tend to be too scared to play there.
Did you know that Columbus has several “play cafes?” They are such a cool idea. It’s essentially a thoughtfully designed play space for kids and a cafe where you can purchase drinks and snacks. You pay admission per child to play and then buy from the cafe if you want to (no obligation). We have attended Firefly Play Cafe on High Street most often. It was a little intense for Pookie when she was really young, but now that she’s two, she’s really comfortable and has a blast. For kids under two (as well as bigger kids, too), I recommend ZenKidz Play Cafe.
Funny side note: It did take me almost a year to return to Firefly Cafe after one visit. I was there for a playdate with a friend, Pookie seemed totally normal, and all of a sudden she ran up to me and started to projectile vomit all over. It was everywhere. I was so shocked. Apparently, there was a nasty stomach virus going around that caused sudden symptoms. I ran us to the bathroom, covered in vomit, and tried to get us cleaned up so we could leave. I changed Pookie’s clothes, wiped down my clothes, and as soon as we left the bathroom, Pookie got sick again.
It was so horrible.
It was one of those parenting moments where it’s like I was truly a mom now. I passed the test. Once this type of thing happens to you, you have officially made it into the mom’s club. I got us to the car, still vomit-covered, and sat there for a moment processing what just happened. Then I totally lost it. I started bawling and called Rob in a total sobbing mess. After about 10 minutes, I was able to collect myself and get us home. Looking back now, I can laugh about it, and I can also feel gratitude that out of all the public places this could have happened at, it was there, with a bunch of other parents. The workers were so understanding and helpful and I had several moms approach me as we were leaving saying, “I’m so sorry. This sucks. I remember the first time this happened to me. You’re doing a great job and I hope your day gets better.” Thanks, mom club. The trauma was set though, so it took me awhile to feel ok walking in the doors again. And you know what? We went last week and it was totally fine! We had an awesome time! 🙂
GRAETER’S PLAY AREA
Graeater’s Ice Cream on Bethel Road has a great play area for kids! I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s the only Graeter’s in Columbus with a play area. Like with other activities, you have to time it right, or it will be a bit too busy, but going first thing in the morning is usually a good bet. It’s weird to think about ice cream at 10:00am, but you actually are not required to buy in order for your kids to play. I always do, just because I want to support them. They also allow you to bring in your own food, so we usually play for about an hour, have a packed lunch and share an ice cream, play a little more, and then head home for naps.
The play area is cleaned daily and is suitable to a large age range. They also have two party rooms, and offer birthday party packages. We’ve never done it, but it seems to be a pretty big hit. This place is awesome!!
Columbus seriously has incredible libraries. I just love them so much. We regularly go to events they have there for the kids, especially around the holidays. Everything is free and Pookie has such a great time. Up until recently, we attended the weekly children’s storytime at both Whetstone and Upper Arlington branches and once Pookie got a bit bigger, we started going for all the craft events. It’s a great way to be creative without having to plan it yourself! It’s also a great place to meet other parents. I highly recommend looking at the library schedule and seeing what might appeal to your little one. It’s a great time!
One last thought:
One last activity I’ll throw in is the observation tower at the OSU Airport. We don’t actually go very often, but it is a cool thing for the right kiddo. The observation tower is open to the public and totally free. Kids can hang out and watch the planes take off and land. It’s a pretty basic facility, not updated since mid-century and smells like stale cigarette smoke, BUT it’s pretty cool to watch the planes up close. For kids that like planes, they will have a blast. Learn more here.
So there you have it. Try these out and let me know what you think! Also, if you have other activities that should be on my list, post a message!