Riddle me this: What can sometimes feel longer than my son’s end-to-end connected Hot Wheels tracks spread across the house? It may also start to blend together like my daughter’s washable paints.
Answer: Days spent entirely at home with toddlers.
Solution: Become Birmingham explorers! Leave the home, have fun, and create adventures.
To help you do this, here is a list of my favorite fun, free, outings for 0-4 year olds!
Is it raining? Is it hot? Is it cold? You’ll likely find my preschoolers and me at one of the Jefferson county libraries! Libraries provide many fun activities, like story times, puppet shows, and story labs for littles, and they vary by day, time, and location (so there’s always a chance to find the one your family loves). Fresh toys abound at libraries, such as puzzles, puppets, trains, crayons and paper, Legos, games, and more. Kids can even earn prizes during the summer for reading. And don’t forget about all the books!
As a child, my mom took me to our hometown library every chance she could. Automatic doors opened, and I stepped into a world of possibilities. Air conditioning blew my brunette hair off my cheek, musty and paper scents danced around me, and friends sleeping between pages of unread books were eager to meet me. I walked out with a stack of books I could barely carry. Libraries still hold nostalgia and wonder for me.
Observe your kids fall in love with books the same way you did. Watch them dive head first into stories, befriend characters, and learn about the world bigger than themselves. Answer questions and explore together. Back home, snuggle on the couch with your littles and devour your new stack of library books.
- Download the Libby app to get an e-book any time, day or night.
- Put a stack of books on hold a few days to a week before you plan to go to the library to ensure you can check out all the books of your literary dreams and minimize the time spent searching for specific books with your littles.
Do I desire to be outdoors, yet want shade as an option? Do I want a walking trail, local flowers, learning opportunities, and open play? Do I want to be near a lake? If so, you’ll find me at Aldridge Gardens! This a 30-acre property in Hoover, formerly owned by horticulturist Eddie Aldrige and his wife Kay, boasts an impressive collection of hydrangeas, a walking trail, and a lake.
On a cloudless Tuesday morning, I recently took my toddlers to Aldridge Gardens. The blue sky held a beaming sun whose rays warmed my bare arms. Upon entry, we ran past pink azaleas, creamy white magnolia blossoms, budding hydrangeas, and green saluting ferns right onto the floating dock. The fountain in the middle of the lake reached toward the sky, and we danced to the lake’s gentle lull. I retrieved dried cat food from my diaper bag, and before the ziploc could fully release my toddlers had their hands in the bag. Anticipating what was to come, animals started arriving to our party—geese first, followed by ducks. Turtles poked their heads out of the water in greeting, and koi fish larger than our neighbor’s dog glided toward us. The sun winked off the water, and light surrounded us. We threw cat food without hesitation. Splash! Geese honked in celebration.
Pro-tip: Bring oats to feed the geese and dried animal food to feed the koi fish and turtles.
Are the seasons changing? Do I want to learn what’s currently in bloom in Birmingham? Do I want an outdoor adventure and not have to worry about if it’s socially acceptable for my kids to run around? The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the answer!
Roses adorn their petals with lipstick and share their souls like poetry. Japanese maple trees extend both green and red offerings. Cherry blossoms explode from collections of trees. Oakleaf magnolia leaves and flowers offer shade like party tents and their sweetness in the wind.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are open year-round, and each trip feels different due to its size and seasonal plants in bloom. My children and I love to choose a different section of the garden to visit (roses, Japanese garden, fountain, winding path over a stream) and then pick a favorite plant for the day. The Gardens offer a library story time, a cafe, and plenty of space to explore!
Pro-tip: Let the kids collect found objects—petals and leaves that fall on the ground—and make artwork when you return home.
What playground works when my kids want to feel independent? What playground is great for both an 18 month old and a four year old? Where can I find both water and playground play? The Hoover Met Explore Playground can!
On a hot day in July, a new friend invited us to the Hoover Met Explore Playground and Splash Pad. I brought my two toddlers, and she brought hers. She was a regular at the park, having lived in the area for a long time, so I trusted her recommendation.
The creaky black gate opened, and my oldest was off! He climbed through tunnels, whooshed down at least three different types of slides, and hung like a monkey on bars. He climbed into an enclosed treehouse and zoomed on a rope swing. He played musical instruments and a memory game and told me stories at the puppet show stage. His eyes sparkled and his grin was wide our entire time at the playground.
The “15,000 square-foot playground and 7,000 square-foot splash pad are designed to meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities and mobility issues,” and it continues to delight us after two years!
Pro-tip: Bring or wear swimsuits any day except Monday in the summer months to enjoy the splash pad as well as the playground.
Do I want to travel outside Hoover? Do I want a playground with both walking trails and picnic benches under pavilions?
“Do you want to go to Wald Park?” my friend texted on a cloudless day in late May.
“I’ve never been, but yes!” I texted back. My husband was out of town for two weeks for work, and I was glad to fill our day.
We parked our minivan, and I reminded my children of our park rules. Put on “walking feet” in parking lots, take turns with friends, and have fun. I held their hands and approached a playground with so many offerings I wasn’t sure where to look first. But my eyes couldn’t escape the largest enclosed slide I have ever seen at a playground! Its blue tube towered directly in front of us. To my left there were slides built into the side of a hill with wildflowers waving to us. To my right were baseball diamonds.
So, did we have fun at this new playground? Well, my son went down the slide at least 20 times, and we returned four times in one week, so we absolutely did!
Pro-tip: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the many picnic tables under the pavilion right next to the playground.
What about you? What are your favorite free outings for preschoolers?