Top 10 Free (or Cheap) Things to Do with the Under 5 Set

Having a good time with your kids doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. If you’re tired of shelling out big bucks for movie tickets or indoor parks (that only hold your tot’s attention for a short time), try some of these family activities that are both fun and cheap (or free!) the next time your little one is anxious for an adventure.

1. Read Our Lips: FREE storytimes every day of the week (except Sunday) through Seattle Public Library, the King Library System and Mockingbird Books. Here are more storytime picks.

2. Kid-Friendly Coffee Shops. Hot coffee and a slew of new-to-you toys make for a perfect outing any day of the week. From Sip and Ship in Ballard and Greenwood, Mosaic in Wallingford and The Village Bean in Bothell to Vios‘ two locations in Ravenna and Capitol Hill, Playdate Cafe in Lynnwood and Twirl Cafe on Queen Anne, there are a plethora of indoor havens that will keep parents and kids happy, all for the price of a cuppa joe. Here are some more coffee shops and happy hour picks.

Vios Cafe

3. FREE Play Areas. With the Kids Cove in Bellevue Square, the Pirate Ship at Bothell Country Village, the covered play area at U Village, and the kids play area at Southcenter Mall, shopping mall’s aren’t just about spending money, they’ve evolved into entertainment complexes. Bonus: University Village has a weekly Tuesday Playday program with free activities, crafts and storytimes for the under 5 set and Crossroads Mall has free games and entertainment for the whole family on the second Saturday of each month.

4. The Center for Wooden Boats just might be a broke mom’s best friend. Kids love wandering the docks, getting up close and personal with tugboats, canoes and sailboats (not to mention the seaplanes taking off nearby). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a free weekend sail or the bi-monthly free Tugboat Storytime aboard the historic tugboat Arthur Foss. And speaking of boats, kids love visiting the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. In addition boat watching and the always-awesome fish ladder, kids will love exploring the botanical garden and the visitor’s center which doubles as a hands-on nautical museum (on the second floor).

ballard locks

5. Drop-in Playtimes. If you have a kid under five, you’ve probably logged a few hours at one of the many Seattle Community Centers drop-in playtimes. For roughly $3 you can get the crazies out just about any day of the week. Another bonus is the once a month kids entertainment programs at the Phinney Ridge Community Center (called Ridge Romp) and Mount Baker’s Pied Piper series. Kids can enjoy magicians and singers, puppet shows, performing pigs and more silliness for only $5 per family.

6. Kelsey Creek Park. If ‘Old McDonald’ is one of the songs in your musical repertoire these days, a trip to Kelsey Creek Park in Bellevue is a must. Kids love visiting the cows, horses, bunnies, chickens, sheep, pigs and more at this fab farm in the heart of Bellevue. The playground is the perfect size for toddlers with swings, seesaws, and climbing toys. Plus, walking trails wind through the park, over the creek, and by the pastures. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!

kelsey creek farm

7. Get Crafty! When you’ve spent all week-long doing activities with the kids, it’s kind of nice to hand them off to daddy for a Saturday morning adventure. We suggest craft sessions that range from free to $5 such as the ones at Lakeshore Learning in Bellevue and Bellevue Arts Museum. Make room on the fridge!

8. Seattle Center. There’s a reason the Seattle Center is one of the top visitor destinations – it’s a blast! And you don’t have to spend a dime to keep the kiddies engaged. Let them wander around the sculpture garden, create cool sounds at the new Sonic Bloom solar-powered art installation, run around the fountain, and emote on the stage. If you really want to hit a home run, take the bus to the Seattle Center and your kids will look at you with a newfound appreciation and awe. Bonus: If the stock market rallied and you’re feeling flush, spring for some tix to the Seattle Children’s Museum. At $7.25-8.25 a pop (kiddos under 1 are free), it’s worth every penny….

sonic bloom

9. Visit the animals. Furry creatures are a pretty safe bet for a fun day out with toddlers and you don’t need to drop any money to get your animal fix. Visit the horses at Woodinville stables, check out the four-legged beasts at Magnuson Dog Park or visit your neighborhood pet shop. Psst! Petco on 45th is a great place to visit with fishies, birdies, mice and other small creatures.

10. Explore a museum. Museums and toddlers can be hit or miss so it’s hard to cough up admission fees for the wee ones when a melt down and early exit are a distinct possibility. Fortunately, we’ve found some great museum spots that offer times for free admission for the Littles (and they have wonderful toddler play spaces within them). Three of our faves are the Burke Museum (kiddos love the dinosaur exhibit), KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Factoria, and the Museum of Flight next to Boeing Field. The Burke Museum is generally free for ages 4 and younger, but on the third Thursday of the month it’s free for all ages and is open until 8 p.m. The KidsQuest Children’s Museum is $1 for all ages on the first Thursday night of the month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and free during the weekdays for the one and under crowd. The Museum of Flight is free on the first Thursday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and kids 4 years and younger are always free. You can’t beat that!

Did we miss your favorite free or cheap thing to do with your kids? Let us know in a comment below.

–Kristina Moy

Photo credits: Vios Café and Marketplace Facebook page and Wildcat Dunny via Flickr