Indoor Retreats from the Cold to Keep the Kids Busy

Today’s post was written by Kat Rutkin, a Somerville mom, travel-phobe and former dog-walker to the stars. When not scouring the region for toddler friendly activities, she can be found directing Somerville Local First, co-moderating the Somerville Moms list or hiding from the cold with her son Sumner and husband Taybin.

I am reluctant New Englander, still adjusting to the weather despite growing up in the similar climate of New York state. Having a child has made it impossible to stick to my standard winter strategy of hiding under blankets on the couch until April–kids these days just aren’t into long marathons of British period dramas and/or sitting in one place. After three winters spent mostly indoors, I’ve compiled a list of indoor activities we’ve enjoyed or that have been recommended within a reasonable distance of Somerville to reduce the wear and tear on my house and yours!

Come Inside and Play! Somerville Recreation: This indoor playspace is run by the City of Somerville and is in the basement of the Recreation Department building on Walnut Street, just outside of Union Square. It’s open from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays only, and mostly follows the school opening schedule with a few exceptions.

Somerville RecreationCome Inside and Play! has been our favorite space to play in the winter for the last three seasons.  It’s smaller size–four rooms and a hallway to play in, all on one level–make it manageable for smaller kids. It’s really good for beginning walkers, with only one small set of stairs to navigate. There’s a room dedicated to a sandbox and painting area, which is awesome for folks who would rather their kids make a mess anywhere but their houses (like me!). Kids can play dress-up and engage in several kinds of pretend play. A smaller, quieter room for reading and nursing is nice for infants. Come Inside and Play! doesn’t have a lot of space to get real energy out, but it’s a change of scenery for older kids and a great place to meet up with friends to spare the abuse on your living room. It also works well for folks with new babies and older toddlers, as you don’t need to worry too much about where your older one might wander while you tend to the new baby. Rates are by session or month only, there’s no drop-in option, which also lends itself to a great community atmosphere. If you want to try before you buy, the staff is usually OK with letting you take a look around, but if you’re ready to take the plunge you can purchase a session or monthly pass ($40-$75) online or at the recreation building.

Somerville Family Network Playgroups: These are held at the Cummings School building outside of Union Square and at the Kennedy School near Porter Square. They are free to Somerville residents and a great way to have a regular activity on a weekday morning. Some of the groups are organized by age but most are open to kids from birth to five years old. Each playgroup is about 90 minutes long, and is organized around a free play period followed by a story and circle time. Special groups for dads and grandparents have been added, as well as several groups held in different languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and Nepalese. We’ve been going since my son was about six months old, and he’s enjoyed them pretty consistently thanks to the variety and enthusiasm of the group facilitator we’ve had. The fall session is underway but a new session begins in 2015 and details will be posted in January–keep an eye on the website for registration dates as these groups fill up fast.

Imagine CambridgeImagine Cambridge: Located just off the Fresh Pond rotary, Imagine is bigger than Come Inside and Play! but organized in much the same way. Imagine has a few rooms to play in and also boasts a cool snack area where you can eat your own packed snack or lunch or buy some small snacks there. I think they may have added even more since we last visited last winter, but it was a great find and added variety to our routine. There’s a bouncy house, stage/dress-up area, ball pit, climbing structure and lots of comfy seats for parents–much appreciated. There is also plenty of free parking if you’re not able to navigate your way there via transit. Imagine offers pay-by-visit rates of $7 per child ($5/sibling) or a variety of multi-visit discount card options, so you can really see whether your kid likes it before committing to a membership or season pass. They’re also open seven days a week to beat the weekend boredom blues, with hours varying between 8 a.m.-7 p.m.–check their website for actual daily hours.

Indoor Playground: This space in Watertown is a little out of our normal stomping grounds but I recently tried it out on a rainy afternoon. While I was overwhelmed by the somewhat hands-off approach of their staff, my son loved the place and fell asleep in the car on the way home, which hasn’t happened in at least six months. They have a lot of active spaces, a huge bouncy house/slide and another bouncy house area where he jumped himself to sheer exhaustion. I’d recommend going with a friend so the two of you can take turns supervising the kids, since the room is totally unsupervised and the age range is huge (advertised at zero to six years, but there were some kids that were definitely older than six, so it doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced). On the plus side, they had a HUGE snack area and they sell coffee. If only I’d had back-up to take a minute to make a cup! I’m sure we’ll be back again this winter but will likely try for an earlier morning time when it’s a bit quieter.

PlayPlace Somerville: I haven’t had a chance to try the PlayPlace yet but look forward to checking it out! I met the owner, Alison, when she started the playspace in the Recreation Department building that would become Come Inside and Play. She had a great approach and vision and I can’t wait to see what she’s done with the space. Elyse went to visit it a few months back and wrote about it here.

Boston Children’s Museum and Museum of Science: I’ve written before about the wonders of the local museums, and these are definitely worth the money compared to some of the pay-by-visit places. These two are the memberships we splurge on for the year. At three floors each with tons of exhibits, you can visit several times a month and not see the same thing twice. Both museums have folks working there to interact with the kids, and as my son gets older he is really starting to enjoy the actual science part of the Museum of Science, as opposed to just the “running through the halls at full speed screaming” aspect.

The Museum of Science access from Somerville by bus is pretty great, but if you’re not down with taking transit, you can park for free for under two hours. When the weather is cold or wet, that covered garage can be a godsend. The Children’s Museum is also accessible from the Red, Orange or Green lines if you choose to use transit, which I usually do. It can be a chilly walk of 10-15 minutes through Boston and along the wharf, but parking out there is expensive at best and a challenge on most days. For more tips on these two places, including how to find discounts, check out this piece I wrote for the Beat on having fun with kids in the summer.

KnucklebonesKnucklebones Playspace at the Armory: Now in its third year, Knucklebones will once again be creating a playspace in the hall of Somerville’s gorgeous Arts at the Armory on Monday mornings from January 5- March 30. Open to children eight months to five years old (ages seven and under are allowed on the school holidays of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day), it will run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Knucklebones has great climbing structures, ride-on toys, a ball pit and more, with the bonus of a very attentive staff that takes time to engage with the children. It can be overwhelming for smaller kids–or maybe just the parents of smaller kids–but this spot wore my son out for a good, long time. The 13-week session is $156 per child (siblings $130) and drop-in rates are $15 per child ($12 sibling). Email play@knucklebones.us for details and reservations. They are also looking into creating another playgroup for infants and toddlers, time and location TBD. Watch their website for details.

If you want a preview of what the playspace might be like, be sure to stop by Somerville Local First’s Local is for Lovers Market at the Armory on Sunday, November 30 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and check it out for a suggested donation!

LEGOLAND: Full disclosure: I can see this place from my house but have yet to visit. That said, it’s next on my list. You can get coupons good for a free child’s ticket (with purchase of an adult ticket) in the Lego Club magazine (subscribe through the Lego website or check out the gift shop at LEGOLAND for a copy) to cut down the cost of a first visit. Friends of mine recently purchased a membership, which are available as family packs or individual. Individual memberships for you and your child might make more sense than an annual family membership depending on how often all of you would be attending together and the ages of your children.

During a long winter you can get sick of even the longest list of options, so sometimes we just go to the Cambridgeside Galleria and ride the escalators and get a snack. If you’re into celebrating Christmas, we also found their Santa to be pretty awesome and patient.

Grimmons ParkEven with all these great options, after a while I need to get back outside. What felt positively wretched at the beginning of winter (I’m looking at you, 45 degrees) can seem downright balmy by February. Remember those playgrounds you loathed in the summer for the baking sun? They’re great in the winter. Grimmons Park in Ten Hills has great sunshine and is shielded a bit from the wind, so it’s a four-season favorite for us. I’ve also spent the last two winters stocking up on outdoor gear and base layers for myself and my husband at sales, discount stores, thrift shops and awesome children’s consignment stores like Two Little Monkeys in Somerville and Growing Up in Belmont for my son. I also like to layer my fleece lined running pants under some snow pants so I won’t have to drag my happy child home after 15 minutes.

It’s hard not to miss our gorgeous summer days but with options like these you can’t be sad for too long. We always love to try new things, so feel free to let us know some of your favorite indoor places by leaving a comment!

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6 Responses to Indoor Retreats from the Cold to Keep the Kids Busy

  1. I’m always amazed at the small museums throughout the area that are cheap or free.

    Harvard Natural History Museum is walkable from Somerville and is free before 11am to MA residents every Sunday. MIT museum is often free depending on what is going on and has fun robots, although it’s a little bit of a walk from the Kendall MIT or Central T stop.

    While you are down in Boston in Fort Point (where the Children’s museum is), you can check out the BSA Space at 290 Congress St run by the Boston Society of Architects, which is a small free museum that has cool exhibits that are fairly kid-friendly. You can also bring your lunch and eat in the lobby of 290 Congress, which is open to the public and a welcome respite from loud lunch room at the Children’s Museum and has a small art gallery of local art, which my kids love. Also in Fort Point, there is Grand Circle Travel at 347 Congress Street, which has a large gallery of vintage travel posters which my kids like to check out (even little kids are suspectable to daydreaming about going to Hawaii in the middle of winter with those posters!). Lastly, right on the Fort Point Channel on Congress street is the Tea Party Museum, which is crazy entertaining. The actors get everyone riled up about the tax on tea at a town meeting then you get to run down the gang plank and throw tea in the channel, followed by several 3D videos. They have discounts for local tickets and often run deals on Groupon.