Hey small town folks — this one’s for you! Christi from the site formerly known as small.town.fun wrote up a bunch of excellent suggestions to get you through the good days and the rotten-weather days with your small child in Iowa. Here are some great ideas of what to do with your baby or toddler in Des Moines, whatever the weather.
Stroll Around in Des Moines
On a nice day, push your stroller around Gray’s Lake or Raccoon River Park’s paved trails. This is a great way to meet other moms and get some exercise in. It’s perfect for those of you who have early risers, and you can hit one early and the other later in the day. Both have playgrounds, but Raccoon River has separate facilities for smaller kids, is newer and is semi-covered. It also features sprinklers in the summer and a very nice sand pit.
Playgrounds for nasty weather days
The Playground For Kids in Ankeny (open 10am – 8pm Mondays, hours vary other days) is an indoor romper room that kindly features a toddler area for kids 6mos – 3yrs. They have foam blocks and such that small children can climb/lean/lay on. Check the site for rates and hours. Backyard Adventures is a playground showroom that also offers open play times (10am – 5pm) during the week (closed weekends). It’s not ideal for little, little ones, but it is kid-friendly, has the hugest collection of Melissa & Doug paraphernalia I’ve ever seen and is populated by other moms. Check the site for hours and rates for open play (nothing on weekends, sorry!). You can bring lunch to eat in their lunchroom, use their refrigerator, and they even have paper plates/utensils if you need them.
Hit the Mall
Jordan Creek Mall and play area are fun whatever the weather. After a baby, you learn pretty quickly to only care what other people think when you’re actually doing something wrong. That is why spending an entire morning or afternoon at the mall is okay. Let your little one play with the offerings at Pottery Barn, show them the computer games and music at the Apple store, check out minnows at Scheels Sporting Goods, nurse in the Nursing Rooms (I think there are at least three), eat at the food court Subway and “fake” shop while they nap in their stroller. (I say “fake” shop because I managed to run my credit card up into the millions by engaging in this very behavior at Target during my son’s early days. That said, Target is a great place to entertain very young children.) They also have a Mommy Movie on Tuesdays. PS. Do not under any lack of sleep bad decision-making, take your precious gift to the play area on a Friday night. To quote my husband on our one ill-fated attempt, “It’s like Lord of the Flies in there.”
Visit our famous Iowa State Fair
The Iowa State Fairgrounds (pictured above with enormous pig!) are an under-utilized, but ideal place to take little ones. Paved sidewalks for strollers, lots of grassy area and there’s usually some animal show or another going on. It’s free in the off-season and opens at 8am. During the Fair, go during the early morning hours to get a close-to-the-farm experience and to avoid crowds. Discount tickets available. Evenings feature free entertainment, so grab some other parents and head out for a babysitter-free night on the town. PS. We love to hit the area county fairs. Most are free, have a ton of kiddie rides and sell good food at half or less the price of the big state fair. Try the Warren County Fair in Indianola for starters.
Listen to stories at the Library
The Des Moines Public Library system has a storytime nearly every day of the week if you know how to find it. The Franklin Avenue Toddler Storytime is one of the more popular locations, and they tend to go all out. It’s nothing to walk in and see Clifford the Big Red Dog, zoo animals or a dancing dog. Monthly schedules are posted on the library’s kid pages. Online books are available as well as kids activities. For moms who can’t really go out to a book club, the DMPL offers online book clubs, as well.
Splash at the Pool
On a sunny day, stick your toes in the water at one of the area wading pools – Ashby Park and Union Park being the two faves. It’s a terrific place to meet and meet up with other moms. Many have shady areas, but you have to claim a spot early. I’ve found that Legion Park wading pool gets a lot of shade in the afternoon and is ideal for moms trying to kill those last few hours before Dad gets home. Ashby and Union stay open until 7pm, but most every other closes at 4pm. By the way, one of the oldest pools in Des Moines, Ashworth, features a big pool and a pretty decent wading pool. It’s not as fancy as the new Aquatic Centers, but it’s a great pool and a great time – children under 3 are free. Seasonal passes are usually a great deal.
Get busy at the Science Center
The Toddler Town at The Science Center opens at 9am in the summer, with a storytime in the morning. Check the rates and hours before you visit. This is a great area for small children – it’s open, there’s seating for parents with a few books and toys (bring your favorites along). SCI offers daily programs for kids of all ages, camps, sleepovers and even a full-time preschool. Members and children under two get in free. A family membership prices are reasonable if you’ll come a few times.
Is there a ball game today?
Des Moines is home to the Chicago Cubs’ farm team – the Iowa Cubs. The park is one of the best in the US, is no smoking and features picnic-table seating for families. Babies are just as comfortable in the stands, but small kids LOVE the picnic area because they can get up and move around. Purchase a Bonus Book for discounted adult general admission and sign kids up for the ui– includes tickets to seven special home games for $15. Children under 3 do not need a ticket if they don’t need a seat.
Wander around a Bookstore
When my son was very little we took him to the local bookstore. All the time. We got our fill of the board books, good magazines and coffee. The kids crawled around the carpeted children’s area while we flipped through the latest mags and drank much-needed coffee. Now that he’s older, we do the same exact thing at Barnes & Noble. They have a Thomas the Train set to die for and he’ll play forever without a peep. He’s learned so much about sharing the toys and when he gets bored, we read or visit the snack area. Check for storytimes and book clubs for moms who need some “me” time.
Look for other monkeys at the Zoo
Blank Park Zoo isn’t the largest zoo, which makes it ideal for little kids. It’s also hilly which makes it ideal for new moms looking to get exercise. They’re always adding new exhibits, but at this age, it’s more about being outside – shady areas and indoor exhibits, too. Under three are free, adults are $14, big kids are $8 and a family membership starts at $89/yr (which works at other zoos, too) and can be bundled for savings with the Science Center.
Wander around the Art Center
I love the Des Moines Art Center – we like to head there in the morning for a light breakfast and enjoy this beautiful facility and collection. Family activities every second Saturday are FREE but require sign up.
Share a snack at the Farmers Market
Downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market is so wonderful when you’re up at 5am every day with a kid who won’t let you sleep. They don’t get started until 7am, but being there early is one of the greatest gifts – it gets absolutely packed and irritating later. Get first dibs on a breakfast burrito, coffee, veggies, cookies, free-range eggs and meat. And be home by 8am. There’s always festivals, etc. in conjunction with the market, but they require you to attend a little later.
Explore the rest of the state
Try this quick list as a jumping-off place to find area attractions and day trips. Be aware, many towns in Iowa are virtually shut down on Sundays. Try Walnut for Sunday antiquing; Boone for beautiful parks, trains and family eats; or Iowa City for college campus art, bookstores, shopping and eats. There are also so many recreational areas and parks nearby.
It looks to me like there are at least three weeks of fun outings here. Thanks again Christi!