Whether sending your older kids back-to-school brings you tears of joy or a bit of sadness, the minis in your crew might not know what to do once their built-in playmates have headed back to class. Before plunking them down to watch another episode of Sesame Street while you ponder how to keep them busy, scroll through our top ten list of toddler outings that are sure to entertain the wee ones left behind this school year.

photo: Chris Schmich via Flickr

1. Flock to a Farm. Corral your tots to the farm and help them make friends with animals. Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue has ponies, sheep, goats, chickens and pigs to occupy your kidlets with, plus there’s plenty of run-around room and a playground that’s perfect for burning off some of their extra energy. In Redmond, Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park is a great place for little ones to explore. There are farm critters, grassy fields, kid-friendly trails, picnic benches and two small play areas for them to run around on. If your wee ones would like carnival rides to go with their animal fun, try Toddler Weekdays at Remlinger Farms this September and enjoy carousel rides, the Tiny Tot Train, hay jumping and more. (Psst… the rides are all covered, so you don’t have to miss out on the fun when the rain returns.)

photo: Kellie Fell

2. Discover a Sweet Escape. Being the kiddo still at home can seem like a bum deal, but as Nana and Papa always say “it’s nothing a sweet treat can’t fix.” After sending your school kids off to the bus stop, why not sugarcoat your minis day with a trip to one of our favorite donut shops? If confections before nap time are a no-go, then grab something delish at one of these cupcake spots, candy shops or ice cream, gelato or froyo parlors.

photo: Barb Watson via Flickr

3. Flick their Switch. Bond with your bitty ones by taking them on a special kid-date to the movies. Score tickets to a matinée at an AMC theater and you’ll pay under $8 a person on admission before noon – a sweet deal if you’re hangin’ little movie-goers with short attention spans. Century Federal Way, Century Point Ruston, Century Olympia and Bellevue’s Lincoln Square Cinemas offer discount tickets on Tuesdays, as well as early bird prices before 1 p.m. If you’re looking to catch a flick with a baby in tow, check out the special Thursday morning Mommy and Me movies at Lincoln Square Cinemas at 10 a.m., or score a seat in one of the soundproof cry rooms the Varsity Theatre in the U-District. 

photo: Rachael Brandon

4. Wing It. We bet your little ducklings will go quakers visiting web-footed friends while their older siblings are gone for the day. Take your tots to explore Washington Park Arboretum’s 200 acres of trails amidst breathtaking gardens and fall foliage leading to lily padded ponds and plenty of their little bird buddies. Bellevue’s Mercer Slough is Lake Washington’s largest wetland and a perfect place to find feathered friends along the 7-plus miles of trails and boardwalks. For your tykes who need time to play, bring fowl and fun together by hunting for ducks around Green Lake’s stroller-friendly path followed with a trip to the playground afterwards, or try fido-friendly Medina Park with its two duck ponds, trails and kiddie play area.

photo: yancy9 via Flickr

5. Book Excitement. Comfort your kiddos loneliness with the kind of adventure and fun that can only be found in a good book. Head over to one of the Seattle Public Library or King County Library locations and cozy up together in the children’s book section, or check out any of their storytimes geared for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Like your reading time with a little adventure? Get on board with The Center for Wooden Boats and hear stories read aloud on a real tugboat, or try Seward Park Audubon Center’s weekly Tales and Trails event where tots hear stories then head out on a hike afterwards. For your creative kiddo, you can try the Small Frye Story Time at the Frye Art Museum. They’ll hear books read by storytellers from the Seattle’s Children’s Theatre followed with an artist-led craft project.

photo: Rachael Brandonn

6. Tour a Museum. Take your tyke on his or her very own field trip to one (or all) of Seattle’s kid-friendly museums. Pint-sized paleontologists can discover cool dinosaur collections and artifacts dug up from our state’s ancient past at the Burke Museum. Admission is always free for kids ages 0-4, and for everyone the first Thursday of the month. Take time with your mini music lover at EMP’s Sound Lab and have a jam session together on The Big Drum, keyboards or with electric guitars. Swim with your little fishes over to the Seattle Aquarium and meet local sea life and stop by the marine mammal exhibit to experience live feedings twice daily. Fly away with your wingmen to the Museum of Flight and discover cockpits, spacecraft and the new KidsPort play area inside Aviation Pavilion. Little ones always love to explore and discover at museums made just for them. Seattle’s Children’s Museum and KidsQuest Museum on the Eastside both offer plenty of activities that encourage little ones to get hands on, plus daily story times, music, science and art classes you can join in for no additional fees.

photo: Rachael Brandon

7. Park It. Little ones love to run around and play as much as their older siblings do, so getting out to a park is bound to keep their back-to-school blues away. If your local tot lot has been played out this summer, why not explore a new playground outside your ‘hood? Try Crossroads Park in Bellevue or Mercer Island’s Luther Burbank Beach Park – both have toddler play structure, slides and big toys geared for little ones. Head north and try castle-themed Saint Edwards State Park in Kenmore. (Psst… just be sure to remember your Discover Pass to avoid paying the $10 parking fee), or drive south to Lake Meridian Park in Kent for a lakeside playground with swings, climbing structures and a pirate ship. Want to stick closer to home? You can’t go wrong with Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill where you can enjoy panoramic views, dodecahedron climbing structures and a toddler play area or check out the new playground just for tykes at Bellevue’s new and improved Downtown Park. Need other ideas? Click here

photo: Tutta Bella

8. Fill Their Plate. When in doubt, stepping out for a bite to eat is an easy way to fuel your kiddos contentment. Ballard’s Firehouse Coffee is a cozy spot to grab a sandwich, snack or a cup of Joe plus you can take your goodies back to the enclosed playroom filled with toys for your crew. Serendipity Café in Magnolia offers a kid’s menu with corn dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken tenders, plus a sweet little play nook with toys, books and puzzles. Vios Café in Capitol Hill has Greek fare and kid faves including mac ‘n’ cheese and spaghetti, plus a kid area to play in. Tutta Bella is another family-friendly spot that offers authentic Neapolitan pizza and an awesome kids’ menu in five unique locations around town. Here, kids will love sitting down for on their favorite meals and getting served Wikki Stix or even their own dough to play with while they wait for their food.

photo: Jennifer B. Davis

9. Take a Hike. There’s no better way to cure the back-to-school blues than a refreshing fall hike, and lucky for us there’s miles of wooded trails and beach walks practically just outside our front doors. Stroller-friendly Seward Park offers a 2.5 mile looping trail that follows along Lake Washington with a playground and picnic stops if your tyke needs a break. Carkeek Park has miles of paths with meadows, wetlands, forest and beaches to explore. (Psst…be sure to stop along Piper’s Creek and cheer on the salmon making their way up-stream). Snoqualmie Falls has a short but steep trail that’ll have you and your tiny sidekick breathless as you trek through old growth forest from the top of the falls to the river’s edge. Kids also love Discovery Park, where they can stroll the scenic Loop Trail, hike down to a lighthouse, or take a walk on the beach

photo: WiggleWorks Kids

10. Go Play Indoors. When the weather switches back to fall, take play indoors. PlayDate SEA in the south Lake Union area has three stories of indoor climbing, slides, tubes and obstacles, plus a little play area just for the three and under set. Lil’ Diggers Playtime at Sandbox Sports is a great way to keep sand in their toes as we slip away from summer with their giant indoor sandbox play space filled with shovels, pails, balls, trucks and slides. (Hint: be sure go for the second session and avoid the crowds). OmCulture tot gym has playtime for the under 5 crew with swings, balance beams, gymnastics rings and trampolines. On the Eastside and South Sound, WiggleWorks Kids is filled with soft moveable climbing structures, slides and ball room geared for Littles under four-feet tall or go for an adventure and give these three Eastside play spaces a try or check out the new We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym.  

Do you have a favorite place to take your tots when the big kids are in school? Tell us in the comments below!

— Rachael Brandon

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