It's August and you're hot. The kids are hot, too, and the familiar whine of "I'm bored!" is coming from the living room. But you're not taking them anywhere outside when the heat index is 100 degrees. So what can you do that's free, air-conditioned and fun? We have some solutions for you.
1. The library.
Most people will go to the library, look for some books and leave. Why not stay for a bit? Our library offers a small indoor play area for kids with puzzles and board books. There are also comfortable pillows and couches. Instead of just picking out books on the go, park yourself for a bit and stay awhile. We like to explore a new shelf each time we go. I plop myself in front of a row of picture books and look at a bunch with my 4-year-old. Quiet, cool and educational. Can't beat that!
2. The mall.
Some malls are awesome enough to have an indoor play area. Not the one near me, unfortunately. So what do I do when it's too hot to go anywhere else? I create a scavenger hunt in the mall! This is best with another family so that you can scavenge in teams — one adult with several kids. Before we go, I come up with a list of random things we need to find. That list can include a perfume sample, a signature of a veteran, a picture with someone wearing the hat of local sports team, a napkin from an eatery in the food court. It can take a good hour to find everything, and if you're so generous, you can even give each kid 3 or 4 dollars to buy something small from Claire's or Spencer's (as part of the items on the scavenger hunt of course). It's a cheap, fun, innovative activity that your kids will surely beg to do again.
3. The grocery store.
Bear with me on this one. Many kids love the grocery store. Just say the words "driving cart" to my kids and they start to go bonkers. Add the plus side of me doing my shopping, and we kill two birds with one stone. I like to involve my kids in the shopping, too; I tell them we need to spend less than $50, and my older kids scan the shelves and mentally add up what's in our cart so far. For my younger kids, a game of I Spy keeps them occupied ("Find the cereal with a blue box with a bird on it! That's the one we need!") Their favorite part? The lobster tank! Heck, it's almost like going to the aquarium, although these lobsters aren't so lucky ...
4. The doctor's office.
Gone are the days of floral wallpaper, dim lighting and faded magazines. Kids' doctors offices today are where it's at. My kids love going to the dentist more than Chuck E. Cheese's, thanks to the movie theater when you walk in, the arcade games, the stickers and the toys. You even get to pick your flavor toothpaste. It's become so treasured that my kids look forward to a trip to the dentist as one of the highlights of our summer. (It might be weird if you show up there even without an appointment, though ...)
5. Target (or your preferred big box store).
I often tell my kids if I could live in any store, I'd live in Target. We then spend the whole trip talking about which section we'd sleep in, and what we'd do with our time. Also, Target is awesome.
6. Free museums in your neighborhood.
In every city, there are free things to do that are often overlooked because the exhibits are missing the bells and whistles we're accustomed to, but these places make great low-key activities for kids when it's just too hot to go anywhere else. Science museums, nature centers, you name it. My town has an awesome park for kids. Right next door in the community center is a free science explorium for kids. Free, air-conditioned and in one room, its the perfect way to spend the hottest hour or two of the day.
OK, this isn't exactly inside, but these free outdoor sprinkler parks are perfect for hot weather. The kids love them, and you don't have the expense and guilt of taking them to a water park and needing to spend all day there. They're popping up all over the country. So once you've exhausted your indoor options, grin and bear it for the kids and head outside.