Free Summer Time Fun with a Toddler
Last Summer, Satchel was just an infant, so entertainment consisted of him sleeping in the Baby Bjorn while I went about my business. He couldn’t see more than 12 inches away and his world was basically “all boobs all the time.” This Summer, Satchel was a full blown toddler very interested in everything, especially the great outdoors. We had a great time exploring the city and keeping ourselves stimulated and entertained for free. Here’s a breakdown of some of the things we did for your enjoyment/future reference.
The Old Forest in Overton Park
I feel like I am always writing about this fabulous place, but it is such a treasure and hardly anyone uses it. Well that’s not true. I guess the people who use it most often, the “Park Queens,” have made it seem like an undesirable place. But on weekend mornings the park is filled with families, joggers, and dogs. If it weren’t for the empty liquor bottles and used condoms, one could easily gloss over the park’s more illicit uses. I digress though. The storm has somewhat limited our activities in the Old Forest due to the fact that most of the trails are impassable, but we still trudge out every Saturday and Sunday morning. Satchel absolutely loves the Old Forest and it has been so fun taking him and letting him walk the trails. I am amazed at how far he can actually walk before tiring out and asking to be put in the backpack. He is great about staying on the trails and he loves to pick up sticks, rocks, gumballs, flowers, etc. And with so many fallen trees, he has had the opportunity to see the inner workings of the trees. Caterpillars, butterflies, dragonflies, and cicadas have also been on hand (and in hand). And best of all, word has it that Park Services is building a new playground on the west side of the park. Hopefully it’ll be a fancy new fangled one like at Peabody Park.
Peabody Park is our second stop after the Old Forest on weekends. We are usually there too early to see lots of kids but it remains a favorite. (It is also a fun place to visit after work—lots of kids and parents then.) I am often disappointed by the amount of litter, cigarette butts, stray clothing, and cardboard boxes left by the people who sleep in the park. Again I digress. Peabody Park has a great handicapped accessible playground and the swings designed for the handicapped children are a hit with children big and small. They are more like recliners than swings. My husband and I also get a kick out of the turnstyle letters that were put on backwards so that the only discernable word to spell is “war.” Nice. The jewel of Peabody Park is the sprayground. No doubt about that. Once the sun hits at noon the playground equipment is too hot to play on and the sprayground is packed with babies, toddlers, older kids, and parents. It is fun to see the Central Gardens moms in their bikinis, the babies in their swimpers, and plenty of soaking wet people who are fully clothed. (I fall into the latter category.) For some reason Satchel loves water, but not when it is being sprayed at him. We spent many, many hours convincing him that the sprayground was the place to be and he was finally getting a bit bolder about playing, but the storm came and put the sprayground out of business for six weeks. We returned and are indeed back to square one. Satchel likes to look at the water, but not play in it. Maybe next year.
Mud Island is a place that I give very little thought to, like most Memphians, but my husband, who is not from here, REALLY wanted to see it so I begrudgingly obliged. Warren was most interested in seeing the mini Mississippi River (1/2 mile topographical representation) and I figured Satchel would probably enjoy it too. I remember thinking it was pretty cool when I was little. To save money, we decided to walk across the bridge instead of riding the monorail and it was actually a very nice walk. Satchel liked looking over the edge and it was amazing how many birds we saw. Once on the island, Satchel immediately wanted to get in the mini Mississippi. He was drenched in no time so I went ahead and put him in his swimsuit. He had a blast playing in the water and we were pleasantly surprised to see several other families there. I would highly recommend taking your toddler to check this out. Mud Island also has a great museum that my coworker spent half an hour detailing to me, but it costs $8 and is four stories tall (no thanks). Also you should know that the snack bar is really lacking in healthy food options, so pack some snacks! Overall a fun place to visit. Combine it with a trolley ride and a visit to the court square fountains and/or Peabody to see the ducks and you’ll have a whole day of almost free fun. (Having the energy for all of this may require a nap in the park or the renting of a hotel room though!)
Germantown Civic Center
I never would have discovered this place if Marlinee hadn’t been rendered homeless by the storm and temporarily relocated to Germantown. The Civic Center has a really fancy water park, an indoor and outdoor pool. It’s got a very country clubby atmosphere but is not terribly snooty. Memberships are pricey but a much better deal than the $10 per person per visit price tag you pay at the door. However, Satchel and I were sneaky and got in for free on our one visit. (If you go, look like you belong and maybe you can get the five finger deal as well!) I wasn’t surprised that Satchel hated the water park since it was the sprayground times 100 as far as jetting water and general chaos, but I was surprised by how much he loved the indoor pool. It was very calming to him and it was the most relaxed I have seen him in the water all summer. Once we spent an hour in there he was ready for the outdoor pool. He even went so far as to jump off the edge into my arms. It was great. It was also fun watching him try to “borrow” other people’s “floaties” and charm potato chips from girls at the snack pavilion. If it weren’t for the 30 minute drive we would be there much more often.
Little Gym is something that I have wanted to do, but have never actually been able to commit to. Marlinee and Julie have been going for a year and always talk about how great it is, but I’ve never wanted to get up and drive there on a Saturday morning for the toddler class. (Saturday mornings are reserved for the Old Forest!) But this summer I had a few days off so I decided to take Satchel to the Friday class that Marlinee and Julie attend with their kids. Since it was our first class it was considered a trial and was free. (Since Marlinee got the times wrong, we got to attend two classes instead of just one!) The Little Gym does not look like much. It’s basically just a room with a bunch of mats, but everything is kiddie sized, padded, and really, really fun. There’s actually structured activities that the teachers lead, but the kids are free to run around and ignore them if they choose. Satchel chose to ignore them mostly. He had a blast and I will definitely consider actually signing him up one day. (For now, I think I’ll stop by for a free trial class every few months!)
Ok this isn’t technically free unless someone gives you tickets, but tickets are given away all the time. Since I work for the utility, I got free tickets as a thank you for our storm restoration efforts. (Seats on the grassy knoll are only $5 so it is a totally affordable activity even without free tickets.) Warren and I took Satchel to the last home game and sat on the grassy knoll. It was fabulous. Satchel could run around and there were tons of other kids there. We even had nice weather! Older kids entertained themselves by rolling down the knoll and there was a playground, a climbing wall, and even a bungee jumping activity. The redbird’s mascot also made a few appearances on the knoll and judging from the pack of children pursuing him, he was very fun to chase and hug. If you take a stroller, it is really easy to sneak in your own food and drinks.
Mothersville is the ideal place for new moms and babies, but it is also fun for toddlers (especially when the owner’s kids are there too). There is a bright play area with lots of toys, space to run around in, and racks and racks of clothes to hide in. Mothersville also provides a nice comfortable place to sit and chat and nurse if you so desire. There’s also cold water and hot tea. Best of all, Mothersville now has a resource center with alternative parenting books and magazines for you to read while you relax and watch your kids play. And of course, if you do have some money, feel free to shop and sign up for classes while you are there!