Free Activities for Kids in Northern New Jersey

Two-year-olds are not known for their patience. Ours flits from one activity to the next within minutes, and sometimes, seconds. If she wants me to read a book, she’ll bring it over to me, and even snuggle with me on the bed or the couch. But after a few pages, she takes off happily to grab another book, play with another toy, or run into the other room.

So it’s no wonder I’m still afraid to take her to events or activities that charge an admission fee or require a long-term commitment, such as music or tumbling classes. We’ve gone to trial classes in the past, and usually our toddler is off on her own, ignoring the teacher, or wreaking havoc and causing the other kids to start running around WITH her.

So where does that leave us? Mostly, we go to the park when the weather is good, or play in the backyard. But sometimes, I’d like to do other things.

What kind of cheap or free activities can I find in Northern New Jersey? I accidentally discovered that the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange offers $1 admission on Tuesday afternoons if you show up after 2 p.m.; the zoo closes at 4:30 p.m. That’s ideal for me, as I occasionally have a scheduled Tuesday off from work. And that’s a lot better than the usual $11 adult admission ($8 over the age of 2).

There are some businesses that let your kid run around like a loon in their indoor play areas, but since Emily is a young 2-year-old, I’m not comfortable with letting her crawl around in a play structure by herself, and I’m not keen on going in with her. I’ve done it before, but those things were not meant for adults — and I feel pretty ridiculous. Admission at these places can run $15 and up. Plus, if she hits meltdown mode immediately, it’s a waste of time and money.

So what does that leave? Not too many free activities for a toddler with a short attention span. Luckily, she’s never bored with being outside, so that’s my go-to activity for the summer.

Anyone with a highly active toddler have any suggestions?