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The Best Denver-Area Activities for Toddlers

From recreation centers to farms and more, find something fun to do with your little one here.

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Anyone with babies and toddlers knows that the simplest outing often seems tantamount to a 30-man, seven-month expedition to Mount Everest. It’s definitely easier to hunker down on the couch, avoiding the risk of missed naps, public meltdowns and all that schlepping. (Why don’t pack mules come standard issue when you leave the hospital?) And yet, another day of nonstop Between the Lions, Little Einsteins and Sesame Street feels a little like punishment. It’s time to get out with your toddler!

Get With the System

Getting everything packed for a day out is definitely a challenge, but once you have a “go-bag” organized, it’s just a matter of restocking it each morning. When outings become routine, kids learn what to expect and are much more helpful, or at least cooperative.

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“It’s only hard the first few times,” says Brianne Cummings, mom of Kaylee, 4, Cole, 2, and Eli, 3 months. “Sometimes it takes as long to get out the door as the activity itself, but it’s worth it. I”ve found that my kids have learned the rules. Plus, people are usually willing to help when they see you wrestling kids, bags and strollers.”

Keep Expectations Low

“When you’re a brand new mom, or you have a toddler and a newborn, even getting into the car seems overwhelming,” says Melinda Coburn, mom of Adaira, 3, and Phoenix, 4. “If you can just do one small thing, like the half hour storytime at the library, everyone feels so much better.”

Become a Member

When you have a membership to a museum or the zoo, you can make it a regular outing, only visiting for a few hours each time. See something different each time, then go home in time for naps. You don’t have to feel pressured to stay all day to get your money’s worth, and you can pick a different membership or two each year. Also, most venues offer additional guest passes so you can occasionally include friends or grandparents.

Team Up

Go with a friend so there is someone to chase down escapees or take kiddos to the bathroom. You get the bonus of some adult conversation, even if it’s in spurts.

Look for Free Offerings

If you’re like many parents, you’re highly motivated by a great deal, and there’s no better deal than free. There are more than one thousand free days annually at Denver metro area museums, gardens, theaters and other cultural attractions, made possible by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Find their monthly calendar of freebies at scfd.org.

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Get the Scoop

Colorado Parent publishes a calendar of family-friendly events and activities (see p. 43) and sends out a free weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe at www.coloradoparent.com and stay in the know.

Toddler-Friendly Destinations

With all the options out there, you and your little ones can plan a cultural and social calendar to rival any debutante. Your local recreation center and library alone can keep you busy nearly seven days a week. Here are some fun options for toddler outings.

Libraries

Everything at your local library is free. Regular story times target different age groups and usually include an activity and a snack. During the summer, libraries sponsor special programs and events several times a week. Many libraries consistently rotate interactive displays of toys and visuals just for their youngest patrons.

Recreation Centers

Your local recreation center offers reasonably priced classes for kids starting at age 2½, as well as festivals, special programs and mom’s groups. Many also have free indoor play areas for rainy days (favorites: Paul Derda in Broomfield and The Apex Center in Arvada). “Kids classes are where we”ve made most of our friends,” says Cummings. “The parents visit each week while our kids are taking classes. You get to know each other, sign up for more classes together, plan a picnic or outing with the kids—and these are all people from my neighborhood.”

Museums

Farms

Give your little urbanites and suburbanites a chance to get cozy with animals and agriculture at one of our local working farms. While many of the programs are designed for school-aged children, several have activities for tots and all have animals and picnic areas.

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Parks and Gardens

Water Parks

Water Parks can be intimidating when you’re two feet tall. For younger guests, we recommend Bay Aquatic Park in Broomfield, Splash Aquatic Park in Golden, Pirates Cove in Englewood and Deer Creek Pool in Littleton. These water parks are smaller, less expensive and have contained areas for non- and beginning swimmers. “My kids are happy as long as I keep lots of snacks on hand and they can get wet,” says April Summers, mom of Sawyer, 4, and Chandler, 1. “We spend all summer at splash parks and fountains.”

Favorite splash parks include Surfside Spray Park in Lakewood, Ralston Central Park and Splash Pad in Arvada, H2Odyssey in Denver and Centennial Center Park.

Music

Colorado Symphony’s Petite Musique program introduces children ages 2-6 to the joy of live music. A 16-piece orchestra and narrator perform an interactive program incorporating storytelling, singing and movement with music. Each year the CSO introduces a new program (this year was Peter Rabbit). I took my kids to this every year when they were little and their jaws always dropped when the instruments started playing.

The Denver Brass offers Brassical Adventures for tiny tots, 45-minute concerts that enrich early brain development and musical awareness. Participants can play a tuba, trombone, trumpet and horn at the Brass Petting Zoo immediately following performances.

City Park hosts free jazz concerts every Sunday evening in the summer. While not specifically for toddlers, these are fun family events where kids can get their groove on to great music. Local food trucks provide your picnic, so just bring a blanket and bug spray. Many suburban cities offer their own free concerts in the park, so check your city’s website.

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