3 Free and Low-Key Ways to Beat the Heat This Summer With Your Toddler

I don’t know about you, but this weather makes me cranky. All I have to these days is step outside for a minute or two and my eyeballs fog up. It’s just too hot. If left to my own devices I would simply stay inside, curled up next to the air conditioner with a glass of iced tea and a magazine. But I’m not left to my own devices. Not even once. Not ever. Not even when I have to pee. But I digress.

My toddler demands constant activity, novelty, and regardless of the weather, grueling physical activity. Don’t get me wrong, the heat makes him cranky too. Maybe even more cranky than it makes me. Or maybe he’s just more demonstrative. But maybe not. (Have I mentioned I hate the heat?) But while the air conditioner might amuse him for a moment (“buttons!”) and a magazine might be fun to rip up for a while (“make airplane, Mommy!”) it’s not going to get you through the day. So, what do you do with your toddler when the outside world resembles the surface of the sun?

Some might suggest the beach, a water park or the local swimming pool. And to them we say, thank you for your suggestions but, no. These are things you might try as a family, when your husband is around to help (or at least to complain to) but whoever tells you that you can handle it on your own, that it’ll even be fun, is a lunatic. Or a better mother than me. One or the other.

So, assuming that you, like me, have sworn off the outdoors until at least October and also have a tiny human currently hanging off the strap of your tank top yelling “piggy back!” here are some realistic, low-key and (I’ve saved the best for last) free ways to beat the heat with your toddler this summer.

1. Barnes and Noble

While most large bookstores have gone the way of the dinosaur, Barnes and Noble’s doors are still open. (But close them, please, you’re letting out the air conditioning.) My son and I have spent many hours in this magical place and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. What, you ask, is there to do with a toddler in a bookstore? Read on.

I’ll begin with the obvious. Most Barnes and Nobles have a well-stocked children’s section with plenty of board books your toddler probably doesn’t have at home. And yes, I know that reading books is entertaining for about 30 sections (maybe a minute if you find a book with Elmo in it) before your toddler just becomes a tiny force for destruction and mayhem. You’ll notice the public library is not on this list. But it’s a good place to start.

Once you’ve made an appropriate mess of the book section, move on to the toys. In what I can only assume is an effort to stay afloat, Barnes and Noble now has shelves and shelves of toys, many of them geared toward toddlers. Of course, you can’t take them out of the packaging but so many of these toys are the kind you’d never buy with a ten foot pole (if you and your ten foot pole happened to be out buying things together) but that your child is drawn inexorably to. And they all say “try me!” right there on the packaging. You’ve got to take them at their word.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Barnes and Noble has a cafe. A Starbucks cafe. Need I say more?

2. Public Transportation

Okay, hear me out. I know that, up until this moment, you have considered the public transit system in your area as simply a means of transportation (perhaps not even for you, if you have a car) but it truly can be so much more.

We’ll begin with the basics: it’s air conditioned. The minute those subway or bus or monorail doors open and that cool, processed air wafts out you know you’ve found your chariot to heaven. And yes, during rush hour, it’s a mass of sweaty bodies and tinny music from someone else’s headphones (how are they not deaf?) but you’re not traveling at rush hour. Rush hour is when you are patiently waiting at home for your husband to come back so you can fling your cranky child at his head and go pour yourself a glass of iced tea. No, you’re traveling in the off hours, the plenty-of-seats-available hours, the room-to-look-out-the-window hours.

If your toddler is anything like mine, just the fact of being on the train or bus might be a enough for a while. (What is it with kids and vehicles?) But if that doesn’t catch his attention for long enough, try looking out the window. If it’s a bus or elevated train, there’s sure to be enough to see to fill some time. If it’s a subway, there are still all kinds of goings-on at each station, weird graffiti whipping by on darkened tunnels, and even the odd rat to hold your little one’s interest.

Bring a snack, a book, some toys. Let him stand on the seat to look out the window. Let him try to stand up in the aisle holding on to the pole (with you spotting him, of course). If you have somewhere to go that you can get to via public transportation, great! If not, just get off whenever you want, get back on in the opposite direction and head home. Even if you use public transportation with your toddler every day, he’ll enjoy the playfulness (inspired by desperation) that you bring to the aimless ride.

3. The Mall

So, you maybe be thinking: what is my toddler going to do at a mall? I’m not raising a tiny Valley girl. This may or may not be true, however even the nerdiest toddler can find plenty to do at the air conditioned oasis known as the shopping mall.

First of all, malls are huge. Most of them anyway. There’s tons of space to just wander around. Your little one can tire himself out just toddling down hallways and inspecting interesting floor tiles. It’s true that, as he goes, there might be quite a few things he probably shouldn’t touch (why are there electrical outlets on the floor??) but there’s so much to see, so can probably just nudge him in another direction and he’ll take off running. Or maybe this is a good time to practice hand holding. But probably not.

Have a snack at the food court (bring your own if you want to stick to the completely free outing). Dip into a toy store (or any store really). Let your toddler hang out in the stroller and look around as you walk about aimlessly. Strike up a conversation with an old lady in workout gear (why are there so many of those at malls?). Any number of things are sure to pass the time.

So pack up that diaper bag, unfold that stroller and get on out there. The air conditioning awaits.