ExploraTots: I just found out about ExploraTots and am happily spreading the word because it is a fantastic program. It’s well-organized with lots of friendly, knowledgeable staff and loads of activities. We attended a dragonfly event at Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary. They had 4-5 stations with a variety of activities – coloring dragonfly wings and making a dragonfly with clothespins and pipe cleaners, live dragonflies and bugs in jars to explore with magnifying glasses (and dragonfly tattoos), trays of pond water filled with various live creatures, a sustainable bee project with free wildflower seeds, and more. The kids listened to a story about dragonflies and then we went on a walk and tried to catch some with nets. Along the way, we cleaned out a birdhouse and learned about their habits. We caught bugs, frogs, and tadpoles. When we returned from the walk, we roasted hot dogs at a fire pit. Incredibly educational, fun, and FREE. Crosby Farm Regional Park hosts ExploraTots the first and third Wednesdays from June to August (and year round at Lake Phalen Center).
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: We took advantage of their free third Monday deal, as did many others, but the Arboretum is so spread out with lots of paths that it never felt crowded. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place. We enjoyed the gorgeous weather, but even at the height of summer the forested paths and shade make it bearable. The kids loved the maze, the rose garden, and the sculpture garden. The Arboretum has a fantastic treehouse exhibit this summer, making it all the more lovely and kid-friendly. We walked with the kids in strollers but you can also drive the Three-Mile Drive. Take a picnic lunch, find a spot in the shade, and enjoy the wonderful sights and sounds that surround you. Our kids caught tadpoles, smelled the roses, climbed trees, and watched baby geese playing.
Nature Centers: We visited Dodge Nature Center, Tamarack Nature Center, and Carl Kroenig Interpretative Center, all of which have fun family-friendly events, but there are lots of other nature centers in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. Most have weekly or monthly programs with hands-on activities, animals, discovery walks, and other fun events for the kids. The pictures below are from Discovery Hollow at Tamarack where kids can climb hay bales, play in the water, build forts, and hang out in a hobbit house.
Parks: How about a storywalk? Lebanon Hills host storywalks and various other family events throughout the month. Washington County Parks are free on the first Tuesday of the month, which in August coincides with their Story Stroll. Saturdays they have Campfire Programs with presentations on animals, bugs, and various other topics. The state parks throughout Minnesota host plenty of toddler-friendly events throughout the year, such as the Family Fun Day at Sibley State Park. The I Can! Program allows families to try various activities, such as camping, mountain biking, or climbing, for free or practically free with equipment provided. The parks throughout the Twin Cities also have movies and music events throughout the summer.
Playgrounds and Splash Pads: Some of our favorite playgrounds include Wabun at Minnehaha Park (splash pad and handicap accessible), Mattocks, Maddie’s Place Playground at Bielenberg Sports Complex (splash pad and handicapped accessible), and Holly Tot Lot (perfect for younger kids), but there are many more! Best playground: the one within walking distance from your house!
Fishing: Lake Phalen hosts Family Fishing Night the first Wednesday of the month. Fort Snelling State Park hosts a Fishing Friday event with equipment provided. The DNR has a great page with lots of information on fishing in MN.
Geocaching: We’re new to geocaching but that’s not a problem in Minnesota where you can find loads of beginner geocaching courses and free GPS kits at select state parks. New this year, your family can collect wildflower and pollinator cards.