It doesn't matter if you're a parent, grandparent, babysitter, or caregiver, if you have a toddler, you know that sometimes you just absolutely have to get out of the house.
In Charlotte, there's no shortage of things to do with toddlers. We have a number of great spraygrounds and similar activities to stay cool in the summer, and lots of public playgrounds that are good for burning off some energy.
But what do you do if it's raining, if it's hot or cold, or if you just feel like relaxing indoors a little? If you're just absolutely over applying sunscreen, here's a look at some of Charlotte's best indoor activities for toddlers - all of which are either free or under $10.
Some of these activities you can do whenever you want, some are scheduled events that happen once or twice a week. But there's at least one thing on this list that's available every single day of the week.
ImaginOn is consistently ranked among the best kid's libraries in the nation, and with good reason. It's easy to occupy a toddler for a few hours here and not even take advantage of everything they have to offer.
The main level of ImaginOn has a "story lab" where kids explore interactive, hands-on exhibits that deal with not only reading but also science and technology.
The main attraction is, of course, the Spangler Library, which is packed with toddler-friendly books and activities (this is also where ImaginOn's story time happens).
Storytime sessions at ImaginOn are actually conducted in a nice little open space by the library's windows, instead of in a small room like many libraries, so they're worth checking out if you've never been.
ImaginOn also has a wooden trolley kids can play on, plus lots of traditional toys and board games to enjoy too.
Several publications have in fact ranked ImaginOn as the number one children's library in the country, so this should be a priority on your list for Charlotte toddler activities, especially if you've never been (and especially since it's free).
300 E. 7th St.
Perfect Balance is a gymnastics facility located on Monroe Road, but for one hour each day, it's toddler central.
"Tot Time" each day is non-instructional playtime in the main gym. It's mainly geared towards parents just looking for somewhere to play in a safe, clean environment indoors with their toddlers.
Perfect Balance sets out basic mats and various climbing equipment for parents to play with their toddler. They set up large foam pits for toddlers that can crawl through that are sure to have them worn out when playtime is over, and there are no hard corners or edges to worry about.
There are no Perfect Balance instructors on the floor during this time, so parents are responsible for their kids (in fact, parents need to sign a waiver before they enter noting just this before their kids can participate).
No registration is needed to join in Perfect Balance's Tot Time each week. Parents just show up any weekday between 11:30 a.m and 12:30 p.m. and enjoy a little gym time with their toddler.
Perfect Balance Training Center Members can bring a non-registered friend and enjoy Tot Time for free.
8850 Monroe Road
Cost: $5 (or $25 for a monthly pass)
Sky Zone Toddler Time
Sky Zone Charlotte is a pretty impressive indoor trampoline park.
The facility itself has an open jump area, a SkySlam (basketball) court, a Foam Pit for jumpers to dive in to, and scheduled ultimate dodgeball games. Of course, none of those seem too toddler-friendly, so that's why Sky Zone in Charlotte has a special jump time just for little ones.
"If they can walk, they can jump" Sky Zone says, so don't worry about your little one being too little. All Sky Zone Toddler Time activities are specifically designed for children, so there are a few rules. Jumpers during this time must be under 40 inches in height, all toddlers must wear SkySocks, and parents need to sign a waiver first.
Toddler Time for Sky Zone in Charlotte is 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday.
10200 Centrum Pkwy, Pineville
Storytime at the library isn't necessarily going to be a new idea, but it's good just to have a reminder. And these aren't your run of the mill "let's sit still and read a book" story times. At the Charlotte library, story times are a little bit more.
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library knows that learning begins as soon as a baby comes into the world and that parents are the most important teachers, so they help parents prepare kids with story times at various branches.
Almost all Charlotte library branches offer weekly story times, and there are scheduled times for toddlers, preschoolers, and more.
During story times, children’s librarians will share books, songs, and stories that encourage language and pre-reading skill development. Parents are even encouraged to participate.
Charlotte library story times even offer special seasonally themed events like writing letters to Santa, scavenger hunts, plus special Spanish story times for people more comfortable with that language.
242 S Sharon Amity Rd
Located in Cotswold Village, Toys & Co offers toys that aren't just fun but challenge a child's intellect and stretch their imagination. Even if you're just shopping for gifts, this is a good spot to check out.
They actually offer several free activities during the week, but the most popular and most toddler-friendly is Tunes with Tommy - a talented musician who spends a little time each week just making sure that kids learn to love music.
The store also has plenty of toys that are out to play, so it's not a bad idea to arrive a little early or stay a little late.
Tunes with Tommy at Toys & Co. is free and is held 11 a.m. each Friday.
Toys & Co. offers free gift wrapping on all purchases, and free layaway all year long too, so it's a great place to shop for Christmas or birthday presents.
Each Tuesday from 4 to 5 p.m. Toys & Co. has a free craft time, but that's geared more towards preschoolers and younger school-age kids.
Of all the items on this list, this one if the best if you've got a toddler that just can't sit still.
Superior Play Systems is a company here in Charlotte that makes large, wooden playground equipment sets.
Their showroom is open to the public, and for a small fee, their equipment is available for as much play as a kid can handle.
There's no appointment needed to play.
Monday to Friday, the store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and it's just $6 for all-day play. Saturday is 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and $8 for all-day play, while Sunday is noon to 4 p.m. and $8 for all-day play.
Twice a week, there is a free play period at Superior Play Systems, but it can get crazy busy, so it's best just to drop a few dollars and be in a much more relaxed environment. Especially if you're bringing a toddler and you want to make sure they don't get hassled by bigger kids, take advantage of the smaller crowds.
As long as the store is open, parents are welcome to come in and let kids enjoy the play-sets, basketball hoops, and trampolines.
Cost: $6 to $8 (and free sometimes)
This listing is a surprise for many people. From the outside, Sports Connection doesn't look like much. But it's packed with things to do for families.
There's laser tag, an arcade, a rock wall, a ropes course, and lots of other games and attractions. Just about every member of the family can find something fun here.
But tucked away in the corner, there's a "secret" fun zone for toddlers (after all, that is the focus of this list) that's packed with bounce houses, a bowling alley, and other fun activities. There’s also a Sports Connection located in the Northlake area.
Activities are Sports Connection are actually individually priced, but for about $10 a kid, you can do plenty.
This has been voted the best place in Charlotte to have a birthday party, so it's somewhere that your kids may already know about. But the special toddler space isn't one that most people are aware of.
Did We Miss One?
If you know of a must see spot for toddlers in Charlotte that we don't have on this list, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll have it included. Things to do change constantly, so it's entirely possible that places listed here will change their hours or pricing, and sometimes even go away completely, so let me know if something on this list isn't accurate as well.