by Julie S.
Preschoolers are insatiable with their energy and their curiosity, and they are starting to drop those coveted naps. Some of them are also starting to go to school and even if they are, that leaves a lot of the day to fill up with them wanting to know more, more, more! There are so many places to take your preschooler around Kalamazoo where they can play, learn and explore. Here are some of my favorites!
(Kalamazoo SkyZone-photo courtesy of Tara Fletcher Photography)
PERFECT SPOTS TO PLAY INDOORS
Climbing, bouncing and sliding are all great ways for your preschooler to burn off some energy! Frequent bounce cards are available to save you some money for return visitors.
If you are looking for a different bouncing experience, try Sky Zone, where the whole place is wall-to-wall trampolines! Tuesday and Fridays from 10:00am – 12:00pm they offer a Toddler Time for kids 5 and under.
Airway Fun Center offers a ton of options for indoor and outdoor fun including bowling, mini golf, and go karts (3 and over can ride in a double kart with an adult).
Our local museum has a fantastic preschool room where the theme changes every two months. Come at 10:00am on most days where they have a circle/story time and explore the rest of the museum with its science exhibits, ice cream parlor/diner and much much more!
Although all of our local libraries have wonderful things to offer, Portage’s library has a special room dedicated to preschoolers with a kitchen, play house, puppet theater and a ton of baby toys for younger siblings.
Full of games, rides and pizza, this is a great place to take a preschooler on a rainy day. They have a Chuck E-Club for frequent visitors that gives discounts and coupons.
PLACES TO HAVE FUN OUTDOORS
There are so many fun parks in the Kalamazoo area, it’s impossible to list them all, but here are some of our favorites and a couple other special places to burn off steam and learn outdoors!
The Kalamazoo Nature Center has an outdoor playground full of natural materials, a stream and even a water dumping area. Paired with miles of hiking trails, huge open areas to run around on and explore and an interpretive center, it’s a perfect place to enjoy any time of the year with your preschooler.
Prairie View County Park has a lake that offers great swimming for your preschooler because most of the swimming area isn’t terribly deep. There are swings nearby and old-fashioned tall metal slides, as well as hiking trails and a dog park. The beach isn’t very big, however, and is fairly rocky so if you are looking for perfect sand, this isn’t the place for you. One of the pluses of this beach, however, is that there are big trees nearby, offering shade on a scorching hot day. Kalamazoo County Parks have a $5 daily per vehicle admission fee.
Markin Glen has a sandy beach, play structures, hiking trails and a lot of space to run off some steam. It’s also located near the Kalamazoo Nature Center. There are two separate parts of the park, the one with the beach and a campground. Kalamazoo County Parks have a $5 daily per vehicle per admission fee.
(River Oaks splash pad)
River Oaks is another one of Kalamazoo’s County Parks and has a huge playground with new and creative equipment, perfect for preschoolers. Included with your $5 per vehicle admission to the park is the splash pad, perfect for a hot summer day!
This is one of Portage’s most popular parks in the summer as it boasts a nice beach with a concession stand. Nearby is a huge playground with a soft surface, perfect for preschoolers and their younger siblings. There are also soccer fields, baseball diamonds and tennis courts. If you come outside of the Memorial Day through Labor Day timeframe, admission is free, otherwise, the park costs $5 per vehicle for a Portage resident and $10 per vehicle if you live outside of Portage.
Tucked behind the Oshtemo Fire Station and near the Oshtemo Library, this park has a huge playground with a ton of structures to test all levels of climbing ability. You will also find a paved loop trail, unpaved hiking trails, and many options for sports, including a disc golf course.
This park is on the smaller side for playground equipment, but we’re including it because it has a couple of the biggest slides around for daredevils. In the winter it’s the perfect place to take your preschooler sledding.
A fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and learn in nature, this preserve offers over five miles of easy to moderate mowed trails through forests, fields, and prairie restoration sites. It’s located in Comstock Township, click the link for the full directions.
(photo courtesy of Binder Park Zoo)
FUN AND EDUCATIONAL FIELD AND DAY TRIPS
Are you looking for somewhere to go to both have fun and appease your preschooler’s appetite for learning? Then check out one of the following!
The Air Zoo boasts an impressive collection of planes and jets and space exhibits for young learners. One of the big draws for the preschool crowd, however, is their rides. From a slow moving plane ride to a 360 degree flight simulators, there’s something for everyone. They also often offer special exhibits about the history of flight. Tickets can include some or all of the rides and special exhibits are extra, but children under five are free!
Located in Battle Creek, this local zoo is a perfect daytrip. One of the favorite places to visit at the zoo is Wild Africa where you can feed the giraffes after a tram ride or a short walk. During the off-season when the zoo is closed they offer Knee High Naturalists, a weekly program for preschoolers where they have activities, go for walks and are visited by zoo animals.
The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is owned by Michigan State University and is in Augusta, north of Kalamazoo. It’s open every day of the year, but a great time to visit is in early Spring where the baby ducks, geese, and swans are wandering around and you can feed them with bird food bought on site. There are also three miles of trails and it’s perfect for a picnic and bird watching.
The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is located in Athens, and is well worth the trip. The owners give guided tours and you are able to feed the alligators with food purchased at the ticket counter. No animals are bought, sold or traded at this sanctuary and it’s the perfect place to teach a preschooler about animal rescue and herpetology, as they have many other reptiles and amphibians on site as well, including giant tortoises! Tickets are $7.95 for age three and up and they are open most of the year. During off-peak season the animals are kept inside.
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is free and open almost every day of the year. They have their regular exhibits which are increasingly more fun for preschoolers to play with, but they also have an impressive preschooler room called the Children’s Landscape with rotating themes every two months and an almost daily story time at 10:00 am. Also worth checking out is one of their planetarium shows as often there are ones for younger kids and the shows are only $3.
The Kalamazoo Nature Center has an interpretive center full of native animals, both living and stuffed, as well as a rainforest atrium with a spiral ramp. They also offer a ton of preschool age programs from Small Wonders which encourages parent involvement at different stations to Preschool Explorers led by a teacher of their preschool Nature’s Way. Some of these programs are included with admission, and some are a small additional charge. They also have miles of hiking trails and an outdoor natural playground and lots of room for a picnic.
This place is located just off of M43 in Mattawan and is free. They offer tours, food to feed the fish at the pond, and hiking trails complete with backpacks to do scavenger hunts and listen for bird calls. They also have an interpretive center with some animals found in and around the hatchery.
REGULAR EVENTS TO CHECK OUT WITH A PRESCHOOLER
KZOOkids.com has a fantastic listening of events listed by calendar date, but there are some that pop up on a regular basis that are perfect for your preschooler.
These concerts, hosted by the Fontana Chamber Arts, are a perfect way to introduce your preschooler to classical music. They are hosted at different venues in the Kalamazoo/Portage area and are designed to let your preschooler fidget, dance or sit back and enjoy and if they have a younger sibling who cries, they are welcome too, thus the name Crybaby Concert. Best of all, these concerts are free!
photo courtesy of the KIA
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts offers a one-hour monthly Art Detectives class for you and your preschooler that is free and touches on a different art technique every month with a story to match.
Both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer monthly workshops for kids on Saturday mornings and they are free. You work with your preschooler and they get to take home their finished project!
If you’re looking for a good breakfast with some kid-friendly music, consider heading to Old Dog Tavern on Saturdays for BenJammin Educational Music. Usually every Saturday morning, the restaurant can get quite busy, so get there early! The concert is free and a purchased breakfast is not required, though appreciated.
This monthly program at the Nature Center is led by one of the teacher’s of their preschool Nature’s Way. It’s led in a small class-based format with stories, activities, and a nature walk and all around a specific theme. Parents are in the room but don’t have to be actively involved. These are free with admission and are on Thursday’s.
A little different than Preschool Explorers, Small Wonders has your preschooler and you exploring together. There is a monthly theme and there are multiple stations based on the theme that your preschooler can explore at his or her interest, crafts, a snack and a nature hike with one of the nature center’s staff. This class has a small additional fee and there are two options every month, one on a Tuesday morning and one on a Saturday morning for working parents.
Barnes & Noble offers several storytimes perfect for preschoolers with coloring/activities to follow. They also offer a frequent bookmark and after ten visits your preschooler gets to pick a prize from the magical treasure chest! Often special characters like Clifford make an appearance so check the calendar!
Kalamazoo Valley Museum offers a weekly circle/story time at 10:00 am on most days complete with a craft. Then you have the rest of the day to explore the museum, including their Children’s Landscape Room, designed for preschoolers.
Portage Library has a few storytimes perfect for preschoolers including Family Storytime (age 3 to 5), Two & Three-Year-Old Storytime (age 2 to 3), and their new I’m A Big Kid Now Storytime (age 3 to 5-year-olds without parent or caregiver in the room). They also frequently host a Jump, Turn, Dance and Learn! Storytime with songs, props like bean bags and parachutes, and more. Check their schedule as times and days vary by month.
Kalamazoo Library has multiple branches and multiple storytimes for preschoolers so there is bound to be one close by. During weekday mornings consider Family Storytime (multiple locations) designed for birth through age 5. Monthly in the evenings there is a Musical Storytime at Central Library and more recently at their Oshtemo Branch. Keep an eye on their calendar for some of their special programs such as Little Scientists, 1-2-3 Play With Me Workshop for younger preschoolers, Miss Lisa’s dance classes.
(Root Beer Stand-photo courtesy of Tara Fletcher Photography)
PERFECT PLACES TO GRAB A BITE TO EAT
Kzookids.com offers several reader favorite lists of places that are perfect to eat with your kids. Check out the following!
Looking for somewhere to eat without breaking the bank? Try one of the restaurants on this list!
If the weather is nice, one of these restaurants is a great idea for a place to eat with your preschooler.
Are you looking for something a little…different? Try one of the places on this list!