Toddler-friendly day trips keep kids occupied all summer long!

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With spring break right around the corner and summer not far off, you may be one of many parents wondering how to keep your family engaged and active without the daily routine of school. Here are some inexpensive outings not far from Mint Hill that are sure to keep your young ones busy all day!

Visit a Museum

Discovery Place Kids is located off Gilead Road in Huntersville, about 20 minutes north of Mint Hill on 485. Many of the exhibits encourage imaginary play. “I can work” allows kids to experience “working” in a veterinary office, on a fire truck, in an ambulance and in a bank. In the “I can be healthy” exhibit, children can harvest corn and apples on the farm, shop in the town market, prepare food in the cafe, treat patients in the doctor’s office, and exercise in the fitness center. The “I can move” exhibit features a race car, speed boat and airplane in addition to a large water play area and train table.

Other exhibits encourage children to be creative. “I can build” features a 2-level brick factory and an assortment of manipulatives, including legos. “I can create” is an art studio with rotating materials for free expression, guided crafts, and a music area. Discovery Place Kids even caters to very young children with a fenced in area designed specifically for kids under 36 months old. The “I can grow” exhibit features padded play areas, toddler toys, a play house, and access to the water table.

A large water table is one of many interactive exhibits at Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville.

Discovery Place kids also offers interactive entertainment daily on the “Town Center” stage. Daily entertainment includes puppet shows, science shows and the “Big Fun” song and dance show. The “Big Fun” show happens twice daily and is meant to help kids close out their time at the museum and transition home. The first show takes place at 11:45 a.m. (perfect for ending your time at the museum if you have afternoon nappers), and the second takes place just before the museum closes at 3:45 p.m. A typical weekday schedule also includes a 9:45 a.m. puppet show, a 10:45 a.m. science show, an 11:15 a.m. event, a 1:45 p.m. puppet show, and a 2:45 p.m. science show.

With so many varied exhibits and shows, there’s plenty at Discovery Place Kids to keep your kids occupied all day long! DPK is open from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Tuesday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday, and 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Adults and children are $10.00 each; children under 1 are admitted free. Parking at Discovery Place Kids is free in the Huntersville Town Center parking deck located behind the museum.

If you plan on visiting DPK several times this summer, a yearly membership is definitely worth your while. Membership includes unlimited admission for two adults and all children under age 18 in your home. Members also receive discounts on birthday parties, summer camps, museum store purchases, cafe purchases, and guest admission. Family memberships are $130.00 per year; you can add another Discovery Place Museum (like Discovery Place Science uptown or Discovery Place Nature) for only $30.00 or a guest/nanny pass for $25.00.

Enjoy Nature

Reedy Creek Park is located about 20 minutes North of Mint Hill off Rocky River Road. The 146 acre park features 10 miles of hiking trails, a dog park, two playgrounds, a fishing pier, three ponds, an 18-hole disc golf course, a community garden, four volleyball courts, two horseshoe pits, a cricket field, a soccer field, two softball fields, and a basketball court.

Start your day with the kids at the Reedy Creek Nature Center, which features animal exhibits as well as a small indoor play area. The Nature Center’s classroom frequently offers free classes on Monday mornings for children ages 3-6. For example, on Mondays, 4/24, children will be treated to Nature Story Corner. They’ll learn about the wonders of nature through nature-based stories followed by a short hike in the forest that involves a themed activity based on the story.

After your morning activity, burn some energy on the playground located just outside the Nature Center. Reedy Creek’s playground is unique, featuring natural wooden structures, balance beams, a large sand play area and a music area. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy after play time at the picnic tables located in the garden outside of the Nature Center.

After lunch, take a hike! Reedy Creek Park offers over 10 miles of hiking trails varying in length. One of the most popular routes leads to the ruins of the Robinson Rockhouse, built in the late 1700s. The hiking trails are unpaved, but most can be traversed fairly easily with a jogging or all-terrain stroller.

Reedy Creek Park offers over 10 miles of hiking trails easily traversable with a wearable carrier or jogging stroller.

Go “Shopping”

Though you might not think bringing your children to the mall sounds like much fun for you or them, Concord Mills actually offers a lot of low-cost activities to keep your kids busy and beat the heat.

Start your visit to the mall at the Sea Life Aquarium. Sea Life features 10 exhibits, including freshwater fish, seahorses, stingrays, octopus, tropical fish, jellyfish, and an interactive touchpool. Daily educational talks, feeding demonstrations, and a 20-minute behind the scenes tour are all included with admission. Every Tuesday is “Toddler Tuesday” at Sea Life; adult admission is only $15.00 and kids are $5.00 each. Kids under 3 are always free.

Concord Mills Sea Life Aquarium offers discounted admission for families every Tuesday.

After the aquarium, enjoy lunch at one of the many kid-friendly restaurants in the food court; then take a ride on the carousel. Carousel rides are $2.00-$3.00, and adults can ride for free with young children.

After lunch, take a ride on the indoor train and let your kids burn off some energy in the vegetable-themed soft play area. And remember, your admission to Sea Life Aquarium is good for the whole day, so you can always return for another walk through, educational talk or feed time. If you haven’t had enough fish, stop by Bass Pro to see the live fish on your way out!

Another place you may not have thought of to bring the kids is Ikea, located about 20 minutes north of Mint Hill off I-85. That’s probably because you’ve fought the crowds there on a Saturday or Sunday, but Ikea tends to be relatively empty on weekday mornings. Browse the showroom while your little ones run off some energy. The showroom ends in the kid and baby area, which has many of Ikea’s toys and kids furniture set up for play.

Although crowded on the weekends, Ikea can be fun for little ones on weekday mornings.

After your tour through the showroom, have lunch in the restaurant. Ikea has healthy and affordable kids meals for only $2.49 and plenty of high chairs to go around. Every Tuesday, kids 12 and under eat free (up to two free kids meals with each adult meal purchase).

If your children are a little older, you can even wrangle a little “you time” by placing them in Ikea’s childcare center, Smalland. Potty trained children ages 4-10 can spend 60 minutes in Smalland for free while you shop or enjoy a coffee in the restaurant.

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: