There are few things quite as sweet as making memories through family outings. You spend time researching where to explore, setting aside money if needed, packing lunches, and attempting to groom your children (in my case this pretty much ONLY happens when we’re going out!) so that no one will try to throw a few coins in your kids’ McDonalds cup. You arrive at your destination, eager for this trip that will go down in the books as the best day ever, with you front and center as Parent of the Year. You walk in the door of your destination only to have your hopes crushed as you spot all breakable items, see the beloved sign “DON’T TOUCH!” posted every five feet, and cower under the judgmental stares of every employee as your kid begins climbing the non-mounted cabinet full of ancient one-of-a-kind artifacts. For me, that means I go from June Cleaver to Godzilla in 2.6 seconds.
Rest assured, Indy parents, this doesn’t have to describe your day! There are places that welcome kids of all ages to explore their facilities with all their senses. Some even outright encourage it! Most of us are well acquainted with Indy jewels like The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Conner Prairie which pretty much beg your children to touch, smell, and lick everything in sight (deep breaths, Mom and Dad, it builds their immune system). But there’s so much more our city has to offer. Here are ten kid-friendly places that welcome children to explore with more than just their eyes.
Rhythm Discovery Center: At this percussion museum, let your kids bang a gong, play in a drum circle, try out a drum set in a sound-proof room, and much more. Your kids will have a blast making as much noise as possible without a grown up telling them to hush.
Holliday Park Nature Center: This center was always fantastic, but the new renovation this year has made it even more fun. Let your little ones play with the water table, dress up like a ladybug, climb through a tunnel, find a queen bee in a hive, observe the forest from a second floor lookout, and explore other interactive exhibits. If the weather’s nice, take time to walk a trail, play on our family’s favorite Indy playground, or check out the newly renovated Ruins.
Kids Ink: In this children’s store for toys and books, come in and browse the many options while your child plays with the train table, assembles a puzzle, or puts on a puppet show. Or snuggle up with them in a comfy chair to share a story together. It’s a perfect shopping experience for the whole family!
Freewheelin’ Bikes: If your kids are ages 10-18, sign them up for the Earn-A-Bike Program. For only $25, your child gets to work alongside professionals to learn bike mechanics and safety. Over 7 weeks, your child will pick parts out of the shop to use in assembling their own bike that they get to keep, along with a helmet and lock!
Carmel Arts and Design District: There are many interesting shops, galleries, and restaurants along this unique stretch in Carmel, but in my opinion, nothing beats family fun like interactions with the life-like statues scattered throughout. Go on a silly photo extravaganza, challenging your children to creatively pose with their new “friends.” There will be guaranteed laughter!
Garfield Park Conservatory: This indoor “jungle” gives opportunity to spot a tree frog, count the fish in small ponds, walk under a waterfall, learn to identify a variety of exotic plants, and watch different creepy crawlies behind glass. Also take advantage of the Conservatory’s many reasonably-priced special events throughout the year.
Natural Valley Ranch Petting Zoo: Horses aren’t the only animals you’ll find at this ranch. For only $2/person, you can have an up-close and personal experience petting and feeding goats, chickens, ducks, ponies, and more!
NCAA Hall of Champions: This museum has two floors of interactive exhibits about all things related to college sports. The second floor, called Play, is based around competing through virtual and hands-on simulators, including skiing. You can even play in a retro gym!
The Park at Trader’s Point Christian Church: At our favorite bad-weather destination, you’ll find huge play structures for both tots and bigger kids, basketball courts, hopscotch, rock climbing, and a quiet area for those who need less stimulation. And it’s indoors and free!
Game Paradise: Board game heaven! Pay a small fee for access to more than 1,800 games you can play together. Tuesdays are family nights when all children 15 and under play for free with accompanying adult (children 6 and under are always free).
So go have fun chillin’ and relaxing all cool, letting your kids explore freely. Maybe you’ll even fit in a more-than-two-sentence adult conversation!
Courtney Bell is a homeschooling mom to her eight children, six by birth and two through foster care adoption. Along with managing a full household, she also has the privilege to teach private voice lessons in her living room. She lives within walking distance of the Children’s Museum in the mid-north side, hoping to see racial and economic barriers come down in the inner-city context. She’s wife to her best friend, Bill, a business information consultant and a pastor. Courtney and Bill blog about the wildness, fun, and glory of raising their gaggle at parentingwithbellson.com.