Head to mall and restaurant playspaces first thing in the morning

We do what we must some days to keep the kids busy. Here's how Gretchen makes the most of free indoor playspaces at malls and fast food restaurants:

I rely on indoor playspaces to run off my daughter's energy when the weather outside is nasty or too hot.  But a lot of other parents have the same idea, so on especially yucky days the playspaces at the local malls and fast food restaurants can get pretty crowded.

My daughter is still young and a little tentative on any playground equipment, and one good jostle sends her screaming for the door – so crowded playspaces aren't a good fit for her.  But that doesn't mean she's stuck inside – we just go at times when the places are less crowded.

Today, for example, we were out running errands early in the morning and we stopped at a fast food restaurant for breakfast.  (I know, I know – evil mommy.  She ate one chicken nugget and 2/3 of a fruit cup, which is probably better for her than whatever I was going to find in the freezer at home.)  We were pretty much the only ones in the restaurant, and the playspace was completely empty.  Better yet, it had been cleaned at the end of the day yesterday, so it wasn't full of burger bits and ground in fries.

My daughter had 45 minutes to explore the space at her own speed, without worrying about having to share the equipment with older kids.  It was a nice change of pace from our previous playspace routine of me having to recite "we have to share the red car with all the other kids, honey – quit crying and let him have a turn" about a million times in 15 minutes.

Next time the weather turns suffocatingly hot, I think I'll head over to the mall when it's open early for mall walkers … I'll bet the playspace is deserted, and there's a Starbucks right next to it.  Bonus!

Get updates from Asha.

I'll email you when I have new writing, events, or news to share. This isn't an automated newsletter -- it's a personal note from me. Low-frequency (I respect your attention & inbox), privacy always, unsubscribe any time.

*indicates required


  1. JT says

    I’m not generally a germophobe, but I also like to hit places like this early in the hopes that they’ve been cleaned either the night before or in the wee hours, and therefore may be less grimy and germy…. of course, we have the “take off your shoes, then wash your hands” rule when we get home from pretty much anywhere, too.

  2. Sarah in Pittsburgh says

    I take my 14 month old son to the mall playplace early in the morning, before the stores even open. He is the only one there and can explore on his own. It is much less stressful on me and more fun for him. The seniors who walk in the mall love to see a little kid and often stop to say hello. Then, when the stores open, we do our shopping and he is tired out and sits in the stroller happily.

  3. leslie says

    thanks so much…this is a great idea. none of our local malls have playspaces, tho’. booo. and i had to smile at your daughter’s ‘bird’ appetite. i so often gauge my sons meals in quarters and halves. where do they get all this energy w/ so little fuel intake?

  4. DevDad says

    I have been doing a lot of swimming with my daughter (Alex) lately to tire her out. I like your idea better. I’m not sure there is anything better than watching Alex play hard, with a Big Mac in my face and my laptop on my lap. Work, face-stuffing, and entertaining the kid? Sounds good!

    – Mike

  5. Lea says

    The chains–some of them, anyway–are waking up to the fact that we parents consider the playgrounds germ pits. Chick-fil-A, for instance, recently got together with Purell to put sanitizer stations in the playgrounds and wipes at the condiment stands:


    It seems parents are most likely to take kids to indoor playgrounds during the winter, when sicknesses are peaking. I can stand heat a lot better than cold, so sometimes they’re the only option at the height of yuck season, once the library and museum are tired of us. UGH!

    – Lea

  6. Carrie says

    The mall and restaurant play spaces are great ideas for a nasty weather. However, too much crowd would still be a problem. It’s best if we plan to go on a less crowded place.

  7. Danni says

    This is very helpful. As long as there are places like this where parents can watch their children play while they can enjoy the environment, it’s a great opportunity we can take advantage of.

  8. Chief Family Officer says

    Even if the mall nearest you doesn’t have a play space, it can still be a great place to take your kid. My toddler used to get bored of the play area pretty quickly, but we explored the rest of the mall for quite a while (this works best if it’s before the stores open) – we went up and down the escalator and stairs, rode the elevator, played in the photo booth, played with the coin-operated rides (without putting any money in), and walked the length of the mall and back. I think his favorite thing may have been playing with the door hook (which held the door open during shopping hours) in front of Restoration Hardware.

    Also, for early risers, most malls are open super early for walkers – 7:00 is not too early, nor is it deserted. In addition to a handful of walkers, there are workers cleaning the mall so security isn’t an issue. Plus, going early and leaving before the stores open means I don’t spend any money :)