This was the biggest question in my head before Little B was born, and now I’ve had 3 months of being outnumbered by small people, I’ve built a bit of a list.
But first of all: if you’re expecting baby number 2 and terrified at the idea of your first outnumbered day, be reassured. Getting out of the house with a newborn and a toddler is surprisingly okay if you pick the right place to go, and I found it a lot easier than staying home in the early days.
The basic principles for a trip out with two are always the same. You want somewhere your toddler can have (energetic) fun safely, even if you have to stop to breastfeed or change baby. This means, ideally, an enclosed space with lots of toddler entertainment.
Ideally you also want something to fascinate baby, especially as he gets older and wants to do more than stare into your eyes in between all the feeds, naps and nappies…
So, here are my top 5 things to do out and about when you’ve a baby and toddler to entertain solo. (More soon on stay-at-home play for two.)
Obviously 3 months doesn’t make me an expert – so, more suggestions please for things to do with 2!
1. Playgroups and children’s centres
Even better, the playgroups and children’s centre sessions I’ve been to have a caring community feel, with other parents happy to hold your baby or watch your toddler if you need to tend to your other child. This makes a huge difference, especially in the hectic early days of managing both their needs.
Your local children’s centre will run a range of stay-and-play activities, or find out which parent-and-child playgroups are on in your area. These sessions all operate on a similar model, with a range of toys and activities for different ages. Often there’s a special sensory area for babies. Sometimes there are drinks and biscuits for parents too…
I’ve reviewed one local playgroup, the Cookie Jar, here and there are lots of others around. Here are links to Tower Hamlets Children’s Centre programmes, Newham Children’s Centres or Hackney Learning Trust under-5s activities. Children’s Centre activities are free, while playgroups tend to ask for a small donation, e.g. 50p.
2. Enclosed playgrounds
The key word here is enclosed. Any kind of playground is good toddler entertainment, but you’re looking for one where you can feed your baby without your other child toddling into the distance at high speed shouting with laughter. If he/she is anything like mine, this will happen as soon as you do your first emergency outdoor nappy change on the baby, just at the point where baby is half naked…
So the smaller the better, really. Big parks like Victoria Park, West Ham Park and Greenwich Park have large enclosed playgrounds – these are great, but easier to deal with if you go with more than one adult, because they’re so big that toddler can easily get out of your sight if you have a minute where you can’t chase him. So pair up with another parent if you want to really enjoy these. Even if you have two kids each, you double your chances of one of you always being free to chase an escapee.
Since Little B’s arrival we’ve become veritable playground tourists. The mini ones in little parks and green spaces, with just one climbing frame/slide thing and a swing or two, are ideal. There are LOADS of these all around London – you just haven’t been looking until now.
All you need is a destination for your walk and enough play stuff to keep your small climber occupied while you breastfeed. The novelty of a new climbing frame should keep him entertained for a while. If he’s still full of energy after that, you can set off for the next playground…
3. Museums with toddler activities/areas
The Mudlarks toddler activity ‘gallery’ at the Museum in Docklands ticks all the outnumbered boxes, as it’s an enclosed space with lots going on. It’s a great rainy day alternative to number 2. There’s even a soft play small enough that you can supervise from the sidelines – chasing a child through a giant soft play installation is pretty much ruled out if you’re carrying a small baby. See my review of Mudlarks, here. It’s free, but best to book ahead.
Toddler Time at the Cutty Sark, Wednesdays at 10 in term time, is a fiver, but also gets you free entry to the ship – which is enclosed and has lots of stuff for toddlers to do. There’s no toddler room, but the toddler time is held under the hull of the ship, which is a big safe space for toddlers to run around. There are lots of toys suitable for babies provided at the session. There’s also a cafe under the hull, which is a good place for a toddler picnic (safely confined to a highchair) while you feed baby.
The Ragged School Museum has crazily limited opening hours, but in the school holidays runs a good separate play room for toddlers with all sorts of toys and activities like this play dough table, run by volunteers. It’s free.
4. Cafes with play areas
Especially in the early days of breastfeeding, you’re constantly looking for somewhere to sit down for a while and give baby an uninterrupted feed. Plus you’re always thirsty and in need of caffeine and cake…
So it’s great to find a local cafe where your toddler can play happily while you meet baby’s needs and your own. Here’s Aline’s post on cafes with toy boxes. Any more suggestions, please comment!
5. Story time at the library
Depending on your library, the children’s area isn’t necessarily an enclosed space, but hopefully it’s safe and appealing. Finn has made a run for it in a couple of different libraries and enjoys disappearing behind shelves… But for the most part he’s occupied by story time or by choosing books, and I can read to him while feeding Little B in a comfy chair. There are board books for babies and Little B enjoys the bright colours and sounds of story time. Plus, Idea Stores have cafe spaces where you can eat your packed lunch and grab a tea.