One of my biggest struggles as a new mother was overcoming the feeling of isolation, as I felt trapped at home by seemingly never-ending nursing and crying marathons. I remember being so excited once my son got through that “fourth trimester” and it was easier to take him places. But where to go? Columbia has a surprising number of options to entertain children who have yet to celebrate their first birthday:
One of the best deals in town, the family membership to Riverbanks Zoo & Garden has been our family’s wisest investment since having our son. On any given day, we can stroll around the grounds, enjoying a few hours of fresh air and taking in our favorite animals.
Highlights for a 1-year-old and younger include the birdhouse’s penguin exhibit, where your little one can see eye-to-eye with these arctic swimmers from the comfort of his own stroller. Still in a carrier? Talk to your baby and give them a play-by-play to help develop their word-processing skills.
The aquarium is another great attraction for you child, as most of these exhibits are also at their eye level when strolling, sitting, or standing.
When your child is clamoring to be picked up, head to the giraffes for an up close and personal (sometimes TOO personal) encounter. Even though our son is too young to feed the giraffes, he enjoys watching them pass him by on their way to the hands that feed.
In addition to its 2,000+ animals, Riverbanks has rides, such as a carousel and train, to keep little ones entertained – even if they’re only watching from afar.
A favorite Columbia spot for kids, EdVenture has thought of accommodating everyone, from special needs children to those who are not yet walking. My Backyard is a gated exhibit, designed especially for 3-year-olds and younger, where children can “explore tactile, interactive environments,” such as a fisherman’s boat and treehouse with slide. Got a little one who isn’t mobile yet? A special area in My Backyard is designated for the newest of newborns with infant toys, a play gym and foam climbing area. This play area also boasts a nursing room with glider (just watch out for any unruly tots who may climb under the separating curtain). Other amenities include a private restaurant with changing area.
The “construction room” also has an under 3 play area with foam building blocks, construction books for children, a foam climbing area and car table (think train table but for cars). In addition, a mini “Richland County Library” room is available with lots of books, puzzles and puppets — you can even check out books to take home if you have a library card.
Bonus: On the first Monday of every month, EdVenture opens only to toddlers up to age 5.
This Irmo park is home to two gems for little ones. Saluda Splash is an “interactive, zero-depth water playground,” also known as a splash pad. For $3, this is an inexpensive way to cool off on a hot afternoon.
Stumbling upon the park’s Environmental Education Center wound up being one of the happiest accidents. With a children’s discovery area, which includes a large, hollow tree that children can sit in, as well as animal puppets, even crawlers can enjoy the wonders of nature in a cool, safe environment.
Also in the center are numerous dioramas, depicting local ecosystems and the cultural history of the area.
My son is delighted by puppets right now. He thinks they are ALL. THAT. Located at the entrance of Riverfront Park, Columbia Marionette Theatre offers 20- to 40-minute puppet shows for only $5.75 per ticket online and $5 at the door.
Richland County and Lexington County Libraries
Foster your child’s love of books by attending storytime designed for the youngest of library patrons. Richland County Library hosts several programs for babies, birth through 12 months of age, such as Mother Goose Storytime and Hello, Baby! Lexington County Library has a similar program, known as Lapsit. Afterwards, spend time checking out the stuffed animals, abundance of books, puzzles and much, much more!
Barnes & Noble (Midtown at Forest Acres)
Located in the Richland Mall, Barnes & Noble hosts a storytime every Saturday at 11:00 am. Want to shop for books during the week? Your little one can entertain himself with the train table and stuffed animals that abound in the children’s area.
Bonus: The mall is quiet so you can enjoy uninterrupted time riding up and down on the glass elevator. Spend time walking around the second floor and take multiple trips on the ever exciting escalator. Your child will love it.
Located in Richland Mall, Gymboree offers Play & Learn classes, which foster age-appropriate developmental skills, as well as music classes. For ages 0-6 months, explore the senses and support visual and auditory development with tummy time, flashlight play, first songs and more. Ages 6-10 months learn about cause and effect and build strength through play with ramps, slides and climbers. Both classes includes parent discussion time to help learn about your child’s development.
Bonus: Barnes & Noble mentioned above is directly across Gymboree Play & Music, so there’s no shortage of activities to do before or after class.
Does your little one need to burn off some energy? My Gym classes, focused on children’s fitness, incorporate structured, staff-led activity, including movement and music, as well as parent-supervised free play on various apparatuses, such as swings, trampolines, and slides to build “strength, balance, coordination, agility and flexibility while developing social skills, confidence and self-esteem.”
From infant to toddler, The Little Gym of Columbia, SC’s Parent and Child classes promote early development and provide a strong foundation for your childʼs critical first three years. Weekly Columbia classes will help your child achieve new milestones and prepare for more advanced challenges during each stage of growth. And since youʼre along for the ride, youʼll be right there to celebrate every discovery with smiles, hugs and the occasional adult-sized giggle.
Get Moving! Increased physical strength and muscle control, fine and gross motor skill development, coordination, balance
Brain Boost! Spatial and perceptual awareness, introduction to colors, language development and self-expression, knowledge of numbers and letters, initial problem solving
Citizen Kid! Developing independence and feeling comfortable away from parents, early socialization, sharing and taking turns, accepting new environments, following directions and cooperating
The Children’s Music Development Center at the University of South Carolina offers once-per-week classes for newborns through 35-month-olds designed to “develop music skills through fun, playful, socially interactive music activities that include singing, chanting and moving.”
Columbiana Centre, also referred to as Harbison Mall, is a favorite spot for us on rainy days. Home to a carousel and fabulous children’s play area, this indoor mall is incredibly family-friendly, offering a private nursing lounge, changing area, and family restroom. I can’t tell you the number of times I made the drive across town to this mall when my son was solely breastfeeding just so that I could get out of the house without feeling that “what if he needs to nurse?” anxiety.
Now that my son is nearing the one-year mark, he loves to crawl around the play area and watch the carousel as we share a snack in the food court. Bring some extra quarters and let your child ride the “mini bus” beside the merry-go-round.
Bonus: The main doors open before the advertised hours for early morning mall walkers — perfect for those days when baby is up super early and you’re looking to get out of the house.
Village at Sandhill Town Center
Enjoy a beautiful day with your little one in the center of the Village at Sandhill. Train rides are $4 – or watch and listen to its departures and arrivals for free!
Most churches and synagogues have a baby program. Our congregation, for instance, has a monthly program for children from infant through 3 years of age. Each session includes stories, music, crafts, and a snack. Granted, my son can’t do most crafts right now, but each time he attends he’s able to do more, and it gives both him and me an opportunity to socialize.