A few years ago, facing my first winter as a SAHM with two kids, the panic started to set in around September. I bought a membership to everything I could think of (because some of these are really good deals!) and planned to have somewhere to go for every day of the week during the winter. Yes, I panicked, but it was worth it!

The cost of membership to most of these places more than pays for itself in usually 2 visits. After that your visits are “free” So every day it feels like you are getting to do something really fun for “free”. All year, special events are “free”. (Though I don’t necessarily suggest you buy all of these memberships in one month or you’ll find yourself spending a good chunk of change all in one month every year at renewal time. cough cough. (who would do that?) 😉 ). We do put $20/month into an envelope for our “memberships” – it doesn’t quite cover the costs to what I’ve listed here – but let’s just say it helps when renewal time comes around!

I can tell you this, I’m headed into my second winter with two kids and I have renewed every one of these memberships! 😉

1. Columbus Museum of Art

If you have children that are 5 and under, you should absolutely have a Friend membership to CMA. Cost is $60 for the year. This membership is for one person, but kids 5 and under are free! Plus you get admission for one additional adult per visit. (Regular adult admission is $14). If your kids are over 5, then the Household Membership is only $15 more. (Regular admission for children over 5 is $5/visit.)

The Museum has the Wonder Room, which is a great area for kids to create. It’s not exactly a toddler play area, so that is the one downside to taking kids that are 5 and under, but as they get closer to 5, they will get more and more out of the Wonder Room. Once a year, the museum has Think Outside the Brick, an LEGO display and exhibit! We usually see this at least twice, so we are getting our money’s worth right there! The museum offers Family Adventure Tours, Open Studio for all ages to drop in and your membership is also good for special exhibits.


2. Ohio History Center

Membership to Ohio History Center is about as affordable as you can get! This is another case where children 5 and under are free, so if your kids are young, you only need an Individual Membership which is $35. The Individual Membership also allows you to bring one unnamed adult per visit. Regular admission to OHC is $10/person, $5 for children over 5. You can also get $5 off your membership if you have AAA or are an active education (among others)! The family membership, if your children are over 5, is just $55.

Ohio History Center has a lot to offer kids. There are several educational play areas. Click this link above for my previous post about Ohio History Center and all there is for kids to do there! If you have a membership, it includes admission to Storybook Village, which is a fun day each summer when your children’s favorite story book characters come to life at Ohio Village. It also includes admission to Ohio Village Muffins vintage base ball games. (yes, it is base ball (2 words!)) as well as admission to 50 other sites and museums around the state!

In my mind, there are very few cons to this membership! If I had to think of one, it is that they are not open on Mondays and Tuesdays. This has tripped me up a few times! Whoops!


3. COSI

If you only have very young children or are new to Columbus, you might not know that COSI has a huge play space for kids age 6 and under! little kidspace is a great place for you to take babies, toddlers and preschoolers during the winter. (Major con this winter only is that the parking lot is under construction so you will have a bit of a cold walk to get inside! I’ve heard there is a shuttle running to and from the parking lot, but I haven’t been since it got really cold!)

The COSI membership is a bit pricier than the others I’ve mentioned so far (basic family is $119), but honestly, you can’t beat the price when it comes to an indoor play area for toddlers and preschoolers. (Obviously, COSI has a lot to offer older kids as well, but for now I am thinking of those of us who are passing winter days with kids who are not old enough to be in school yet!)

Regular admission ranges from $15 – $20/person, so a family could potentially spend the cost of a membership in one visit! Plus, your admission to COSI gets you discounts on parking, movie tickets, admission to special Members Only events and special events like Farm Days, Big Machines, Model Train Weekend and more!


4. Franklin Park Conservatory

The Conservatory is a great place to go in the winter! Even though plants and flowers might make you think of summer, I actually prefer going there in the Winter! Perhaps that is because we went there on a really hot day last summer, not thinking what it might feel like to walk through a greenhouse when it was already 100 degrees outside! Eek! A basic family membership is $90. (Regular admission is $14/adult and $7/child. Children 2 and under are free.) If it will be mainly one parent who just wants to get out of the house with a baby 2 and under, you could easily make use of the Individual Membership for $45!

The Conservatory can be slightly nerve wracking with toddlers if you’re managing more than one kid by yourself, but for the most part it is pretty kid friendly. (Speaking as someone whose child knocked over a glass vase filled with water there recently . . . ) One really great part about the membership is that it includes the special events going on at the Conservatory.

There is something for families most weekends and there is a Little Adventurers program for kids ages 3-5 on Thursdays! There is usually (depending on the exhibits going on at the time) a little children’s play area on the first floor, a model train and ongoing children’s activities. Not to mention, when it gets warm, the grounds are beautiful!


5. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

How is this one going to help you survive winter, you ask? Because you are going to get to take advantage of those unseasonably warm days that randomly pop up – I actually “strongly dislike” going to the zoo during the summer: too hot! (gosh I’m hard to please!) For me, the best times of the year to go to the zoo are spring and fall.

Membership gets you into Boo at the Zoo in October and Wildlights at the holidays. It’s also good for other special zoo events, preschool classes, and free parking! Maybe this one won’t help you survive the cold, dreary days but it’s still a must have, IMHO. 😉 If you’re really brave, there are quite a few indoor areas at the Zoo, once you get to the grounds from the parking lot!


6. Columbus Recreation and Parks Department

Ahh….I don’t take enough advantage of the Recreation and Parks program in Columbus, but we have done baby swimming lessons at Columbus Aquatic Center and a couple of Mommy and Me preschool art classes. The cost of a Leisure Card to use the facilities is $1 (and it’s good for 3 years!).

During the winter, Open Swim at the Columbus Aquatic Center is $1/person. It is REALLY hard to beat that cost! The classes and programs vary by location but they include art classes, gymnastics, yoga, pottery, soccer, basketball and more! Plus classes for adults! Check out the online schedule of programs here.


7. Your Local Library

Yes, I am technically counting this as a membership! 😉 And it is free! I think most parents figure out pretty fast that the library is the place to go for free indoor entertainment for kids! All of the libraries in the area have some form of story hour, baby lap time, regular activities and the like!

Your membership, in the form of a library card, also allows you to check out books and magazines to make sure your kids have something new to read on a regular basis! Many of the Columbus Metropolitan Library locations have Ready for Kindergarten areas where young children can play and explore. I’m all for getting out and trying new libraries (this is mainly to keep me entertained!) 🙂 Here and here are four that are fun libraries for reading AND playing!


If you have these memberships and you use them wisely, there is always an affordable and fun indoor option if you need to get out of the house! (And if you don’t want to spend a dime, there’s always my list of 20 FREE Indoor Play Areas in Columbus!) Let me know in the comments if there are any other memberships that help you survive winter in Columbus!

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ICYMI: Indoor Programs for Toddlers and Preschoolers in Columbus: Winter 2017

Written by Julie Miller