[Every week, I post a “cheap date” idea for something fun and simple to do with your toddler. The big picture ideas apply to any locale, but the specific examples will be Bellevue-centric.]
Every time we need dog food, it’s an excuse for my son and I to go to “the small animal zoo” which is what we call our local pet stores. It’s great for 30 minutes of rainy day, educational entertainment for free.
We listen to the birds and watch them flutter, we count the fish in the tanks and talk about all the different colors we see, we search for the reptiles and talk about the ways that animals hide themselves from view, we admire the kitties that are up for adoption, and watch the dogs play at the day care. I find it easiest to put my son in a shopping cart rather than letting him walk around – he gets into less trouble that way.
As children get older, you can talk about what makes the reptiles different from the fish, and how the rodents differ from either of them. You can talk about the characteristics of mammals. You can talk about herbivores, insectivores, and carnivores. The pet store becomes a biological science class.
If you don’t have a pet of your own, consider picking up a treat to share with a neighbor’s dog, or buying a toy to donate to the animal shelter. (These offer excuses for future outings!)
On your trip to the “small animal zoo”, don’t be surprised if you run into other parents of toddlers enjoying the same thing!
This ParentMap article recommends a few specialty pet stores where you can check out: http://www.parentmap.com/article/critter-fix-for-kids-in-seattle.