Winter break is right around the corner, and the kids will be home from school for a couple of weeks. Phones, computers, and video games are easy ways to keep them busy, but they’re not great in large doses. Eventually, you want to get them out of the house—and, ideally, physically active.
But with so much of your budget going to seasonal extras like gifts, family gatherings, and travel, you may not have a lot left over for family outings. That’s where a list of free and low-cost activities may come in handy.
Explore a Nature Center
Central Indiana’s natural beauty doesn’t end in winter, but your appetite for being out in the elements might. Thankfully, many of your favorite Indianapolis-area parks also feature year-round nature centers. People of all ages—but especially kids—can learn, explore, and just experience the local flora and fauna while staying warm and dry.
Holliday Park Nature Center, Indianapolis. Offers the newly-renovated Habitat Hall with live animal enclosures, costumes, games, and interactive exhibits. Free.
Cool Creek Park Nature Center, Carmel. Explore the science of Indiana woodlands and learn about the importance of natural preservation. Free.
Eagle Creek Park Ornithology Center, Indianapolis. Features exhibits and programming focused on birds and birdwatching, live bird of prey programs, and an observation window overlooking Eagle Creek Reservoir. There is a small, $5-per-car ($6 for non-Marion County residents) admission charge to enter the park. Once in the park, admission to the center is free.
Make a Splash at an Indoor Pool
Nothing takes the chill out of cold, icy weather like a dip in an indoor swimming pool. Central Indiana has some great options.
Indy Island Aquatic Center at Raymond Park, Indianapolis. A fun play pool, zero depth entry to three feet, with a small slide, spray features, and a water slide for those over four feet tall. $4 for kids 3–17 and $5 for adults on weekdays; a dollar more per person on weekends. Kids 2 and under free.
Monon Community Center, Carmel. Activity pool with zero depth entry, a small lazy river, spray features, two water slides for those over four feet tall, and a mini slide for all ages. $8 for kids and $11 for adults.
George Washington Community School Pool. An Indianapolis Public School facility by day, this pool has community hours, provided by Indy Parks, on some evenings and weekends. Features a five-piece Wibit obstacle course. $2 for kids 3–17 and $3 for adults. Kids 2 and under free.
Slip in Some Sledding
If nature obliges with a holiday blizzard, your family’s thoughts may turn to sledding. There are many great sledding hills in Central Indiana, but these are some of the local favorites:
Indy Parks, Indianapolis. Boasts eight official sledding hills in eight different parks around the city, and offers a list of sledding safety tips. Free.
West Park, Carmel. Features smaller hills (and smaller crowds), which makes it an ideal sledding destination for toddlers and their families. Free.
Freedom Park, Greenwood. Billed as Greenwood’s sledding headquarters, its large hill provides hours of fun for sledders of all ages. Free.
Get in Some Climb Time at an Indoor Playground
Your usual fair-weather play spots are now likely too cold and too wet. Luckily, you live in the age of the indoor playspace, and there are plenty of low-cost options to choose from.
The Park at Traders Point Christian Church, Indianapolis/Whitestown. Features play areas for preschoolers and older kids, a rock wall, and an area for basketball, hopscotch, and foursquare. Free.
Indoor Playground at Brookville Community Church, New Palestine. Slides, climbs, and tunnels for children up to third grade, plus a special area for kids under two. Free.
The Treehouse at Plainfield Christian Church, Plainfield. A climbing and sliding treehouse, riding toys, and play stations for ages 2–12, in a well-lighted and welcoming environment. Open hours are limited to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Free.
Check Your Local Library
Looking for other screen-free activities to enliven your winter break? We’ve rounded up 50 more right here.