Many parents who began their parenting journey in some season of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced the reduction in socializing options during that time. For many of us, we just got used to interacting with fewer people and living without all the social, kid-friendly activities on offer in Asheville.
However, I frequently saw parents posting in local social media groups about how they really spent all their time with their own child or children, and they’d really like to get out and do activities with others. Questions about what to do in Asheville with kids abound!
Life is busy, and finding Asheville activities for kids can seem daunting, but once you have a routine of gathering with others, you’ll see just how fulfilling it is. You’ll watch your child meet other kids, but you’ll also find yourself a larger network of local parents who also are thinking about many of the same things you are.
These activities range between organized activities and more free-play experiences but are all targeted at our smallest kids, the babies and toddlers who are not in a formal preschool or elementary school setting. Even if your child goes to daycare, these groups make it possible to form an additional circle of acquaintances, and because parents stay and occasionally participate, they can be an opening for parent friendships as well!
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1. Socialize and Learn at Kaleidoscope Play and Learn Groups
Like many parents who move to Asheville with a young toddler, I was surprised initially about the lack of available daycare and preschool options. Many schools and daycares have long waitlists, making it hard to seamlessly transition your child into a socializing setting.
Candidly, I took a few months off my own part-time work to hang out with my kiddo, and I realized quickly that he still needed little ones to socialize with, particularly in an organized setting that would help him remember such activities when we found him a spot in preschool.
The best groups I found for this were the Kaleidoscope Play & Learn Groups for parents and children through the Buncombe County Partnership For Children. These are not childcare groups, in that you stay with your child the whole time, but they are free, which is really nice for the budget!
Groups are 6 weeks long, once a week for about 90 minutes. There is one set of groups held for infants 3-16 months, one set for toddlers 16 months to 35 months, and a set for preschoolers 3-5 years old.
The groups are held at either schools or churches that have well-stocked classrooms where the children have access to a ton of play materials (the group I attended no longer meets where it met before, but there was even a playground for nice days). My toddler at the time got bored of his own indoor toys quickly, so finding an indoor activity that was new and fun was really great.
Each toddler class consisted of washing hands upon arrival, free play, and then an organized singing and sharing time with a book read and some tactile play or music-making. If little ones wandered off (mine was prone!), the teacher was very understanding, making this a great transition for toddlers who have never done an organized sit-down experience before.
After story time and singing, the children may have a physical game to play, like playing with a group parachute, or they may return to free play – there was an optional craft for the little ones who had the interest and attention for it too.
In general, I can’t speak highly enough of these programs. Between seeing the same kids for 6 weeks and having plenty of spots available when I tried them, it really helps and can be a good way for parents who are considering more childcare to see how their child interacts in a classroom.
Get all the answers to your questions on their website. One important factor to note is that your child cannot be enrolled in licensed child care and attend these sessions – they are really there to fill the need for socialization for those who aren’t in child care at all.
2. Try Tiny Tykes at Stephen-Lee for Indoor Fun
A theme you’ll notice in these groups is that they need to be affordable, fit into a typical toddler’s life, and offered rain-or-shine. One way that the Stephen-Lee Recreation Center has met all these criteria is by opening up their gym on Wednesdays and Fridays during the school year for an experience known as Tiny Tykes.
They fill the space with interactive toys and an organized craft to fill the two hours from 10 am to noon for little ones, all for either $25 for an entire multi-month session or $3 per day you participate. Parents stay and spend time with their child, and when their children are engaged in play, they can socialize with other parents.
There’s real peace of mind in making a play date with another family and knowing that it can’t get rained out and that you’ll only spend a few dollars each to get out of your house and let children expend energy! There are other programs through Stephen-Lee on other days, and while programming will change over time, don’t miss out on their current offerings, because they make for a great and affordable way to connect with other kids and parents!
3. Get Free Play Indoors at Play Space AVL Playgroups and Story Times
A church in West Asheville, Westwood Baptist, has opened one of the smartest ideas I’ve seen to help their building use its space productively all week long. Play Space AVL is basically an indoor playground and classroom, but the play is structured in sessions rather than classes.
With a drop-in session pass, your child can play on the indoor climbing and sliding structure, build with materials meant to create inventions and obstacle courses, play in a ball pit, and play pretend.
They can also experience song time and story time on certain days, and the space holds special events and is available for rentals. With the leadership of a long-time child development specialist, this space has become a meeting place for parents and their children to enjoy indoor play and get some energy out, even on a rainy day.
4. Build Skills and Friendships at Swim Lessons
Organizations like the JCC, YMCA, YWCA, and Asheville Racquet Club all offer swim lessons for very young children. I’ve only personally experienced the YMCA, but they have parent/child classes known as Water Discovery or Water Exploration classes that are focused on a few ways of interacting with and enjoying the water rather than building directly to swimming.
While these classes usually carry a cost, we found that they were a great way to commit to using the pool and keeping our toddler exposed to water during his early years. They are also rain-or-shine since they are often held in indoor pools, which makes for a nice activity when it is too cold to play outside for a long time.
5. Jump in the Gym with ‘Wild Things Free Play’ at Asheville Community Movement
Asheville Community Movement is a powerhouse of gymnastics and movement classes as well as afterschool programs and summer camps, located in a huge 35,000-square-foot facility on the banks of the French Broad in North Asheville. For kids who have a lot of energy to get out, they offer once-a-week classes of two types that are both a great fit for toddlers.
First, babies and young toddlers can explore gym equipment with the help of trained instructors and their own parents during Wild Things Free Play, an unstructured experience, and 2-4-year-olds can enjoy Make Way for Ducklings, a semi-structured class that makes use of parental involvement but focuses on more skill building than the earlier class.
6. Try a Playgroup at Sunny Day Play Space
Sunny Day Play Space is an indoor playground for little ones who are 6 years old or younger, with a beautiful climbing and playing area and lots of opportunities for pretend play in areas like the kitchen. They hold summer playgroup meet-ups, as well as daily passes, monthly passes, and annual passes, so if you know that your little one thrives in this space, you have a lot of options for finding the rest of the people in the South Asheville area who have active and playful children.
7. Enjoy a World of Movement in Parent/Child Classes at the Little Gym
While many playgroup-style classes are offered to multiple ages, the Little Gym’s structure for early-childhood parent-child classes is really specific to the age of the kid – no 5-month-olds and 5-year-olds in the same class. From super early movement for 4-month to 10-month-olds to structured classes for 2.5-3 year olds, I really appreciate that these narrow age ranges can zero in on exactly where those kiddos are at developmentally.
While they are primarily a gymnastics gym, you’ll find your kiddos can also learn introductory sports skills, practice their fundamental milestones with walking and crawling, and also be developing the fundamentals of class attendance, like listening and following directions. At the same time, since caregivers are present, you’ll be connecting with other parents and making a new set of acquaintances.
8. Join a Music Together Class to Groove With Your Kids
Music Together is a varied and fun program that gathers kids ages 0-5 and their caregivers for singing, dancing, and playing instruments (lots of percussion!). The class itself is 45 minutes, but with the illustrated songbook, you can keep practicing and learning music through at-home activities all week.
The sessions are either 10 classes or six classes if it’s a summer session, meaning you really get time to get to know the other families. The instructors are trained so that they can keep the class moving in a semi-structured way but with enough wiggle room to adjust to the needs of the kids who are actually enrolled, which is really nice.
If you want something as a precursor to starting music lessons, this could be a good way to get your child excited about music before beginning something like piano or guitar.
9. Join the Little Explorers Club at the Asheville Museum of Science
The Asheville Museum of Science is a small and mighty museum in downtown that offers a great morning out, especially on a rainy day in Asheville. One of the coolest programs they offer, in my opinion, is the Little Explorers Club, a one-hour story time, activity, and time to roam in the play structure they have in the building.
It’s held at 8:30 am (or at least was when I was researching) twice a month on Wednesdays, which is really nice for those of us whose kiddos are pretty tired by the time 10 am or 10:30 am story times come around. It’s even a free admission event, though if you want affordable visits to AMOS, definitely consider checking out the Zoom passes available through the public library as well.
My little guy loves the French Broad River-themed water table that teaches about the water cycle, the big crashable soft area for toddlers, and the super-fast slide. Particularly if you and your family love science and want to foster that love in your little one, this could be a great place to meet like-minded families.
10. Have Developmental Fun at We Rock the Spectrum Classes and Open Play
We Rock the Spectrum is an indoor play space with a special mission: they provide toys, play equipment, and other tools for helping children get their sensory needs met. The larger We Rock the Spectrum organization first created their space to help children who are neurodivergent and neurotypical to be able to play in the same space.
The space has features like a calm room that is kept intentionally dark and quiet, which helps children to calm when they become overwhelmed with lots of friends and noise, which can sometimes happen. With equipment like a zipline, a climbing mountain, a trampoline, and a rope bridge, children get to practice their balance, boost strength, and explore new sensations in a safe environment.
While many of the pieces of equipment are popular for play in an occupational therapy setting, children have a great time in this space no matter what their sensory and developmental needs are – it’s a good fit for birthday parties! They offer a variety of programs that are parent/child as well as some classes and summer camps that could be a great fit for children who respond well to the environment.
11. Find Your New Friends at a Library Story Time
As in many county public libraries, the Buncombe County Library system offers a variety of baby, toddler, and preschool story time events which are free to attend and are spread out at different branches around the county. These events are developed to fit the needs of the age group they target; for instance, when my little boy got up and roamed around the room during toddler story time, no one batted an eye and a few others were also fidgety and exploring.
These engaging events can feature music and singing, fun voices, and even props like puppets, all with the librarians providing a great source of fun and friendship. As children come week after week, the parents begin to make friends with each other too, but since the events are free, it’s less of a challenge if you need to miss an event here and there.
12. Have Fun at Toddler Water Days and Other Asheville Parks and Rec Events
I’m the first to admit that one-off events aren’t the same as playgroups, but I thought that any list of things to do with kids in Asheville should mention the Asheville Parks and Recreation department and their program guides. The Toddler Water Days at Tempie Avery Montford Community Center is a great example.
They set up a variety of kiddie pools, water slides, water guns and cannons, and some fun music and let local toddlers go to town on a summer morning – it’s new and interesting and full of new friends, and so simple!
My little one was a bit hesitant about water that day and still managed to have a great time. The program guide offers a variety of free and inexpensive programming throughout the season, from science experiments in the park to family movie nights, making it a must-grab when you’re planning how to entertain yourself and your toddler in the coming months.
13. Tough to Schedule or Saving Money? You Can DIY Play Groups!
While I love the convenience of organized playgroups and am usually happy to pay for a professional to lead a session and for the indoor space to make a group happen rain-or-shine, that’s not necessary to meet other baby and toddler families in Asheville. It’s totally possible to make your own fun and gather new community along the way, all while taking advantage of the free meeting spaces available around town.
First and foremost is the public parks system. I’m a big fan of the parks system in and around Asheville, from their playgrounds to their walking trails to their shelters for snack time (towns like Black Mountain and Hendersonville also have amazing parks, as we’ve discovered over time).
One way to organically create the playgroup you want is to go to the same park that works well for you and your kid and notice any other regulars. While you can organically connect with people at the park, there are also people who realize that their kiddos are doing well at a particular park on a particular day and formalize it as a playgroup.
Online groups through Facebook often have people mentioning a particular time and date each week to create a cohort of kiddos to play together at the park. With a group thread to address any weather challenges, these groups become buddies, and their kids get to grow up together.
This option is a great fit for families who don’t have a lot of times available; pick one that works for you and throw it out to a large Asheville parents group, and you may find some new friends at exactly the time that works for your family.
A few more tips for making a playgroup organically and building community as a result:
- Some people have spotless and prepared homes all the time, but in general, it’s nice if playgroups can meet in a neutral space where no one person has to worry about hosting every time (unless you just love it!). I’ve also seen toddlers participate in sharing better when all the toys available are communal (sandbox trucks or the toys available at an indoor play space) than when they are one child’s personal toys.
- Take into account how many kids can really enjoy a space when deciding on the size of your group. Some playgrounds are big enough for dozens of kids to have their space to enjoy the equipment, but some are pretty barebones – no need to invite every single family you meet to the same meet-up.
- If your group has a particular interest, like Asheville’s craft beer scene, you don’t have to meet at public parks. Breweries like Whistle Hop and restaurants like Creekside Taphouse offer play areas for kids right on-site where craft beverages are sold, giving parents a chance to enjoy a drink while kids play mini golf, kick a soccer ball around, climb a play structure, or go down a big slide.
It may feel like just one more thing to get done this week, but finding community in Asheville is both possible and very rewarding. When you have more families around you, you’ll feel more prepared to take on all the fun of this city and all the joys and challenges of parenting.