I remember going to the Zion Mall in Salt Lake City as a young girl with my grandparents. Every time, we'd get an Orange Julius and sit and watch people. I looked forward to those times. Whether you're starting a new bonding routine with your son, or just getting your daughter out of the house after a new baby, these dates will begin a dialogue that will continue for years to come. Here are the top five inexpensive toddler date ideas to try.

Ice Cream Sundaes

This is a classic parent-child date night for a reason: everyone loves ice cream. Make it ridiculously delicious by allowing them to pick their own toppings. Bonus points if you don't gag when they pick gross combinations.

Make it cheap: Let them pick toppings at the bulk section from the store and make your own sundaes at home. Make sure you're in a room just the two of you. No sharing allowed. Remember, this is about one-on-one time.

Explore Nature

Go on a nature walk with your child. Ask them about whatever crosses your mind.

Bonus: Pick flowers and make a bouquet for mommy when she's at home with a new baby. Or collect leaves, paint them with green paint and make imprints on paper for an artistic work of art for daddy's office.

Coffee Shop

You may be thinking this is a little high brow for your toddler, but that all depends. If your child is loving the idea of becoming a big kid, having a "latte" with mom (think a warm vanilla steamer with foam), may be the thrill of her young little life. Talk it up as a coffee date, and bring along some of your child's favorite books to read and draw, and just hang out together.

No caffeine needed: If coffee isn't your thing, do a donut shop instead. It's all about the experience.

People Watching

Go to a mall, or train station, or anywhere people are coming and going, and find a cozy place to sit and watch. Point out the groups of people and try to guess where they're going, or coming from. Guess what people are going to work and which ones are just going out for fun. This is a great exercise for recognizing social workings, as well as reading situations. Which people look happy to be here? This can lead into asking questions about what your child likes or what makes him happy.

The gift of observation: Once your child becomes aware of this game, waiting in otherwise boring lines at the grocery store or the waiting room at the doctor's office may become an exciting guessing game adventure.


This is a great introduction to window shopping. But unlike antiques, you don't have to worry about breakables. And they are less tempting than toy stores. Take a walk through the store, settle on a couple books, and read them. Have your child re-tell the story to the family back at home.

Make it free: Go to the library instead and check out as many books as her heart desires. Check out the reading schedule and see if they offer a children's time that you can take your child to, as well.

They main things to keep in mind with these toddler dates is that they can't be too expensive and shouldn't focus around the activity more than the time together. If you keep it simple, cheap, and make it a routine, you'll be building a solid relationship.

It's hard to think about a toddler as a teenager, or an adult with toddlers of their own. But it's inevitable. One day your child will be remembering you for these times. Just like I remember those Orange Julius' (they don't taste as good, by the way), one day, your child will say, "Every Saturday, dad would take me to get donuts while mom was feeding the baby." And so begins their story.

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This post was included in the latest Festival of Frugality blog carnival.