Archie McPhee store in Seattle. Credit: Nancy Chaney
It’s Wednesday again: What’s your after-school plan? Last year, Seattle Public Schools threw a little wrench into families’ weekly schedules by announcing that every Wednesday would be an early-dismissal day. Kids are now let out of school an hour and 15 minutes earlier than other days.
For families without daily after-school care — including part-time workers, work-at-home parents or stay-at-home parents trying to at least get one thing done in a day — it can be a challenge to fill a long Wednesday afternoon. And Seattle parents are far from alone: Other school districts, such as Bellevue and Issaquah, also have regular early-release days that can leave parents scrambling.
On the plus side, it’s an opportunity to plan a longer adventure than you’d typically have time for on a weekday afternoon, and to give your kids the chance to pack in some physical activity and play part way through the week.
We've rounded up 13 ideas for after-school adventures that entertain and educate kids; mix and match for in-service days and weekends, too.
P.S.: We’d love your ideas, too. Share them in the comments!
1. Play scientist/spy in a park
At several of Seattle’s most expansive parks, you can check out explorer packs, stocked with tools such as binoculars, magnifying glasses and games that bring out your kid’s inner scientist or spy. At Magnuson Park, for example, stop by the community center to check out either a bird-watching pack or a wetland discovery pack for just $5; kids will love running around the wetland trails, looking at cattails, spying signs of beaver chomps on trees and finding downed trees that double as forts. The Washington Park Arboretum also offers family adventure packs ($7 for two hours, check them out at the Graham Visitors Center).
2. Go eco
On the other side of Lake Washington, environmental education hot spots that are sure to be under-populated on a rainy Wednesday include Mercer Slough’s cool treehouse and wetland trails, and Lewis Creek Park’s state-of-the-art visitor center.
3. Zip to a new playground
Downtown Park in Bellevue recently debuted one of the most adventurous and beautiful playgrounds in Puget Sound, with nature-themed climbing walls, steep slides and even a small trampoline; and it is totally worth a little traffic stress to go there. On a drizzly afternoon, you might even have it to yourself, as my 7-year-old and I did recently. Other newish playgrounds that are perfect for school-age kids who desperately need run-around time are Seattle Center’s Artists at Play; Miner’s Corner in Bothell; Montlake Playfield (with huge climbing towers and wetland paths); and Rainier Beach playfield, which offers a newer Greenways path.
4. Find treasure
Want to stay close to home but still want to get outdoors — and need some incentive to do so? One word: geocaching. We finally tried it this summer and realized it was the ultimate hiking reward. Find tips for how to get started here. Or blow your mini geocaching fan’s mind by taking them to the source in Fremont, Geocaching.com’s world headquarters, where you can find a geocache in the office, and then do a nine-cache tour of funky Fremont. If you’d prefer to leave your smartphone behind, try a different kind of treasure hunt, such as letterboxing or painted rocks.
5. Go shopping, learn math
Who says early-release days can’t be educational? Give each of your kids $5 and then take them to a store with lots of kid- and wallet-friendly merchandise. Quirky stores that specialize in the small and weird — such as Archie McPhee (finger slugs!?) or Uwajimaya — are kid nirvana, of course, but the Dollar Store or even Bartell Drugs will also do the trick. Give them paper and pencil to add up prices, and an allotted amount of time to shop.
And nine more ideas:
6. Play coupon book bingo
You’ve got a coupon book — a Chinook Book, say — that never seems to get used. You’ve also got kids with extra hours. Find a win-win, as a friend of mine does, by choosing a coupon for a different treat shop each week; use the treat as a jumping-off point to explore the surrounding neighborhood. Sweet pairings for Chinook Book include Anchorhead Coffee in Issaquah or the Bluebird Microcreamery in Capitol Hill, Fremont or Greenwood. (Tip: the Chinook Book also includes a number of great coupons for museums and play spaces.)
7. Indulge in a matinee
Win big points with your kids by planning a surprise weekday matinee that you (might) enjoy as much as they do. You don’t have to break the bank, either. In Shoreline, a thrifty parent’s dream is Crest Cinema ($4 tickets), with daily matinees; usually one or two of the movies are kid-friendly. In Edmonds, the Edmonds Theater shows first-run movies for only $8 a matinee. And in Columbia City, the first matinee of the day at Ark Lodge Cinema is $9.
8. Pinball for the win
A bonus of having school-age kids is that once they reach age 7 they are old enough for entry into that old-school gaming paradise that is the Seattle Pinball Museum (follow with a trip to the Wing Luke Museum or Uwajimaya). Full Tilt is also a winner with five locations for pinball games, Pac-Man and some of the best ice cream in town. Or go for a new board game at hot spots such as Blue Highway Games on Queen Anne or Mox Boarding House, with locations in Ballard and Bellevue.
9. Visit a smaller museum
It’s been on your list forever — one of those quirky little museums that tells a unique story about the people of Puget Sound. Most are affordable and some are free (check the Chinook Book for discounts). Comb through the always-free Frye Art Museum, with its crazily hung collection of German art. The Northwest African American Museum is a gem and nearby the wonderful Seattle Children’s Playgarden. If you’re up for tackling a difficult subject, the Holocaust Center for Humanity is open Wednesdays (you need to reserve ahead). Or head over to the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus to explore an exhibit that’s testing hands-on scientific concepts — before it closes at the end of the year. A new museum will open in 2019.
10. Jump, jump jump
Some days (most days?) kids just need to move. For kids ages 10 and under, Bellevue’s Funtastic Playtorium (now in Alderwood, too) offers a killer combination of chutes, ladders and ball wars. Head to South Lake Union for some playtime at PlayDate SEA, which is free with canned food donations the last Wednesday of every month. Elevated Sportz in Bothell has a newer Ninja course sure to tucker out energetic kids.
11. Learn at the library
Some Seattle Public Libraries have Wednesday after-school activities (e.g., STEAM activities at Greenwood) and after-school meals as well; check the calendar. Or head to a destination library, such as Renton’s lovely library that’s built over a river, or the unusually awesome Center for Urban Horticulture Library; or the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library that looks straight out of Harry Potter. Also check the KCLS calendar.
12. Plan around your kid’s passion
My fellow ParentMap writer Tiffany Pitts has been using early-release days to connect her kid’s obsession with building houses in Minecraft to exploring architecture IRL (you know, in real life). “We've started taking tours of cool buildings. We recently went on a tour of the Stimson-Green Mansion on First Hill. We are headed to the Smith Tower next,” she says. Work with your kid to build an itinerary for exploring his or her hobby around the city. From Legos to ice cream, you can bet Seattle’s got hot spots.
13. Sign 'em up
Finally, if you need a drop-off option, sign them up for a class they don’t usually have the time to take. Kids Science Lab Seattle has a Wednesday Investigators class from 3–5 p.m. KidsQuest Children’s Museum has an after-school class called QuestClub, exploring natural forces of nature. Many Seattle Community Centers have after-school clubs and classes that on Wednesdays are timed to coordinate with early-dismissal times at the nearest schools. Check out offerings on SPARC, the city's online sign-up site.