Play area at IKEA, photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
You love your darling children very much, but when you’re at home with little kids all day, every day, sometimes you just need a minute alone. To stare at the wall, to scroll through Instagram — anything, as long as it doesn’t involve another person’s constant needs.
Locking yourself in the bathroom is one short-term solution, but it’s just a matter of time before little fingers poke under the door. When you’re about to lose your mind, head to one of these sanity-saving spots where you can ditch your kids for free — at least for a little while.
1. Fred Meyer stores in Ballard, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Bothell, Lynnwood and Alderwood
Fred Meyer sells everything — and we mean everything — you could possibly want, so go ahead and browse those throw pillows in leisurely solitude. The larger Fred Meyer stores have a complimentary Playland that accepts kids age 2 through kindergarten for up to an hour, free. Kids have to be able to enter the Playland archway without stooping over, and parents have to stay in the store. Freddy’s Playland is open daily from 11 a.m.–7 p.m., though hours can sometimes vary. Call ahead if you're counting on it being open.
When we visited, the one kid in the carpeted playroom had her eyeballs glued to a big-screen TV. Hey, it’s free babysitting, we’re not expecting them to be doing STEM experiments.
When your kids are done at Playland, stop by the bakery section. If you ask nicely, kids can usually get a free cookie.
2. Haggen Food & Pharmacy in Woodinville
Imagine going through the grocery store without any tantrums in the snack aisle. You can fulfill this dream at the Woodinville Haggen store. Leave your potty-trained kids for up to an hour for free at Happy Kids. The playroom is spacious and packed with plenty of toys. It's open daily at 9 a.m.; closing times varies between 5 and 7 p.m.
3. QFC at University Village
We love the Quality Food Center store at U. Village in Seattle for its fleet of taxi-shaped shopping carts and for carrying fresh Ellenos Greek yogurt. But the best perk of the store? Free child care. You can drop off kids ages 2–10 at the Quality Fun Center (wink) for up to 1.5 hours. The cheerful playroom, jam-packed with toys, operates daily, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. There’s even a large Starbucks inside this QFC, so maybe plan ahead and meet a friend for uninterrupted adult conversation.
4. IKEA Småland in Renton
IKEA’s adorable, Swedish-forest-themed play room offers shoppers free childcare for 45–60 minutes. Inside the play area, there's a ball pit that kids adore. Småland is open weekdays, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., and 11 a.m.–7 p.m. on weekends. On busy weekends, we recommend getting there right when they open. (Capacity is capped at 54 kids at a time.) Kids must be potty-trained and between 37 and 54 inches tall.
You can dive into the showroom labyrinth, or, better yet, enjoy a kid-free meatball date at the restaurant!
5. Free trial classes
You can’t just drop in, but signing up for a free trial class gets your kid some terrific enrichment while you get a free mental break. Look for a drop-off class — which usually starts at preschool age — not a parent-child class.
- Sponge School offers immersion language classes in Mandarin, German, Spanish, French and Japanese. The school has branches in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle, Kirkland and Issaquah. Use code "FIRSTFREE" to get your first trial class for free. Sign up for a Just Kids class, for students age 3 through grade 2, and get 1 hour 25 minutes of freedom. ¡Que fantástico!
- The Little Gym’s gymnastics classes are a lot of fun, for waddlers through elementary school-aged kids. The best seats in the house are in the lobby, where you can watch your kids through a window. They'll be moving and tumbling with the pro instructors; or feel free to zone out — there's free wifi. The Little Gym has tons of locations in the greater Seattle area: Interbay, Maple Leaf, West Seattle, Bellevue-Redmond, Alderwood, Kent, Issaquah, Everett, Federal Way, Maple Valley and Pullayup. Search your nearest location, look through the online schedule, and pick out a class to try for free. Classes run from 50 minutes to an hour, with drop-off classes for kids ages 3–12.
- Gymboree Play & Music offers art, music and movement classes in a brightly colored and thoroughly padded indoor play space. (Note that Gymboree classes are separate from the clothing company that is going out of business.) Gymboree is mostly geared toward the youngest set, but kids ages 2–5 can participate in a drop-off class, either the Play Lab class (45 minutes) or School Skills (2 hours). Gymboree Play & Music has locations in Ballard, Bellevue and Redmond.
6. College Sitters deal
Ever since Poppy closed shop in December (sniff, sniff), other sites have jumped for a share of the caregiving market. College Sitters is offering three free consecutive sitter-hours, plus free enrollment with the promo code "THREEFREE" (no expiration date). New customers have to complete the setup process with College Sitters.
More ideas for a catching a quick break from kids...