Fun Places Around Columbia to Explore With Children Under One

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One of my biggest struggles as a new mother was overcoming the feeling of isolation. I often felt trapped at home by seemingly never-ending nursing and crying marathons. I remember being so excited once my son got through that “fourth trimester,” and it was easier to take him places. But where to go?

Fortunately, Columbia boasts a surprising number of options to entertain children who have yet to celebrate their first birthday. Here is a list of my favorites.

Attractions

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

One of the best deals in town, the family membership to Riverbanks Zoo & Garden has been our family’s wisest investment since moving to Columbia. On any given day, we can stroll around the grounds, enjoying a few hours of fresh air and taking in our favorite animals.

Highlights for a one-year-old and younger include the birdhouse’s penguin exhibit, where your little one can see eye-to-eye with these arctic swimmers from the comfort of their own stroller. Still in a carrier? Talk to your baby and give them a play-by-play to help develop their word-processing skills.

The aquarium is another great attraction for your child, as most of these exhibits are also at their eye level when strolling, sitting, or standing.* 

When your child is clamoring to be picked up, head to the giraffes for an up-close and personal (sometimes TOO personal) encounter. Even though our daughter is too young to feed the giraffes, she enjoys watching them pass him by on their way to the hands that feed.

In addition to its 2,000+ animals, Riverbanks has rides, such as a carousel and train, to keep little ones entertained – even if they’re only watching from afar or riding them with a parent.

*Please note: The reptile and aquarium facility is currently closed for renovations. The new aquarium and reptile conservation center will open in 2022

EdVenture Children’s Museum

A favorite Columbia spot for kids, EdVenture has thought of accommodating everyone, from children with special needs to those who are not yet walking. My Backyard is a gated exhibit, designed especially for three-year-olds and younger, where children can “explore tactile, interactive environments,” such as a fisherman’s boat and a treehouse with a slide.

Got a little one who isn’t mobile yet? A special area in My Backyard is designated for the newest of newborns with infant toys, a play gym, and foam climbing area. This play area also boasts a nursing room with a glider. Other amenities include a private restroom with changing area.

Saluda Shoals Park

This Irmo park is a gem for little ones!

Stumbling upon the park’s Environmental Education Center wound up being one of the happiest accidents. With a children’s discovery area, which includes a large, hollow tree that children can sit in, as well as animal puppets, even crawlers can enjoy the wonders of nature in a cool, safe environment.

Within these grounds, we can also find Leo’s Landing, which is an inclusive playground that opened in 2019. It is a wonderful space not only for older kids but also for infants, as they can use a set of swings on their own (with proper vigilance). My daughter had a blast using them and looking around, seeing other kids play.

For those hot summer months, Saluda Splash is an interactive splash pad. For just $3, this is an inexpensive way to cool off on a hot afternoon. You can also purchase a 15-visit Splash Pass for $40. The Splash Pass is valid at both Saluda Splash and Melvin Park Splash in Chapin. A $5 daily parking fee applies at Saluda Shoals Park).

Columbia Marionette Theatre

My daughter is delighted by puppets right now. Located at the entrance of Riverfront Park, Columbia Marionette Theatre offers 20 – 40 minute puppet shows for only $7. All seats are general admission, and tickets are always available at the door. Shows are every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and every third Monday at 10 a.m. CMT offers classic shows like Jack and the Beanstalk, The Wizard of Oz, and Little Red Riding Hood, as well as their own original shows. 

*Check out THIS previous Columbia Mom post for information on other Columbia children’s theatres. 

Storytime

Richland County and Lexington County Libraries

Foster your child’s love of books by attending storytime designed for the youngest of library patrons. Although Richland County Library normally hosts several programs for babies, birth through 12 months of age, such as Mother Goose Storytime and Hello, Baby!, right now as a COVID precaution, they are offering Outdoor Family Storytime following social distancing. So, if you are wanting to enjoy an activity outside your house, but still are taking precautions, this is perfect for you. Reservations ARE required, so a word of advice, head on to the Richland County Library website well in advance, as they have very limited openings for each event and they normally fill out fast.  

Lexington County Library has a similar program known as Lapsit. But now, because of COVID, they are offering a new program that is called Sunshine & Stories. This storytime includes an introduction to nursery rhymes, finger play, storytelling, and more! They offer this program on different days at different library branches, both virtually and at the park. Be sure to check the library’s website for more information.

If you decide to visit any library and join their storytime, afterward, spend time checking out the stuffed animals, abundance of books, puzzles, and much, much more!

Classes

Carolina Show Company (CSC) & Me

Carolina Show Company offers classes that provide the opportunity for babies as young as six weeks of age to bond with their caregiver and to “explore movement through stories and play.” They offer morning and afternoon classes, and also the chance to use their space in designated time-slots to play independently with your infant.

USC Music Play

The Children’s Music Development Center at the University of South Carolina offers once-per-week classes for newborns through 35-month-olds designed to “develop music skills through fun, playful, socially interactive music activities that include singing, chanting and moving.”

Other

Columbiana Centre

Columbiana Centre, also referred to as Harbison Mall, is a favorite spot for us on rainy days. Home to a carousel and fabulous children’s play area, this indoor mall is incredibly family-friendly, offering a private nursing lounge, changing area, and a family restroom. 

Now that my daughter is nearing the one-year mark, she loves to crawl around the play area and watch the carousel as we share a snack in the food court. Bring some extra quarters and let your child ride the “minibus” beside the merry-go-round.

Bonus: The main doors open before the advertised hours for early morning mall walkers — perfect for those days when baby is up super early and you’re looking to get out of the house.

What would you add to this list?

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Luz has been happily married for seven years and is a proud mom to three girls, four years and under. She is originally from Mexico but has lived in Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina. South Carolina has been her family's home for almost two years (but they have been in Columbia only six months, so she is eager to explore all the city and its surroundings have to offer). So far, she has really enjoyed going to the Riverfront Park, picking strawberries at different farms, eating ice cream at Rosewood Dairy Bar, and going to events at the State Fairgrounds. She is a stay-at-home mom, avid churchgoer, and community helper. Some of her passions include reading, cooking/baking, listening to music, learning new languages, exercising by watching fitness videos, and traveling. She recently started to learn all about gardening and loves it (it has turned into a family activity for the weekends).

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