Around Town: Kids and Winter


With this week’s near-record low temperatures and Northfield’s school closures, I find myself wondering simultaneously how to keep myself inside my nice cozy house and how to get my kids out of it. As much fun as it is to have them both home, it’s hard to get our two sons enough exercise to keep them happy and out of trouble. Let’s face it: it’s no picnic being young, energetic, and cooped up in a place with ridiculous rules like “don’t throw that balloon onto the stove while the burners are on” and “no jumping across the room onto the coffee table.” Sometimes children just need to get out and work those major muscle groups, and since the great outdoors isn’t exactly the place to do that when frostbite can occur within ten minutes, I thought it was high time to share some options for places around town that are kid-friendly in the winter. There are lots of options for weekly and ongoing classes and activities in Northfield, but today I’m only dealing with places where you can come by at short notice if you just need to get out. This also isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but simply to give parents of young children some options in case they find themselves with a case of tiny-person cabin fever.

At the top of the list is Northfield’s YMCA, which offers several options with generous hours throughout the week. And as a big bonus, the Y is open even when the schools are closed. At least half the gym is open weekdays from 5am (my kids are up!) until 9pm, with a brief closure Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10-11:30. On weekends, it’s generally open from about 9-6 barring closure for special events. The calendar is available at The pool at the Y is also open every day, usually for three 1.5 hour stretches in the morning, at midday, and in the late afternoons, though open swim is available pretty much all day the weekends. In the afternoon after about 3:30, the slide is open as well (here’s the calendar: If your child is 9 or older and passes a test administered by YMCA staff, they’re even allowed to swim without an adult. Finally, if you need some time to blow off steam yourself while your kids run amok (really, who doesn’t?Especially if you don’t have family nearby to take off some of the pressure now and then), you might consider Child Watch at the Y. Between 8 and noon Monday through Saturday, and again from 4:30-seven or eight on weekdays, you can check children in for fun and activities with YMCA staff while you work out (here’s the schedule: All these programs are free for Y members, and non-members can purchase a day’s pass for $5 per child or $12 for a family; child watch is $3 per child for non-members for a two-hour visit.


Open gym at Northfield Gymnastics Club is also a good way for kids to work out some energy in a safe environment. They don’t need to know anything about gymnastics to enjoy bouncing on trampolines, jumping in a giant pit filled with foam blocks, and otherwise run around and tumble on the bouncy and padded floors of the gym. The gym is open Wednesdays for different age groups at different times (pre-K is from 9:30-11am and school are from 6:30-7:30), which can make it tough if you have kids in both groups, but there’s something to be said for keeping larger kids from running over and through the little ones. It’s more expensive than many places on the list (about $8-10 depending on age), but it’s also pretty much all padded, so your kids can literally hurl themselves around in ways that just wouldn’t be possible in many places. More information is available here: For school age (K-8) kids interested in basketball more than general athleticism, especially those who stay up a bit later in the evening, NPS Community Services runs open gym basketball Wednesdays from 7-9pm. The fee is $3.

Of course, winter isn’t nearly as much fun without winter sports, and if it’s too warm, cold, rough, or squishy to skate outdoors at the baseball diamond behind city hall, consider stopping by the ice arena during the day on Sunday between 12:30 and 2pm or Monday and Thursday between 11 and 12:30 for open skating. Admission is $3, and if you need skates for yourself or a child, you can rent them for $3.25. All age and skill levels are together on the ice, but almost everyone is very responsible about giving each other space, and if you’re just starting out it’s a lot of fun to watch more skilled skaters and daydream about what you could do with a little practice. Here’s a link to the arena calendar:


If you’re affiliated with one of the colleges in town, remember that you’re also allowed to use their facilities, usually for free. At Carleton, this means swimming and rec center facilities, and at St. Olaf you can now add skating to the list. When my wife was still working at Carleton, I used to take our boys to the Rec Center racquetball courts with a load of inflatable balls and let them do all the things they weren’t allowed to at home. Do remember, though, that the colleges don’t share their facilities either with each other or with the community at large.

If you have really little ones, Northfield United Methodist Church has a great opportunity for you in the winter months, opening up its large multi-purpose room for baby and toddler playtime Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30 to 10 o’clock, January through March. They have an array of age-appropriate play equipment and toys and plenty of space. It’s welcoming, it’s free, and it’s officially Robert-and-Henry-approved. In fact, it’s one of their favorite places to play. Check out this article from last January for more:…

So when it’s warm enough to go outside (not today!) but not warm enough to stay there, I hope this information will come in handy to help your kids stay healthy and happy and to keep you sane. One final note: as a general rule, these places will be open when the schools are, but many of them close in truly extreme weather like we’re having this week. It’s always a good idea to check before you go if school is cancelled for meteorological hijinks. If they’re open, enjoy! If not, you can always come to our house for some coffee-table gymnastics.