Shopping With Kids

Ever tried going to the mall with two kids under 5? I don't recommend it. The process often involves a little bribing and a lot of negotiation and leaves you feeling like you ran a marathon by the time you get home.

But malls have gotten pretty smart over the last few years. Who primarily goes to a mall? Women. And many of us women have kids. So in order to keep those shopping mamas at the mall spending money, you gotta make it fun for the kids. That's where the bribing comes in: "We're going to the mall to buy some new shoes and while we're there we'll catch a puppet show." Fight avoided.

Several local shopping malls and the stores inside them have caught on, offering a bunch of kid-friendly activities like live musical performances, indoor playgrounds and play areas, trains and story times.

Here are some of the best kid-friendly malls in the area:

Tysons Corner Center, McLean: Like many malls these days, Tysons Corner put in a kids play area (Third Floor), complete with things to climb, bounce on and hang from. The mall will be adding a track-less train on May 2 where kids can take a 5-minute ride around the food court for $2. Tysons is also starting a birthday club where kids can have their birthday parties in the food court and incorporate the play area and train rides in their party entertainment. Fun is not only found in the open areas of the mall but in the stores as well. My daughter and I have always been fans of Pottery Barn Kids (First Level). The store has many of its high-priced toys on the floor, ready for small (and adult) hands to play with. Shop To It reader Chris from McLean also told me about the LEGO store (First Level), which has stations set up for kids to build and create. "Also a great 'sharing with complete strangers' test," he wrote. Chris' 2-year-old also fancies the Apple store (Level 2), which has computers set up on low tables for munchkins, and L.L. Bean (Level 1), which has a large aquarium with real fish -- think catfish, bass and trout -- inside. The display is at the perfect height for kids to peer in and watch the fish. The mall also features the musical talents of Mr. Knick Knack several times per month. (Check out the mall's event page for Mr. Knick Knack's schedule.)

Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax: If you go to Fair Oaks once in your life, make it in January when the mall holds its annual Diaper Derby. Diaper-clad babies race across a mat for the chance to win a major prize like this year's trip for four to Cancun. This year the event drew 170 racing cherubs. The mall is also known for its annual Halloween celebration, which draws about 8,000 kids and their parents. This year will mark the 21st annual Malloween where children come dressed in their costumes, seeking treats from stores. The mall also featured a weeklong schedule of music and magic shows and reading events during Fairfax County's spring break this year. Any other day of the week kids can blow off steam in the mall's new play area (First Floor), which is decorated with Looney Tunes characters and sponsored by Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.

White Flint Mall, North Bethesda: Like many shopping malls, White Flint started a kid's club where parents sign up for e-mail updates on kid events like the monthly music shows by Mr. Knick Knack (the same guy who performs at Tysons). So far 1,100 families have signed up. Along with the club, the mall brought in a ride-on train for kids that's currently out of commission for repairs. White Flint also hosts Stroller Strides and Baby Boot Camp, two exercise programs for moms and their tots. Pottery Barn Kids, on the mall's second floor, and Borders, on the second and third floors, both have story time every Tuesday at 10 a.m.

So what did we miss? Where do you take your kids when you venture out to the mall? Which shopping venues offer the best distractions for kids? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  April 24, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest , Kid Stuff
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Why do Fair Okas and Tysons discriminate?
You can bring your small foo foo dog into the mall in your arms, purse or carrier but I cant bring my two collies! Discrimination based on size. And my collies are less likely to bite or have an accident. We are suing the mall owners and the individual stores in a class action suit. They will either change their policies to no dogs or all inclusive. We have are seeking a temporay injunction in the Fairfax County courts tomorrow. We are ready to shutdown both malls unless they comply. Let Lassie In!

Posted by: Dave | April 24, 2008 6:36 AM

Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg has a kid play area called Frogland. It is your basic run, jump, climb, tumble play area. It is crawling with germs and kids that are "too big to be in a play area", but kids love it and it is in a great location: within 3-4 store-fronts of Gymboree, Children's Place, Disney Store, and Stride Rite. It's also right by the really cool see-thru elevator, up and down escalators, and STARBUCKS!!! I go with a friend a lot - One of us will watch all of our kids at Frogland while the other one runs into Gymboree, etc. It's not a far walk from the Food Court as well.

The only downside is that Frogland is closed for all of December for Santa and then for a few weeks around Chinese New Year. Really bad timing considering winter is when you need a place like Frogland to be open!

Posted by: LBH219 | April 24, 2008 1:10 PM

Cute idea for a blog post. I wish the stores had had all this fun stuff back when I was a kid!

Posted by: Tia | April 24, 2008 4:08 PM

Replying to Dave about Fair Oaks and Tysons Corner Mall's discriminating on bringing in dog's bigger then a small "foo foo" sized dog. If anything I agree on suing the mall owners on any pets being allowed in at all. Unless the dog is a helping dog for the blind or any other "special need". I believe the No Pets Allowed policy should be enforced everywhere there is food or merchandise being sold. Honestly I wouldn't want my son or daughter stepping in a mess where someone didn't scoop there pets mess up. EW!!! Especially while your out shopping. Prices now a days are bad enough, we don't need another added problem. Don't get me wrong I love dog's and cat's. But there are many places they should not be allowed.
Good luck in the court room!!!

Posted by: Kristin/Herndon | May 5, 2008 11:47 AM

Maybe this will make your trip to the shopping mall with your kids a bit more pleasant, its the rolling shopping cart...

Posted by: Robbin | May 7, 2008 12:45 AM

Maybe this will make your trip to the shopping mall more enjoyable, its the folding shopping cart...


Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 12:46 AM

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