(cross-posted at My168Hours.com)
My kids are night owls. While I console myself that needing less sleep is often a sign of giftedness, it's hard on a parent to have a 3-year-old who really will not go to sleep until 10PM (the baby often doesn't go down until 9PM or later, either).
The net result is that we have some long evenings in our house. While there are some perks to this as a working parent -- even working 50 hour weeks I can usually spend 5-6 hours per workday with my kids -- there are also some downsides. What do we do with that time? Dinner and baths certainly don't take 3-4 hours. In summer we can go to the park, but it gets dark here by 8, and in winter it's dark at 4:45PM. New York has many wonderful activities for children on weekends and during the weekdays, but there are not a whole lot of activities for 3- and 1-year-olds that start at, say, 7PM.
So, over the last 3 years, I have slowly been building a list of evening activities that will distract the kids from whining for Dora for at least a little while. Some of them:
1. Borders! Last night we camped out in the kids' section for 45 minutes playing with the plastic dinosaurs. While this is not really a free activity (I usually wind up buying sticker books), a library with evening hours would serve the same purpose.
2. The grocery store. But not necessarily with the purpose of buying groceries. I try to order the workhorse staples of my grocery list online, since the kids get cranky after a short while of shopping, and hauling groceries (I don't have a car) while hauling the kids is tough. So if I go with both kids, we cruise the produce aisle and name things and then buy, like, one bunch of bananas.
3. A run with the double stroller. Lock the front wheel, cruise 1.5 miles to a playground, play briefly (or not, depending on how dark it's getting), run home. A bonus way to get more exercise.
4. Visit the play room or pool. My apartment building has a kids' playroom and an indoor pool, both of which are technically open until 9:45PM on weeknights. Yes, people think you're crazy when they see your small children up at 8PM, but so it goes.
5. Museums with evening hours. I have to plan ahead for this, as often they close by 6PM. But some stay open late one night per week.
6. Evening playdates. This hasn't worked out quite as often as I would have liked (since other people's children seem not to keep my kids' hours) but is a great option if you can pull it off.
7. Invite people who don't have kids over for dinner. This has several benefits. First, you get to see them without the whole babysitter song and dance. Second, the kids enjoy hanging out with other adults who may be a bit less burned out than the parents. Order take-out so no one has to cook.
8. Backyard "camping." OK, living in the heart of New York City, this one isn't an option for me, but I look forward to someday doing evening campfires and s'mores, even if the fire is inside the grill on the patio.
9. Really easy arts and crafts. You know the Crate & Barrel and Harry & David catalogs that show up, oh, every other day? Make collages.
10. Random sporting events. Jasper and I have been known to go take in a kickball game in Central Park. Interesting to watch for a bit, but if you don't really care about the team or the sport, than you won't mind leaving in the middle (key with kids).
Of course, many of these things require at least a bit of planning. As I've been pondering how I spend my hours, I realize that I don't plan for the evenings as often as I should. I'm tired after working all day, and I'm tempted to play it safe, staying home rather than risking a subway diaper explosion or a meltdown. But given how long our evenings can be, staying home the whole time without something on the agenda is a recipe for frayed nerves, or for constant begging to play "stegasaurus," which involves crawling around on the floor and hurts my knees. Or for a Dora the Explorer marathon. And while Dora is fine for half an hour, 3-4 hours is a bit much.
I'd really welcome other suggestions on things to do during the evening hours with kids who don't sleep.