Named for its 38 lakes, Lakeland, Florida, has a population of approximately 100,000, according to 2012 Census data. The vibrant city, located along the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando, has undergone a cultural renaissance in the 21st century. Lakeland provides a plethora of activities for all ages, including numerous programs specifically geared to the toddler set.
1. Explorations V
Founded in 1991, Explorations V is a three-story hands-on museum and learning center for kids. The exhibits are crafted to meet Florida Sunshine State Standards for pre-k through fifth grade. Through personal exploration, kids are introduced to a variety of concepts including theater, history, music, science and art. Free weekday morning programs in math, music and other topics are designed especially for preschool age children.
Kindermusik provides instrumental and vocal instruction and music appreciation classes for children from birth through age 7. Toddler classes are designed for parents to attend with their kids. Gymnastics Etc. and Gymtek feature parent-toddler tumbling classes. The Lakeland Family YMCA provides dance classes and swimming lessons for toddlers, as well as rookie sports teams beginning at age 3. The Lakeland Public Library hosts free Toddler Time on Wednesdays with storytelling, puppets and other activities.
Lakeland’s annual calendar is packed with festivals and special events for the entire family. From January’s Pigfest barbecue celebration to May’s Mayfaire by-the-Lake art extravaganza, Lakeland’s festivals feature free admission and dozens of activities. In December, Snowfest allows thousands of Florida children to play in manmade snow, despite the heat. Take cash for games and shopping, and grab a change of clothes for your toddler. Festival activities are often messy.
4. Lakefront Fun
Take advantage of Lakeland’s lakes for boating, fishing, walking trails or simply sitting in the shade and watching the world go by. A time-honored tradition is to purchase bread from the convenience store across from the library and sit in the grass to feed the ducks on the banks of Lake Morton. Each lake is in a different part of the city, and each has its own neighborhood feel. Visit several before you decide which one is your favorite.