Shopping with kids in tow doesn't have to be a chore, especially if there's a playground in sight.
Many Long Island malls have created engaging play spaces that are geared toward children as young as toddlers and as old as elementary school. These interactive playgrounds feature mini slides, animal structures that act as climbers, crawl-through tunnels and more. What's more, these free fun zones are available for use during mall hours, including when doors open early before the stores do so people can walk.
Take a look at the indoor play spaces at shopping malls in Nassau and Suffolk.
Free playtime at Roosevelt Field (630 Old Country Rd., Garden City) takes place on the lower level, accessible by escalator or elevator. The space is not surrounded by a barrier or gate — so unlike most indoor mall playgrounds, you’ll need to keep your eyes firmly on your little ones, as any child prone to running off unexpectedly won’t be blocked by a boundary. The circular area is loosely surrounded by seating, and the activities have the most artistic appearance of any mall play items: A hippopotamus statue with a crawlspace in its belly and a minislide on the side, a low-lying alligator for climbing and a tree house with a table and stools inside. Everything is just the right size for even the smallest child to try. More information: 516-742-8001, simon.com/mall/roosevelt-field.
Smith Haven Mall
With only one level to the mall, just head to the north end (where Sears is located) to find the fun zone at the Smith Haven Mall (313 Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove). The enclosed space has a tall lighthouse structure, featuring a tunnel that runs under an inner slide that is appropriate for all ages (but toddlers will probably need a helping hand up the short staircase). Other attractions include a scalable ambulance with a Stony Brook Children’s Hospital logo on the side, and other sculptures (such as a half-beach ball and flat sandy beach pail) that are all toddler-friendly — as are the puzzles that hang on the enclosure walls. More information: 631-724-8066, simon.com/mall/smith-haven-mall.
Westfield Sunrise / Westfield South Shore
You might have a flash of déjà vu upon investigating the play space options at these sibling shopping centers, as both contain virtually the same fun stuff. The South Shore (1701 Sunrise Hwy., Bay Shore) playground is located in the single-floor mall's center, between Lord & Taylor and the food court, while the Sunrise spot (1 Sunrise Mall, Massapequa) is set up on the first floor down by Sears. Both family play spaces are enclosed and are free of anything taller than an average 5-year-old; the tallest structure for both is a blue whale statuette smoothed down on one side for sliding. The theme is nautical, with other climbables that look like fish, boats and sea creatures, while the enclosure walls feature basic introductions to colors, sounds and shapes, which also relate to sea life. The only significant difference between the two areas are the exterior luncheonette counter-style seats at South Shore, giving parents an eagle-eye view of the fun zone and the ability to sit somewhere that isn't in the way of children racing around. More information: South Shore: 631-665-8600, westfield.com/southshore; Sunrise: 516-795-3550, westfield.com/sunrise.
It’s a trip up an escalator (or an elevator for strollers) to check out the play area at Broadway Commons (358 N. Broadway, Hicksville), where the second level holds the playground, as well as the food court and a multiplex. The enclosed fun zone has a massive lighthouse sculpture as the centerpiece, which features a tunnel that runs under a slide tall enough for kids reaching elementary school age (and fine for little ones too, but parents and guardians may want to keep hands-on while guiding them up the stairs to the slide). Other playthings include a locomotive (also with a small slide), a sail boat, horse and plane, all low to the ground, while toddler-age puzzles with flippable and turnable pieces are affixed to the walls of the playground. More information: 516-939-0679, atbroadwaycommons.com.
Somewhat labyrinth-like in layout, Green Acres mall (2034 Green Acres Rd. West, Valley Stream) can be a little tricky to navigate — but instead of searching for the playground, just enter between JC Penney and Macy's (it's in front of Old Navy). Also nautically-inspired, kids can climb over pieces resembling a lobster, starfish and a whale's tail, or scoot through a passage under a tall lighthouse statue (no slide). The highlight of this playspace however is the single game available to play — an electronic game secured to a wall in the enclosure. Much like the classic "Simon," the device features colored sensors, calls out which should be touched and in what order. More information: 516-561-1157, greenacresmallonline.com.