A young boy pulling a red wagon stands next to Lake Springfield
A child throws pebbles in Lake Springfield, a short walk downhill from Lake Springfield Park. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

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Whether you’re a parent, a caretaking grandparent — or anyone with young kids in tow — you may be eager to get out of the house with your little one. 

Cue Google search: Things to do with kids in Springfield, Mo.

When I first became a stay-at-home mom, I did this regularly. The search engine delivered lists upon lists of family-friendly fun: Dickerson Park Zoo, Wonders of Wildlife and many more highly stimulating play spots. 

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I want to do something a little more… relaxed. Excursions to indoor play gyms and amusement parks are great for special occasions, but sometimes they’re a lot to squeeze into a random Tuesday — especially if you or your child are introverts like me.

After nearly six months of staying home with my toddler son, I’ve found a few everyday spots that make lovely outings for introverts. They are not the most popular destinations, and that’s sort of the point. Many of them are outdoors and most are free (minus the cost of coffee for the adults). Pack up the kids, grab a book and let’s go.

Picnic at Lake Springfield Park

A child walks away from the playground at Lake Springfield Park toward the grassy hill overlooking the lake.
A child walks away from the playground at Lake Springfield Park toward the grassy hill overlooking the lake. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

Springfield is home to many lovely and popular parks, but this one is ideal for those looking for a quiet place to plop down a blanket and relax. Every time we visit, there’s hardly anyone there. Even on busy days, this expansive park has room to veer off the path and find a secluded spot for watching turtles, geese and herons.

The park has a playground, covered picnic tables, and a toilet (port-a-potty style). Head down the hill and take one of several paths to the water. The grade is only mildly steep and perfectly easy to do with a toddler in tow. 

Pro tip: Let your kiddo bring a wagon or backpack. Mine loaded up pinecones, rocks and sticks along the way, and this was the highlight of his fun. 

Location: 5324 S Kissick Ave, Springfield

Sandbox play at Oak Grove Park

A spade in the sandbox at Oak Grove Park.
A spade in the sandbox at Oak Grove Park. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

This little park is tucked into a neighborhood behind the Oak Grove Community Center. It’s almost always shaded due to the mature trees dotted around the property, so it’s the perfect spot to spend a hot day. It has a good-sized playground with baby swings and regular swings. 

My favorite thing about this park is the large sandbox. Bring your sand castle toys and a bottle of water to dampen and shape the sand, and let your toddler have at it.

Children dig a shallow hole and fill it with leaves in sticks in a pretend game of “cooking soup.”
Children dig a shallow hole and fill it with leaves in sticks in a pretend game of “cooking soup.” (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

If you have older kids, this park also has a basketball court and is attached to a disc golf course. 

Pro tip: Bring a lawn chair. This place has a couple of benches, but they’re positioned at odd angles and it’s hard to watch your little one closely from far away. You can also set your chair next to the sandbox. Bring coffee and a book, and relax while kiddo plays.

Location: 1538 S Oak Grove Ave, Springfield

Wildlife watching and lake-side walk around Southern Hills

Brittany Meiling and son, Leo, watch for bugs at a Southern Hills lake.
Brittany Meiling and son, Leo, watch for bugs at a Southern Hills lake. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

Do you love watching geese and ducks at Sequiota Park? Change things up and head to the Southern Hills neighborhood instead. There are three lakes there that are home to many turtles, fish, geese and often a pair of swans. Occasionally, we see hawks, beavers and foxes, too! Take East Alpine Drive to South Edgewater Drive, park on the street and stroll around the beautiful neighborhood.

Pro tip: There’s a small rock bank at Alpine and Edgewater where locals sometimes park and fish. Most of the time, however, it’s empty and the perfect spot for a little one to throw rocks into the pond or watch dragonflies skim the water. 

Location: East Edgewater Drive and East Alpine Drive, Springfield

Kingdom Coffee and Lone Pine Trail walk

Coffee on the back patio of Kingdom Coffee on Lone Pine Avenue, which overlooks a grassy area along the Lone Pine Trail.
Coffee on the back patio of Kingdom Coffee on Lone Pine Avenue, which overlooks a grassy area along the Lone Pine Trail. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

Most of my outings begin or end with coffee. One of my favorite stops is Kingdom Coffee on Lone Pine Avenue. This coffee shop’s back patio is furnished with picnic tables and overlooks a grassy area lining the Lone Pine Trail, a popular spot for walkers, runners and bicyclists. If your littles are still small, this is a very stroller-friendly trail and is almost entirely shaded in summer.

A stretch of the Lone Pine Trail by Kingdom Coffee.
A stretch of the Lone Pine Trail by Kingdom Coffee. (Photo by Brittany Meiling)

Start at Kingdom Coffee, then walk south toward Sequiota Park, where the kiddos can climb on some playgrounds or watch the wildlife.

Or skip the walk, bring a blanket and let your little play in the grassy area behind the coffee shop while you share a muffin together. 

If you head north on the trail, you’ll quickly come across a small bridge where your toddler will delight in throwing leaves and pebbles into the stream. 

Pro tip: Be on the lookout for poison ivy along the trail. 

Location: 2896 S Lone Pine Ave, Springfield

Playtime at Springfield’s libraries

Leo serves up a cheeseburger at the Schweitzer Brentwood Branch Library in Springfield.
Leo serves up a cheeseburger at the Schweitzer Brentwood Branch Library in Springfield. (Photo ny Brittany Meiling)

I know, I know, didn’t I complain once about how there should be more for parents to do than go to the library?

Well, listen. Springfield’s libraries are truly gems. Nestled among the children’s books are play areas stocked with toys that stoke the imagination, such as wooden trains, puppets, play food and magnetic tiles for building structures. We stumbled upon a themed veterinarian play area at the Midtown Carnegie Branch, where children could check the vitals of stuffed animals, place them in kennels and administer “medicine.”

Toddlers can spend hours playing with toys while you wander the stacks and pick out a few picture books to read with them at bedtime. 

The Library Station on North Kansas Expressway is a great branch for lovers of trains and airplanes, as the location’s decor includes both. The Library Center on South Campbell Avenue has a built-in coffee shop for parents and a robust play area that includes a grocery counter stocked with play food. Schweitzer Brentwood on East Seminole Street has a puppet theatre. 

Pro tip: There are also toys you can check out and take home. Peruse the Toy Catalog on the library website, or flip through them in person in the children’s section. Also, ask a librarian about the Adventure Backpacks and STEM Kits for guided learning fun.

Location: The Springfield-Greene County Library District has five branches in Springfield as well as locations in Ash Grove, Fair Grove, Republic, Strafford and Willard. Visit their website for addresses and hours of operation.

Brittany N. Meiling

Brittany Meiling is the former managing editor of the Springfield Daily Citizen, who left in 2023 to spend more time with her toddler son. She spent the majority of her career in San Diego, California, where she worked as a business and tech reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune and a news analyst at the Los Angeles Times. Meiling is a Springfield native, a graduate of Missouri State University and alum of Republic High School. More by Brittany N. Meiling