Nicole owns and operates Pence Media Group, a digital and media consultancy focused on helping organizations, companies, and people connect with their audiences. Nicole is a four-time Emmy Award winner with more than a decade of experience as a journalist and communications expert. As a proud Hoosier, Nicole grew up in Columbus, Indiana. She graduated Cum Laude from DePauw University and also earned a Master’s of Public Affairs from SPEA at IUPUI. Nicole lives in Carmel with her husband Jason and sons Andrew, Colin, Matthew, and Luke.
6 Fun Things to Do With Your Kids in the Indy Region
With four sons who are five-years-old and under, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about entertaining children!
Raised right here in the Hoosier state, I grew up in Columbus, Indiana. But for the last five years, I’ve lived in Carmel. If you’re unfamiliar with the city, then give it a quick Google search. You’ll find several news articles declaring that our charming, beautiful city is one of the best places to live and raise a family.
You want to know why? Because it’s true! There is so much to do with your children here in the Indy region—all year long. There’s always an adventure right around the corner, and the best part is that a lot of the fun things around Indianapolis won’t break the bank. Some of them (get this!) are even free!
The opportunity to wake up every day and enjoy unique entertainment with my boys isn’t something I take for granted. I have quite a few friends who don’t live in Indianapolis, and we often talk about the fun things we do with our families. After seeing photos from our adventures on my social media, they’ll comment something like, “Wow! I cannot believe you’ve got all those options right in your backyard.”
Yep—we do! All families who live around the greater Indianapolis area have easy access to family-friendly entertainment. And it’s a big reason why we chose to live here. Both kiddos and parents love Indy! While there are so many activities and attractions to enjoy, here’s a short list of some of our favorite spots in the Indy Region:
1. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
The Children’s Museum offers so much to explore for all ages, combining educational activities with interactive ways to play. As toddlers, my boys would always enjoy the Playscape area. We’d spend hours playing in the sand and splashing around in the water. Just be sure to bring a change of clothes! This exhibit never fails to entertain with developmentally appropriate play for newborns all the way up to five-year-olds.
It’s so fun to watch my kids play and know that everything in the museum was created for learning. After exploring the Playscape, we always venture down to the basement of the museum to tour their giant, historic train car and watch the model trains hit the track. Plus, the dinosaurs are down there. That’s right, the BIG dinosaurs—and all of the other fossils on display in the Dinosphere exhibit!
Photo courtesy of Visit Indy
The museum has five floors of fun and always-changing exhibits just waiting for your kids to explore. And don’t forget to check out the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience outside of the museum! From basketball courts to soccer fields, there are 12 different outdoor sports areas, and I love letting the boys run loose to enjoy playing their favorite sports. Our family always asks Santa to renew our annual membership to the Children’s Museum!
2. Carmel Arts & Design District
At our house, Saturdays are for the boys! Dada takes our sons out for a lunch-and-playtime adventure, and the location of choice is often the Carmel Arts & Design District. The district’s biking trail, splash pad, and yummy local restaurants make for an easy way to spend an afternoon—and there’s no price to enjoy the beauty of downtown Carmel. This area is a family favorite because there is something for everyone, and the restaurants are all accommodating and kid-friendly. Sun King is our favorite place to grab some lunch, and the ice cream at Bubs is a great way to end the afternoon before nap!
3. Conner Prairie
Another membership we request from Santa each year is an annual pass to Conner Prairie! Conner Prairie is a living history museum and Indiana’s first Smithsonian Institute affiliate. The museum offers so many outdoor, historically-themed encounters with real, live people as well as indoor experiential learning spaces to really help kids imagine what life looked like long ago. Our boys always enjoy the ‘make-and-take’ activities, running straight for the make-your-own airplane station!
A normal visit for our family will typically take about two hours, giving us enough time to eat lunch and visit the petting zoo. But every now and then, we will plan to come for a full six hours, taking a day to tour the museum’s entire grounds from Prairietown to the Lenape Indian Camp. And if we are feeling brave, the boys will insist on taking a flight with Amelia, the hot air balloon in their 1859 Balloon Voyage ride. The balloon soars 370 feet up in the air, and on a clear day, you can even see the skyline of downtown Indianapolis!
Photo courtesy Connor Prairie
Conner Prairie is an easy, fun, and educational adventure right here in our neighborhood. During your visit, you can purchase food from the cafe, or if you’ve got picky eaters, you can easily bring your lunch from home. And with Conner Prairie’s large outdoor areas and walking trails, the museum never feels too crowded.
4. Cool Creek Park & Nature Center
Spending time outside and enjoying all mother nature has to offer is a big part of our lives, so we feel really lucky to have so many parks nearby! One of our favorites is the Cool Creek Park & Nature Center, a 90-acre park with approximately four miles of woodland trails that are great for jogging, hiking, or birdwatching. We love stomping through the woods to the hidden playground and picnicking under a big, shady tree.
I often find myself stopping here so the boys can spend forty-five minutes to get some sillies out. The boys love climbing up and down the massive playground while meeting new friends, and the sight lines between us are great, even from the adult exercise equipment if I want to move, too. If it’s a rainy day, the Cool Creek Nature Center is also a great place to explore the outdoors while staying inside. It contains a greenhouse with turtles, snakes, and fun scavenger activities, and there are regularly scheduled story times throughout the day.
5. Indianapolis Zoo
Our kids also love going on year-round adventures at the Indianapolis Zoo. With 3,800 animals from more than 320 species, there are so many creature friends to visit and watch! We especially enjoy the zoo’s interactive dolphin show because we can sit down and see these intelligent animals jump and flip through the air.
Another activity we love doing at the zoo is riding the White River Junction Train Ride, which gives you a tour of the “zoo behind the zoo.” As the train travels around the zoo, it’s neat to listen to the conductor tell us stories about the plains animals, the greenhouse and gardens, and other behind-the-scenes operations, like their maintenance and commissary departments and their 15,000-square foot veterinary hospital.
Photo courtesy Visit Indy
And we never leave the zoo without enjoying some Dippin Dots ice cream near the award-winning Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center. The flamingos are fun to visit as well, but watch out! They often hide in the brush and sometimes pop out and spook you. But, of course, that’s all part of the fun!
6. Kits & Kaboodle Toys
If I’m looking for a gift for my boys, I go straight to Kits & Kaboodle Toys at Carmel City Center. The toy store is locally owned and always has the most unique gifts for kids of all ages. I personally love that all of their toys are kid-tested and educator-approved—and the fact that they offer complimentary gift wrapping with every single purchase!
The Indianapolis area is one of the best places to raise a family.
Our community here in the Indy region is a special place to raise your kids. It’s a place that supports learning, sparks curiosity, and understands the value of family. Like many people, our family has spent a lot of time together over the past year, staying safe inside our home. I’m grateful to our health, but I’m so ready to get back outside again in this wonderful community. After all, Indy is a place that truly encourages you to get out and explore!
That’s one of the best things about the Hoosier lifestyle: our community deeply values the importance of supporting our neighbors. Part of living in the Indianapolis region is feeling connected with everyone in our community. When I’m out enjoying time with my children, I often find us bonding with other Hoosier families at these fun places around the area.
Our children don’t know how lucky they are to have so much fun right here in our neighborhood. As a parent who values the opportunity to teach my children through play, I am thankful. I choose to live in a city where our community leaders are proactive in creating so many spaces and places that allow kids to be kids.