Columbus offers a bevy of great kid-friendly activities during the winter season that make it worth the extra effort to venture out.

The long cold days of winter can put extra strain on any family, but for parents who stay home with small children, cabin fever can feel particularly overwhelming. As the mom of boy-and-girl toddler twins, I have experienced it firsthand. I cherish my days at home with the kids, but when our nursery rhyme books are falling apart from being read too many times and the twins are showing more interest in dismantling the kitchen cabinets than watching Sesame Street, I know we have to get out of the house.

Fortunately, Columbus offers a bevy of great kid-friendly activities during the winter season that make it worth the extra effort to venture out. Even better, many of the best options are very affordable for families on a budget.

Play and Sing at Dublin Rec Center

When the playground is covered in ice and snow, playing indoors is the only viable option for little kids. The Dublin Community Recreation Center (DCRC) offers an open gymnasium for children ages 0-7 on Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. throughout the winter months. Filled with padded gym equipment, push-and-ride cars and a wide range of age-appropriate toys and games, the gym provides a big, inviting space where toddlers and preschoolers can run, jump, climb and ride to their hearts' content. For children who prefer quiet activities over more active play, coloring and puzzle stations are also available. At $3 per child, kids get a lot of play for not a lot of cost.

Another great option at DCRC is Toddler Theater, presented by the Abbey Theater of Dublin. Musician Marlene Hartzler leads 45-minute sing-along performances for children ages 1-5 on select Wednesdays throughout the school year. With her guitar in hand, Hartzler, joined by a costumed character such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, rouses all of the children to sing and dance to classic preschool songs such as Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Admission is $2 per child and parents are free. Upcoming show dates can be found online.

Animal Adventures at the Zoo

While summer may be the most popular season at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, parents shouldn't overlook it as a winter destination for family fun. Many animals, such as polar bears and tigers, are at their most active during the colder months - and they can be enjoyed without the hubbub of large crowds. When the weather is harsh, indoor exhibits such as Discovery Reef and the Reptile House provide a welcoming respite. My kids are always excited to peer through the glass at a Burmese python or to search the aquarium for the fish that looks most like Dory from Finding Nemo.

Zoo Tots and Zoo Kids classes, offered on weekdays throughout the school year, are worth checking out for kids who crave more animal adventures. Structured with a combination of hands-on activities, crafts and animal encounters, these events deliver small-group fun and a chance to get up close with animals that can typically only be seen from afar. Classes run one to three hours and costs range from $10-$23 per class. Dates for Zoo Tots and Zoo Kids classes can be found online.

Relaxing at the Play Café

When housebound for days on end with preschoolers, sometimes nothing is more appealing than a cup of hot chai and a chat with a good friend - and of course, someone to watch the kids for a while. Play cafés such as Lattes and Lollipops in Powell are ideal destinations on days when you just need to escape your house for an hour and enjoy some uninterrupted conversation.

Lattes and Lollipops is divided into two rooms: one where adults can unwind while sipping their favorite caffeinated beverage and another where kids ages 1-7 can romp in a cheerful, toy-filled, supervised playroom. While the cost runs a bit higher than other activities ($10/hour for the first child, $6 for the second, plus the cost of your drink), the convenience of being able to drop in at any time is a big plus for parents like me who are scheduling challenged.

These are the website addresses for a variety of play cafés in central Ohio: lattesandlollipops.com; eatplayloveplaycafe.com (Lewis Center); fireflyplaycafe.com (Clintonville); on Facebook, LittleGreenHouse (Grandview Heights); littleskippersplaycafe.com (Hilliard); peapodplaycafe.com (northeast Columbus); piccadillydally.com (Bexley); on Facebook, TheWellLancaster (Lancaster); and zenskidzplaycafe.com (Westerville).

Laughter and Learning at the Library

My favorite place to escape cabin fever might be the local library. My twins delight in being read to and the joy of attending story time at the library never grows old. Chock-full of sing-along songs, rhymes and stories, these events help children build their vocabulary and develop essential skills they'll need to learn to read. Better still, the kids have a blast singing and dancing to whimsical songs such as Skinamarinky Dinky Dink and Ring Around the Rosey - and they get to experience the thrill of discovering new books at an early age.

We are regulars at Worthington Libraries' Northwest branch, but we occasionally visit other branches and have found each offers a unique experience for kids. Nearly every library branch in the Columbus Metropolitan Library system hosts story-time events for toddlers and preschoolers, usually several times each week - and best of all, they are always free. (Visit columbuslibrary.org, delawarelibrary.org, ualibrary.org, westervillelibrary.org or worthingtonlibraries.org to find times in those communities.)

Need more ideas for beating cabin fever?

COSI offers hands-on, science-based workshops for children as young as 6 months.

If your preschooler loves nature, Columbus Metro Parks has free programming at park locations throughout the city. If your preschooler loves nature, Columbus Metro Parks has free programming at park locations throughout the city:

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens hosts kid-friendly programming weekdays and weekends throughout the year.

Winter is a great time to get little kids started with swimming lessons. Check out your local YMCA or community recreation center for class times.

When the kids are bouncing off the walls, trampoline parks such as Buckeye Bounce Club and Sky Zone offer an alternative way to burn energy.