I don’t think any of us are ready to hunker down for winter yet, but here we are in early November with temperatures in the 40s and a polar vortex headed toward Chicago. As the parent of a toddler, the threat of an early and long winter seems particularly soul crushing — fewer places to take a toddler means being stuck indoors with a constant force of energy — which can be detrimental to parent’s mental health.
So when the weather gets rough, the tough have to get creative. Whether it’s Sunday afternoon or Thursday morning, here are some ideas of places to take a toddler on a rainy or cold day when you’ve exhausted your patience, ideas, and resources.
10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Rainy or Cold Day*
*With bonus ideas for those of you in the western suburbs of Chicago
1. The Library
This is an obvious one, right? Keep in mind, even if it’s not story time, most libraries have moved beyond shushing and have interactive children’s sections with toys, blocks, computer games, and, of course, books.
2. The Local Mall
A lot of indoor malls have dedicated play areas. In the Chicago western suburbs, North Riverside Park Mall is close to our home and has two toddler-friendly play areas as well as a kiddie train and other rides. The play areas are free, but the train and rides cost money, FYI.
The children’s section at Ikea is set up to entertain the little ones. We took our daughter to the Bolingbrook Ikea a few months ago to look at big girl beds, and while she had no interest in the beds, she couldn’t get enough of the toys that were available for her to test out. She also liked exploring the staged children’s rooms with their toddler-sized furniture.
4. Aquariums and Pet Stores
I’m a big fan of hands-off parenting, and an aquarium or pet store requires me to be a bit more vigilant than I prefer. But you got to do what you got to do sometimes, and Emme loves to look at fish. There’s an Aquarium Adventure store in the same shopping center as Ikea in Bolingbrook. Just be careful with any loose animals, and stay away from places where people can bring their own dogs, like Petsmart or Petco. Stick with fish and other cage-bound pets like lizards, hamsters, and guinea pigs.
5. Indoor McDonald’s Playplaces
Look, I’m not super excited about getting my toddler hooked on Big Macs, but I can’t deny that sometimes a McDonald’s Playplace is a literal lifesaver. The McDonald’s on Ogden Avenue in Lyons has a decent Playplace with an eating area that is separate from the rest of the restaurant.
6. Local YMCAs, Rec Centers, or Gyms
Most gyms, YMCAs, and park district recreation centers offer a free or relatively cheap hour or two of babysitting in a daycare-like setting for parents who are working out. If you’re a member, I highly recommend you take advantage of this perk. Other centers have spaces you can use for burning toddler energy even if there’s not a specific program going on. If it’s a slow time of day, ask your local YMCA or rec center if you can take your child into the gymnasium or an unused studio or on the indoor track to run around. Also check open swim times.
7. Greenhouse or Conservatory
Conservatories and greenhouses are great options when little ones who love dirt and plants can’t go outside. Oak Park’s Conservatory has pretty extensive visiting hours and is even open on some holidays.
8. Indoor Playspaces and Playgrounds
Have I mentioned my love for indoor playspaces? I take my toddler to Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park all the time. Unlike businesses that provide indoor inflatables, these spaces tend to cater specifically to the toddler and preschool set. There’s tons of age-appropriate fun to be had, and your two-year-old won’t be demanding to get into a bouncey house with 14 other kids twice his age. While Peekaboo Playroom is my go-to, I’ve put together a Pinterest board of playspaces in Chicago and the surrounding areas, so you can find one near you.
Children’s museums are always a great option, though they tend to be a bit more crazed and crowded than indoor playspaces. We like the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville (currently closed until April 2015 due to water damage) as well as Wonderworks in Oak Park. But think outside the children’s museum box: We’ve taken our two-year-old to the Art Institute of Chicago many times, and there are plenty of other museums with sections that cater to little ones.
10. Local Toy Stores
I know… You may end up having to buy something you didn’t intend on buying, but many toy stores, especially smaller stores that are trying to compete with the Toys R’ Us-es of the world, have created interactive play spaces where kiddos can sample the goods in order to lure more customers. Some stores, like Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park, even offer events.
*Chicago Western Suburbs Bonus* Hamill Family Play Zoo
We’re members of the Brookfield Zoo, and it has been one of the best investments we’ve made — not only in the summer when going to the zoo is practically mandatory, but in the winter. The Hamill Family Play Zoo is an indoor child’s area that offers interactive learning, crafts, and other fun. It’s open every day from 10am until a half hour before the zoo closes. You can even go on Sunday afternoons, and it’s never crowded on the weekends in the winter (which blows my mind).
Are there other places to take a toddler when it’s rainy or cold and you can’t handle staying in the house one second longer? Share them in the comments.