10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day

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.

Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a cold or rainy day

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.

3. Ikea
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.

Chicagoland Indoor Playplaces for Littles

9. Museums
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.

Best Toddler Summer Ever: A Recap

Though it’s not technically the end of summer, vacations are winding down and my work’s reduced Friday hours have officially come to an end (sad face). I feel like it’s a good time to do a recap of our best toddler summer ever… so far.

We managed to pack our summer full of toddler fun, with new experiences, day trips, backyard play, good food, and lots of water.

Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms in Homer Glen

We kicked off our best toddler summer ever in June at Garden Patch Farm’s Butterfly Festival, where Em tried to grab some butterflies, fed chickens, and picked berries in Homer Glen, Illinois.

Toddler Playing in the Backyard

The backyard became our sanctuary and proved to be an invaluable resource for toddler entertainment. We could regularly get Emme and Cousin Cliff to entertain themselves for ten, sometimes 20, minutes at a time, allowing Aunt Sarah and me some much-needed lounging complete with wine.

Grilled Pizza | Mommy Sanest

Speaking of the backyard, I tried my hand at grilling pizza. It’s actually very easy to do, and it quickly became a family favorite. Our go-to grilled pizza used cherry tomatoes and basil from our garden.

Playgrounds in the Chicago Western Suburbs

We visited dozens of neighborhood playgrounds, trying out multiple slides…

Swinging in the Chicago Western Suburbs

… and swings too.

Boat Ride in Ohio

In July, we traveled to Ohio to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa who live on a lake. The toddlers loved the pontoon boat.

Mommy Sanest Family Photo

Emme was less thrilled with the family photo session we did while in Ohio.

Splash Pads in Chicago, Brookfield, and BerwynSpeaking of water, we tested out a few local splash pads and even ventured into Chicago to see how Millennium Park’s fountain compared. Brookfield Zoo

We made good use of our Brookfield Zoo membership, visiting the zoo’s splash pad (yes, more splash pads), Sting Ray Bay, the playground, Hamill Family Play Zoo, and various animals (or as Emme says, “elmos”).

Emme is 2!

And finally, we celebrated one very special birthday.

Up next: The best toddler autumn ever!

Party at Peekaboo Playroom

Last year, for Emme’s 1st birthday, we rented a picnic area in a local park, where we moved tables, decorated, picked up food, set everything up, and, when it was over, cleaned it all up. It was a great party, but it was exhausting.

For my daughter's second birthday, we threw a party at Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park. Peekaboo Playroom is one of my favorite indoor toddler play spaces.

For her 2nd birthday, we decided to make it easier on ourselves and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Enter: Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo PlayroomI’m obsessed with Peekaboo Playroom. It’s a large space with several playhouse structures, including a kitchen, a grocery store, and a workshop. They have a fleet of Cozy Coups, a massive collection of Legos, a train set, an area to read, and a separate section for non-walkers.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

Here’s the best part: Peekaboo Playroom only has toddler-friendly toys, and it’s wide open. So basically, you can find a spot on the couch with your coffee and Kindle, keep an eye on your kid from afar, and just let them play. No hovering necessary.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo PlayroomIt’s toddler paradise, but (more importantly?), it’s mommy (and daddy) paradise.

We frequent Peekaboo Playroom, so we knew they offered birthday party packages. Despite it being a bit pricier than other options, we decided to go for it. And we were able to get 10 percent off simply because it was summer.

The day of the party, all we did was bring in food–I made salads; we ordered pizza; we bought a cake from the grocery store. I didn’t bother killing myself to come up with a theme–I let the staff at the playroom take care of the decor with minimal direction (you can let them know if you have a theme; I just told them to do whatever), as well as gift bags and snacks for the kiddos.

When we showed up 30 minutes before the party, the room was ready, and the staff immediately took the food and put that out as well. We were free to do whatever, so Emme got the party started early and made good use of the facilities.

Two things struck me: First, I didn’t know what to do with myself because the staff did everything, and what little directing I did, I was able to do because my kid was totally occupied and happy. I’ll be honest though, it kind of stressed me out to not be stressed out. Go figure.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

We had nearly 40 guests, the vast majority of whom were adults. The party package we chose allowed for up to 20 kids, but we had 13, mostly between the ages of 1 and 4. I worried a little about the adults not having a good time, but honestly, I think it was more fun because no one was worried about their kids. The early toddler years are a tricky time in most “kid” party spaces–I feel like Emme’s either going to run off if she’s not completely contained, or she’s going to get run over by bigger kids.

We had the space for two hours, which is about the perfect amount of time for toddlers to keep it together. I actually was able to have conversations and visit with friends and family, an amazing feat in room filled with little ones. But that’s the beauty of Peekaboo Playroom.

At the end of the party, we packed up the leftover food and the gifts and headed home. No cleaning required.

I honestly can’t recommend this place enough–for parties or just for play. Check out Peekaboo Playroom’s party package options, as well as their daily open play rates and information about special events.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

This is how you get a crazy two year old to attempt to blow out her candles.

If You Go to Peekaboo Playroom

  • Wear socks. It’s a shoe-free environment for adults and kids. But if you forget, you can buy a pair for a nominal free from Peekaboo Playroom.
  • If you want to go on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday, call first. They regularly shift their hours on the weekends to accommodate private birthday parties.
  • Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates. Not only do they regularly post information about special events, they also typically update weekend hours here.
  • There’s free wi-fi! And it’s possible that you could get a few things done on the computer because your kid is going to be otherwise occupied. Just ask for the password.
  • You can bring in your own food, but they have a few snack options as well as coffee and tea for a few dollars.
  • Parking is primarily metered. Bring change (no fancy credit card meters here). Parking is free on Sundays.
  • Remember it’s a nut-free facility.