Even though the second week of March brought temperatures in the 50s to Chicagoland (hooray!), I’ve lived here long enough to know that winter may not be completely behind us yet—and spring in the Midwest will bring plenty of rainy days.
As the parent of a toddler, I have learned to get creative when coming up with new ideas to get us out of the house when our go-to outdoor activities, like the park or zoo, aren’t an option.
The next time you’re stuck inside and have exhausted your toys, crafts, activities and resources, try one of these unexpected places to take a toddler on a cold or rainy day.
10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day
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. Check out libraries in nearby towns and give your little one a chance to explore new spaces.
2. The Local Mall
Indoor malls often have small play areas for young children—usually small climbing structures, and they are usually free. Some malls also have paid attractions, like train rides or small carousels. And, if your little one is still content to hang out in the stroller, malls are a great indoor space to get some walking in when the weather outside is frightful.
I used to dread the idea of getting through Ikea with my toddler, but then I realized that the children’s section is set up to entertain the kiddos. The last time we took our daughter to Ikea, she couldn’t get enough of the toys that were available for her to test out. She loved exploring the staged children’s rooms with their toddler-sized furniture too. Find an Ikea location near you.
4. Pet & Aquarium Stores
My daughter (and every other toddler I know) loves to look at fish and animals, so if the zoo isn’t an option, we head to our local pet or aquarium store. 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 (or other restaurant) Playplaces
I’m not excited about getting my toddler hooked on Big Macs, but I can’t deny that sometimes a McDonald’s Playplace, which is basically just an indoor climbing structure, is a literal lifesaver. Playplaces are separated from the rest of the restaurant with a seating area where mom and dad can relax with their McFlurry (what… just me?).
We also plan road trips around McDonald’s Playplaces because they give our daughter a chance to burn some energy after a few hours in a carseat. Use the location finder to see if there’s a restaurant with a Playplace near you.
6. Local YMCAs and Recreation Centers
Most YMCAs and park district recreation centers offer an hour or two of free or cheap babysitting services in a daycare-like setting for parents. If you’re a member, I highly recommend you take advantage of this perk from time to time. In addition to babysitting, most of these centers have spaces you can use to burn some toddler energy even if there isn’t a specific program going on.
If it’s a slow time of day, ask if you can take your child into the gymnasium, a vacant fitness studio or onto an indoor track. If your center has an indoor pool, check open swim times.
Conservatories and greenhouses are great options when little ones who love dirt and plants can’t go outside. Plus, they have the added benefit of helping you forget that the weather outside is cold and dreary. Many conservatories even offer programs for young children and families, which are a great way to engage budding horticulturalists with hands-on learning.
8. Indoor Play Spaces & Playgrounds
I am a huge fan of indoor play spaces and play cafes, and they seem to be popping up in a lot of towns.
Unlike businesses that offer indoor inflatables, these spaces cater to the toddler and preschool set with age-appropriate toys, climbing structures, dress-up clothes and more. Better yet, your 2-year-old won’t be demanding to get into a bouncy house with a dozen kids three times his age.
Indoor playgrounds are also a great option for weather-proof fun. I’ve noticed that more and more park districts and recreation centers are offering indoor playgrounds (or even play spaces) for kids. If there isn’t one in your town, check nearby cities—it’s usually only a few dollars more for non-residents to play.
Children’s museums are always a great option, and we love our local children’s museums. But think outside the children’s museum box: Art, history and science museums often have sections that cater to little ones—and depending on your child, you may be able to tour one or two of non-kid exhibits.
We take our daughter to the Art Institute of Chicago regularly, and she loves it. Check websites or call for information about the kid-friendly features of museums in your area.
10. Local Toy Stores
Yes, I see the downside to taking your young child to a toy store!
No doubt, you may end up purchasing something you didn’t intend to, but in the interest of leaving the house, hear me out: In order to compete with larger chains, many boutique and local toy stores have created interactive play areas where kiddos can sample the goods. (Do you see why this strategy totally works?)
Some shops even offer in-store events where kids can do crafts, create art, or listen to a story. Don’t feel like you have to buy something every time you go—just remember to support your local store when it’s time to shop for holidays and birthdays.
Where do you take your toddler on cold and rainy days?
Lou Fitzgerald is a freelance writer, digital content strategist, and recovering marketing professional. She’s the mom to one toddler-aged daughter, wife to a police officer husband, and owner of a rescued lab/collie mutt who regularly drives her crazy. Check out her blog Mommy Sanest, and be sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.