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the best (cheap) things to do with your toddler in winter

Filed in: Motherhood

Now that I have a toddler, having to shovel my car out of 3 feet of snow has become the least of my worries. Now, it’s wondering how on earth am I going to entertain my kid without spending a small fortune. We’ve had 2 winters now trying to get crafty so to save you some time and money (and hopefully make winters much more enjoyable for you too) I’ve put together this list below fo some of my favorite activities.

  1. The Mall is at the top of my list not only is it’s the most awesome, but it’s free. As a teenager I used to go there to hang out because at the time it felt like a paradise of freedom. My mom would drop me off, I’d meet up with friends and walk around, grab a soda and a cinnabon… maybe check out the jewelry at Claire’s and then head over to Delia*s to try on lots of clothes I couldn’t actually afford to buy. Now, I’ve come to realize it’s still a paradise of freedom – for parents. You can go there during the day and let your kid play at the kids center, but the real secret is going there before they open. Indoor malls are always open before the stores open up, so my husband and I started bringing our 3 year old there to burn off her morning energy so she’d actually take her mid day nap on time. We’d get coffees and casually walk around as she ran as fast as she could down the halls, shaking the security gates on the store, going up and down the escalator a hundred times, pressing the ATM buttons like a mad woman, squealing for joy as loud as she wanted to… and the best part is you don’t have to constantly tell them “no,” there’s no one around to even care what she’s doing. It’s great! (well, as a note, there are elderly people who go to the mall to power walk in the morning but they just smile and say hi and think it’s super cute that your kid is having the time of their life) So, when it rains or snows or is too cold to go outside, get your girlfriends together, or your husband, or wife, and take the kids to the mall and have the best time ever (for FREE!).
toddler activities in winter chicago
(at the risk of grossing out you germaphobes, this is always how we end our mall trips. She sometimes doesn’t even make it back to the car before she falls asleep!)

2. Indoor Aquatic Centers/Community Centers. A year and a half ago my husband and I took a trip around the Pacific Northwest in a van. There were no showers in the van and we didn’t stay in hotels so we had to get creative, which is when we figured out about local Aquatic Centers/Community Centers. If you google “Indoor Aquatic Center” you’ll probably find some place like a YMCA or a Community Center with what looks like a mini indoor water park. Look at the calendar or just call the center up and ask them if and when they do “Family Swim Time.” During this time you can pay $3-$7 a person to swim and play for 2-3 hours (these things vary per center). And sometimes these centers even other things for small kids like they might have a bunch of toys to play with in the gymnasium or a free class going on – just ask the people at the front desk what other activities they have going on for kids.

what to do with your toddler in winter in chicago

3. The Local Kids Museums. We have one by us called the Glenview Kohl Children’s Museum so if you don’t live in the Chicago land area just start googling what kids’ centers and museums are near by. It’s usually about $5-$15 a person but what you can do is go there once to check it out, and if you like it, you can buy a family pass and ask them to use your admission for that day toward the membership (family memberships at these places are usually about $75-$150). At the Kohl’s Children’s Museum, it was $130 and that gets 2 adults and 2 kids into the museum at one time. So I calculated if our family goes once every other week this winter, that’s 8 times between December-March, so that will cost us about $5 a person each time for my husband, my toddler and I to go (kids under 1 are free). And that’s just 3 months! These passes are for an entire year so beyond the winter, if you go even 10 more times, that’s $2 a person! Such a steal.

4. The local conservatory. Usually in most cities there’s something like a conservatory or indoor Atrium/garden that’s free to go to. For example if you’re in Chicago, there’s the Garfield Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It’s like being outside, except you’re inside.. they have so many different rooms with plan exhibits and lots of puddles for the kids to play in and have fun with (when the staff waters the plants it leaves a bunch of puddles, I guarantee your kid will play in them over anything else so make sure they don’t wear anything you care if it gets dirty). They also have a calendar of events on the website for children Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays that are free! And not only is the conservatory so stunning, best of all it’s free.

cheap things to do with your toddler in winter in chicago

All right that’s it! Those are my top favorite things to do with your toddler during the winter. Let me know your favorite spots if they’re not on my list, and hopefully I’ll see you out at one of these if you’re in the Chicago land area. Happy holidays! xo

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