One of my biggest fears becoming pregnant with our third child when the first were 7 and 5 was (naturally) the age gap. If I could go back in time and reassure my hormonal self that the age gap might just be the BEST thing about the situation, I’d fire up that time machine for sure. There is so much to be said for getting to experience all of the baby/toddler stuff while the older children can both still appreciate little kid fun AND occasionally watch The Simpsons with you, getting most of the jokes.
Really, having this six-year-plus gap between kids hasn’t proven too much of a challenge when it comes to finding things to do as a family. However, it has helped me hone down my list of places we enjoy going.
Here are my top five; comment to add your suggestions.
5. Small aquatic centers and/or pools with zero-depth entrances
Certain area pools — Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center and the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center are two that come immediately to mind — are good for keeping an eye on your whole brood at once while everyone explores the water in their favorite ways. There are thrilling slides for the adventuresome members of your group and tamer splash-and-play areas for your more chill swimmers.
Honorable mention: Clinton Lake Beach. While it’s only open from Memorial Day through Labor Day and no life guards are on duty, this beach is the perfect size (and temperature) for groups of all ages, especially with Boondocks Grill on the premises.
4. Children’s museums
I clearly remember believing our children’s museum days were over when the oldest were in kindergarten/first grade, as (it seemed) we had already wrung all of the fun we could out of the establishments. Enter child three, and all of our kids are as much fans of the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum as ever. The little one loves to explore it all, and the older ones can use their imagination to play in a way they really couldn’t back in their younger days.
My family can tell you the finer points of just about every zoo within a three-hour drive from C-U, especially the Peoria Zoo (of which we are members). We also highly recommend the ones just a short drive from C-U: Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington and Scovill Zoo in Decatur (which is free to the public every Thursday).
Zoos — especially the smaller ones — never get old. It seems like there’s always something new to see, or a different animal that’s finally found its inner show-off, every time we go. These are great places for freeing the little ones from their strollers. Wherever they go, there will be something cool to see.
2. Area forest preserves/nature centers
These places never disappoint: they’re free, they include indoor/outdoor activities perfect for all ages, and — in our experience — they tend to be staffed by the most cheerful, helpful, enthusiastic folks we’ve ever met. Also, they often have special events and activities (which are also often free) which really help make a day out of your visit.
We have been to Homer Lake Forest Preserve, the Museum of the Grand Prairie, and, of course, the Anita Purves Nature Center many times, and we plan to go many, many more. Seriously, they just never get old.
1. Puttering around
Some of my family’s best days started with one thing we needed to accomplish — say, to return books to the Champaign Library — and ended up being a full-on adventure. If you pack lunches in the morning and resolve to see where the day takes you, you may be surprised at just how much fun can be had with little planning.
Run your errand, eat that lunch at one of our parks, or a nature center (see above), and see where you’re inspired to stop on the way home. For us, this is also usually a great way to make sure the little one gets a nap and the older ones get a little less screen love in their day.
Be sure to always check our event calendar before you go; this is a great way find out what the happenings are around town. Getting the scoop from our freebies page can’t hurt, either.
Honorable mention: Seasonally, Children’s Prairie Farm and Curtis Orchard are great add-ons to any day of fun around town.
Have kids of different ages? What do you like to do to keep them entertained in CU?