Getting out of the house with a baby or toddler can feel impossible, awful, necessary, freeing, and empowering — often all at the same time. But where to take them? At the stage when kiddos’ mobility ranges from none at all to dangerous at any speed, it’s hard to find just the right fit.
This list will get you started with some ideas (more than a few crowd-sourced) but, as always, feel free to comment and add your own. Thanks to Champaign Gymnastics Academy for sponsoring the Top 10 Places to Take Baby in Champaign-Urbana.
Puma Cubs is CGA’s FREE open gym for kids under the age of 16 months! No pre-registration is required. Puma Cubs is a great way to introduce your child to gymnastics and CGA before they are ready for their first class.
CGA’s Infant class invites you to participate in your baby’s introduction to gymnastics and celebrate every exciting discovery along the way. Focusing on exploration and movement, this parent/caregiver participation class is for babies and toddlers under 24 months old. Stations will be set up each week with specific focus on fine and gross motor skills, cognitive skills and sensory stimulation. This is a drop-in class with no pre-registration required.
If you join the Y, your family will be eligible for up to two consecutive hours of free childcare in their excellent facilities every day. Their pool also has a zero-depth area for the littles to explore, not to mention swim lessons for all ages (at an extra cost) to help them begin to manage deeper waters faster.
A family membership costs roughly $80 per month, check with them for current pricing. But don’t let the price tag scare you away. It is the Y’s goal to make sure every family that wants to join, can. So talk with them for options, including its scholarship program.
9. Some area restaurants, coffee shops
Several local eateries provide a good opportunity to get out of the house and to help pave the way for a few non drive-thru meals in the future. Coffee shops in particular — such as Café Kopi, which has high chairs, games, and coloring materials — are good places to take kids from birth on up. Some cafes like Bigby Coffee in Champaign do activities for moms and tots. Coffee shop menus typically offer kid-friendly items, which are delivered with speed (less waiting, of course, equals a more manageable tot).
8. Moms’ groups
Moms and kids from birth through school age can benefit from some of the many excellent moms’ groups around town. Moms get a chance to decompress and garner peer support while the kids get an opportunity to socialize. Some groups even provide free child care.
This entry is dedicated to those of us who actually enjoy fetching the foodstuffs. In this town, we’re lucky to have a variety of stores where you can do some one-stop-shopping. I’ll not admit how many hours I’ve spent wandering the aisles after the cart ride had lulled the tot to sleep.
For safety’s sake, however, I will admit what a dummy I’ve been: I started researching this entry with the idea of finding which stores’ cart tops fit car seats the best. My wonderful friends gently slapped down this idea on the grounds that it is EXTREMELY dangerous to put your baby’s car seat in the top part of the cart (I’ll admit I’ve done this many times, but always kept a hand on the car seat when the cart was in motion). Bottom line: car seat goes in the main part of the cart, not on the top.
Look, you’re either a mall rat or you’re not. I’ve learned that I am a dyed-in-the-wool mall dweller, and find our own Market Place Mall to be an exceptionally clean and cozy place for an afternoon of stroller pushing. And, of course, it’s got a nice, cushioned toddler play area.
With its lovely, beach-like zero depth entrance, the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center is a great place to introduce your baby or toddler to the water year-round. (AND NO SUNSCREEN NEEDED!) Sholem has a designated kiddie pool while CLFAC has many options for the wee ones to play in water. All three pools have special swim hours for wee ones under 5, typically in the mornings (check our calendar for info). Perhaps best of all, children are admitted free up to age 3 at all three facilities.
The Champaign Park District’s Leonhard Recreation Center has an indoor playground that appears to be more baby/toddler friendly than the free one at the fabulous First Christian Church (which is highly recommended for the preschool and school-age crowd).
3. Lincoln Square Mall
To me, Lincoln Square Mall represents so much of what is great about our area: the locally-owned shops and restaurants reflect a community that is fun loving and socially responsible at the same time. If I could start from scratch with kid one, I would spend more time there with him. Arcadia Cafe has storytimes, a play space and more. The IDEA store is a fabulous addition. And check Amara Yoga’s schedule for baby and me yoga. I would also find more clothing for my whole family at Connections Resale shop. If you have a little one who likes the stroller, you can feel good about pushing it around this place. (BONUS: Common Ground will give your child a free piece of fruit when you visit).
2. Area parks
We are lucky to have so many great ones. If you make a mission out of visiting as many as you can, you’ll have gotten a pretty good head start on making sure your little one’s childhood is awesome.
1. Baby and toddler story times at the library
Most area libraries offer free storytimes, but the Champaign and Urbana libraries both offer special programming for babies and toddlers at least once per week, free of charge. Their timing helps fill that crucial pre-lunch-and-nap downtime that can sometimes feel like the longest 1 ½ hours of the day (runner up: 3:30-5 p.m.). Check the Chambanamoms.com events calendar for storytime options.
Did we leave something off our list? What’s your favorite thing to do with baby in C-U?
Rachael McMillan teaches sixth and seventh grade history at Campus Middle School for Girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and volunteers for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, fourth grader Jack, third grader Kate, and William the Toddler.