Looking for places to take your baby? We have ideas around Champaign-Urbana for you
Leaving 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, some of which have been crowd-sourced by our readers. Some of the items on this list are not yet open due to COVID-19, or are not operating as usual if they are open. We will do our best to keep this list current, but we encourage you to check with where you are headed before you go to make sure it will be a good visit for you and baby.
If you join the Y, your family will be eligible for up to two consecutive hours of free childcare in its excellent facilities every day (Editor’s Note: we believe this is currently a one-hour limit due to COVID-19). The 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.
Check with the YMCA for pricing on memberships, 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 their 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. Coffee shop menus typically offer kid-friendly items, which are delivered with speed (less waiting, of course, equals a more manageable tot).
8. See some animals
Babies LOVE animals. We are lucky to live in a community with lots of opportunities to see a variety of animals, from farm animals to more exotic creatures. In the spring, there’s baby goats at Prairie Fruits Farm. In the summertime, there is the wonderful Prairie Farm (yes that’s confusing). Year-round indoors, there’s the owls, snakes and turtles at Anita Purves Nature Center or Homer Lake Interpretive Center. There is absolutely no shame in stopping at the fish tanks at the local big box stores (Thanks, Meijer!). When in doubt, head to a pet store. Two of our favorite area pet stores to visit with babies: Pet Supplies Plus in west Champaign and Sailfin on South Neil.
In this town, we’re lucky to have a variety of stores where you can do some one-stop-shopping. We’ll not admit how many hours we’ve spent wandering the aisles after the cart ride had lulled the tot to sleep. Shoutout to the stores that offer free fruit and cookies (of course, your baby might not be eating solids just yet!) Harvest Market offers the combination of having an excellent coffee shop and being a great place to roam.
6. Market Place Mall and Lincoln Square Mall
If you have a little one who likes the stroller, you can feel good about pushing it around these two places. Market Place Mall in Champaign has its cushioned FREE toddler play area. (Bring hand sanitizer, of course). Bonus: you can take a ride in the carousel with your little one. Over in Urbana, 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. (Bonus: Common Ground Food Co-Op will give your child a free piece of fruit when you visit).
5. The Pools
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 you don’t even need sunscreen! Sholem has a designated kiddie pool while Crystal Lake 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.
4. Indoor play facilities
Editor’s Note: These are all still closed due to COVID-19. We look forward to their reopening soon!
The Champaign Park District’s Leonhard Recreation Center has an indoor playground that is baby/toddler friendly. One of the major upsides: it has very flexible hours. Only downside? The cost (tip: try it first, but if it’s a fit for your family, LRC memberships are very affordable for residents). You can also head to Windsor Road Christian Church for a more tot-friendly indoor play area (which is free). Want to push your stroller around an indoor track? You can do that at First Christian Church (although the playground is more recommended for the school-age crowd).
3. Area Gymnastics Centers
We have great gymnastic centers in Champaign-Urbana and some of them offer playtime just for babies and toddlers. Check with I-Power to see their current offerings. Open play in gyms give your child the opportunity to build strength, fine and gross motor skills and spatial understanding as they explore at their own pace and comfort level with you (the parent) by their side.
2. Get outside: Champaign-Urbana parks
We are lucky to have so many great parks in the greater Champaign-Urbana area. When it comes to which parks are best for babies, we look for two things: a paved stroller path, and infant swings. We are particularly enamored with the parks that have the parent-child swing, such as Colbert Park in Savoy (below) and Hessel Park in Champaign. This is a swing where a parent can swing with their baby.
1. Local libraries
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 90 minutes of the day (runner up: 3:30-5 p.m.). Many of these story times are still happening virtually, though. Play areas look different, too, but we eagerly await their return. In the meantime, going to the library “just” for the books is a great outing and one we think you will want to make a regular one for you and baby.
Looking for more related to you and baby?
For “All Things Baby” in the Champaign-Urbana area, check out this resource we’ve put together. From fertility through pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, we have compiled everything you want to read about when it comes to having a baby. And if your baby is more of a toddler these days, check out this list of where to take your toddler, too.
Top 10 Places To Take Toddler in Champaign-Urbana | 8 Free Air-Conditioned Indoor Family Outings in Champaign-Urbana | Best Places to Play Indoors in Champaign-Urbana | Champaign-Urbana Area Free Indoor Play Guide | Readers Recommend: The Best Parks for Toddlers in Champaign-Urbana | Moms Groups in Champaign-Urbana | All Things Baby: Resources in Champaign-Urbana