Are you a new parent? New to the area? Just looking for some new toddler-friendly destinations where your little one can play, explore, and learn? This is the list for you. Here are my recommendations for things to do in Champaign, Illinois with toddlers.
Sometimes playing outside just isn’t an option. When bad weather, the winter cold, or a heatwave has been keeping you and your little one trapped indoors, you can look to these local play spaces for an opportunity to get out of the house and burn some of that toddler energy.
Leonhard Recreation Center
If you’re looking for something indoors to do with toddlers in Champaign, the Leonhard Recreation Center’s indoor playground is a fantastic option. This playground is designed for children between the ages of 1 and 10. It features a three-level padded jungle gym, a book tree, access to Lego Duplos and sensory games, and a zone geared specifically towards toddlers where your little one can play with wall puzzles and soft-play climbables. Be sure to visit their website for info on open hours and entrance fees. The low cost of entrance and the variety of toddler-friendly activities provided here make this a top indoor play recommendation.
Windsor Road Christian Church
Another great indoor playground in Champaign is located inside Windsor Road Christian Church. Here you will find a play-space that was clearly designed with little ones in mind. This fully enclosed, racing-themed play area features two slides, multiple climbables made from rubber tires, a giant walk-through traffic cone, and a large toy box stocked with blocks and other building toys. It isn’t a huge playground, and its smaller size makes it easy to keep tabs on your kiddo without feeling like you need to hover over them the whole time they play. The best thing about this playground is that it’s free! Hop over to their website for the most up-to-date open hours. (If you’re looking for a bigger indoor playground with more options for the whole family, check out the indoor playground at First Christian Church) here.
Elevate Trampoline Park
Looking for an outing with a bit more wow factor? Try Elevate Trampoline Park. A trampoline park might not be your first thought when trying to find toddler-friendly destinations, but with its Toddler Time discounts and Kiddie Court designed specifically for children under 5, Elevate offers toddler parents a unique way to have fun with their little ones while giving them an opportunity to build coordination and body control. The park has fun zones for the whole family and the Kiddie Court features stairs leading to a trampoline slide, foam pit, and mini obstacle area. Check out their website for info on Toddler Time hours and cost to jump. This one definitely requires more hands-on adult supervision than the other recommendations on this list, but it is a great option for anyone who wants to really play with their tyke.
Other great indoor play spaces for your toddler in and around Champaign include local gymnastics gyms such as Champaign Gymnastics Academy and iPower Gymnastics here. Both have open gym hours where you and your little one can play in the gym facilities for a small entrance fee (be sure to check the websites before you go as capacity may be limited). Also, don’t forget about your local library for free indoor play. The Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library both have play spaces geared towards young children. Champaign’s Market Place Mall has a free soft play area for littles if you need to burn some energy on your next shopping trip.
At some point, all toddler parents come to realize that not all playgrounds are created equal. Not every jungle-gym was created with the littlest kiddos in mind. While there are many great parks in the area, here are a few recommendations for the most toddler-friendly parks and playgrounds in and around Champaign.
Located right in the heart of Champaign, Hessel Park is popular for a good reason. Featuring both big kid and toddler-sized play structures, a swing set that includes two parent/child swings, a half-mile paved walking path, a splash pad for the summer months, and always-open nearby bathrooms, Hessel Park has everything you could want for your little one. There is fun to be had here all year round, but toddlers will especially enjoy playing in the water features and sprinklers of the splash pad’s toddler area during the warmer months. If you are going during splash pad season, be sure to always bring a change of clothes for both you and your tyke, even if you don’t plan on getting wet. Click here to learn more.
Accessible playgrounds, like you’ll find at AMBUCS Park in Urbana, are an incredibly underrated resource for parents of small children. All the accommodations that make it easy for those with limited mobility to play, also make it way easier for your littles to get around a large play structure. Toddlers who are still working on their agility, climbing skills, and body control don’t have to choose between steep steps or too-big climbing frames to get around the AMBUCS Park playground; they are free to walk or run along wide ramps with much less need for adults to hover. Alongside these accessible features are opportunities for your kiddo to challenge their developing skills with climbables and multiple slides. AMBUCS Park also boasts a wooden train and boat for imaginative play, a paved walking path connecting the play areas, and a music zone with drums and xylophones. There is endless fun waiting here for you and your toddler. Click here to learn more.
Want to try another kind of unique playground? Meadowbrook Park in Urbana features the largest play structure in the Urbana Park District. This huge wooden play space will provide your toddler with tons of opportunities for exploration and imaginative play. At this sprawling park, you will also find the Wendell Sculpture Garden, the Timpone Ornamental Tree Garden, a sensory garden, and tons of paved and unpaved walking trails. If you’re looking for a park where your toddler can play hard and also explore nature, give Meadowbrook Park a try. Click here to learn more.
Museums and nature preserves offer great opportunities for kids of all ages to learn through observation and hands-on interaction. Just exploring these educational environments can give your toddler the chance to make connections and ask questions about history or the natural world. Here are a few local educational destinations to visit with your tyke.
Anita Purves Nature Center
Situated in the same area as the Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center, Busey Woods, and Busey Friendship Grove, the Anita Purves Nature Center features tons of hands-on learning opportunities for all ages. Toddlers will love checking out the live animal and plant enclosures, watching and listening to birds and other wildlife from the observation room, digging through buckets of sand for fossils, and getting a chance to touch and feel all kinds of natural objects and artifacts. The rescued screech owls are sure to catch your little one’s attention, and so are the snake and turtle enclosures. This center really gives kids a chance to get up-close and personal with nature. After you’ve exhausted the nature center’s offerings, you can let your kiddo run free at the Friendship Grove Nature Playscape to continue the hands-on nature experience. Click here to learn more.
Homer Lake Interpretive Center & Natural Playscape
Less than half an hour drive from Champaign, the Homer Lake Interpretive Center offers you and your tot multiple ways to learn about wildlife and the surrounding forest preserve. Let your little one wander the center, get a good look at the turtles and other reptiles, amphibians, and fish that rotate through the aquariums, play in and around the interactive bird nest, have some quiet time watching birds from the indoor wildlife viewing area, and discover the special exhibits on display. When you and your toddler have finished exploring the interpretive center, be sure to head outside to the Natural Playscape and burn off some energy before the drive home. Your little one can play like kids of yester-year in this playscape designed to encourage a connection to nature. Balance on logs, climb over boulders, splash in the stream (seasonally), and more. Click here to learn more.
Museum of the Grand Prairie
This last recommendation is a holdover from pre-COVID days. It still makes the list in the hopes that restrictions and exhibit closures will ease up as the pandemic comes to an end. The Museum of the Grand Prairie has long been a destination for unique, interactive learning experiences. Parents with little ones have been encouraged to peruse the main floor’s exhibits on local history and culture before heading downstairs to explore the interactive displays and exhibits geared specifically towards children. Here, your toddler will find plenty to engage their curiosity. Before planning a visit, be sure to check out their website for the most up-to-date safety guidelines and hours of operation.
And, of course, if you want to forever capture some of the magic of this fleeting stage in your toddler and family’s life, I invite you to stick around and check out my child and family photography services. I specialize in capturing your child’s unique personality and your special family relationships by shooting in comfortable settings, either at home or in relaxed outdoor locations.
For more in-depth reviews of these destinations and parents’-guides to Champaign/Urbana area activities, check out ChambanaMoms.com. I hope you and your toddler have fun trying out these things to do near Champaign, IL.
While you are here, be sure to check out my post about Ballard Nature Center here.