The age-old problem: what to do with the toddler who wakes up at 6:00 a.m. when nothing is open before 9:00 a.m.! Actually, there are (at least) 25 places to go with an early riser and toddlers before the rest of the world begins the day. Here are some ideas.
The Nature Kid
What’s great about nature is it’s open 24/7. Once the weather gets warmer, it’s especially nice to take advantage of the coolness of morning.
- Birding—birds are early risers, too! (I have some lovely ones that like to remind me every morning around 5:00 a.m.). Set out on a bird walk around the neighborhood, at a forest preserve, or on a bike trail. Find some bird inspiration or help identifying what you find with our For the Birds Bookshelf.
- Sunrise—Although I’m not awake for it, the sun rises EVERY MORNING. Click here to find out what time and head out to watch it.
- Garden—you don’t have to go far for this one. There’s lots of ways for your toddler to help you. Give them something to dig with—their own trowel, a spoon, etc. and let them dig a hole. Have them spray the leaves of nearby plants with a water sprayer or water gun. Have them relocate worms near your plants. And if you don’t have a garden, there are community gardens to watch others.
- Lake County Forest Preserves—most open at 6:30 a.m.! And so much to do there: hike, bird watch, run around! Some also have playgrounds. Some are great for hiking with little ones.
- Look for deer—they are also early risers. If you’ve seen them nearby at a certain time, try again the next day. Stay far enough away not to disrupt them but to enjoy observing.
- Chicago Botanic Garden—This opens at 8:00 a.m.! If you have a nature lover, it’s definitely worth the membership. Open all year, they also offer story time, have a model railroad garden, and tram tours (after 9:00 a.m., though).
Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
Some kids are super fascinated by things that go. There is a great variety of things that move in Lake County!
- Remote control vehicles—find a large paved, open space and let your child work a remote control vehicle. Add stones or other obstacles.
- Garbage truck—The garbage truck often comes before 9:00 a.m. Watching it grab the garbage cans is fascinating to many kids (and adults!).
- Grocery store—Yep, I suggested that. Besides it being practical to go early to avoid crowds and be done with it for the day, there are a lot of fun things for your child to do there: weigh the fruits and vegetables, watch the lobsters in the tank, and load items into their own personal cart (most stores have kid carts, BTW).
- Car wash—Another win-win with this one. Get your car washed while watching a show of suds, red and blue French fries whacking at your car, and water coming at you in all directions.
- Construction site—Construction work can begin at 7:00 a.m. Watch your kiddo’s favorite trucks in action! Bring one of their truck books and try to spot the various trucks. (Observe from afar.)
- Dog park—many owners bring their pets to dog parks before heading to work. Watch dogs in action. For safety, stay outside the fence. Read about Little Lake County writer Chad’s experiences at dog parks in Lake County.
- Airport—Watch planes land and take off at Waukegan Regional Airport. Morning rush hour is around 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. for planes.
- Train station—Commuters start their day early; so can you. Find a spot at a Metra station to watch the inbound and outbound trains roll in and out in the morning, or consider grabbing a snack at an early-opening, train-themed restaurant in Lake County. Some open as early as 5:00 a.m.
The Energizer Bunny
My kid’s motto for a while was “I run real fast!” Do you have one of these?
- Go fly a kite—Kites + kids = running. And let’s be honest, when isn’t the wind blowing in spring time in the Chicago area? So find an open area and fly a kite! If your little one also wants to fly one, make a simple wind sock like this one.
- Playground—And the winner for the best thing to do with a toddler…go to a playground! Count on the slides being wet early in the morn, so bring a playground-designated towel. Here’s a guide to playgrounds around town: Outdoor Playgrounds in Lake County.
- Bike—Trails are open before 9:00 a.m. Get some exercise!
- Run the bases—Head out to a baseball field. Set out bases (most anything flat will do), place a playground ball at home plate, and have your little one kick it and run the bases.
- Walk the mall—Many malls open hours before the tempting stores do (some even open at 7:00 a.m.!).
- Chicago Botanic Garden—this opens at 8:00 a.m.! Tons of trails to run around on.
- Run—Any open space will do. Race. Chase. Kick a ball.
Is your child a social butterfly the minute they wake? Here are some places where there are other lively individuals.
- Hardware store—Often open early, hardware stores have tons of fun things to look at and talk about. Might as well pick up some light bulbs while you’re there.
- Grocery store—If your child is content sitting in the cart, you have a gabbing partner while you shop. Give them a picture list of groceries to spot and just interact.
- Coffee house—here’s incentive for getting out and about early…coffee houses open around 5:00 a.m.! If you just want to get out, grab a table activity (coloring book, paper, table toy) and head to a coffee house. Most have highchairs. Although it’s tempting to hop onto Facebook, use the time as if you’re out with a girlfriend. Color together, chat, enjoy a scone. Try one of Little Lake County’s favorite coffee shops.
- Health Club—take advantage of a babysitting service at the gym. What’s nice about this is that your child can interact with other kids. And maybe you can meet a parent of a fellow early bird and set up an early playdate. Little Lake County has a list of fan favorite gyms with childcare, too.
What activities do you do with your early riser?