Do your children have cabin fever? Are they driving you nuts on a daily basis, all that pent-up energy usually expended outdoors now busting the walls down inside? Living in the Midwest for my entire life, I have learned a few ways to utilize all that the seasons have to offer as a kid. Here are ten things to do with your kids in the winter (but I am still praying that the damn Groundhog puts the blinders on and at least pretends to ignore his shadow because I can only be optimistic and happy for so long).
Catch a minor league hockey game.
Yes, everyone flocks to attend a Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks game here in hockey country during the winter months, but you can get a better family-friendly deal in the minors. We have taken our kids to see a Chicago Wolves game for the past two years, and they always end up cheering and fully absorbed in the action. Tickets start at just $12 and they have a packed promotional schedule that ups the entertainment ante for kids (as well as events for parents- Craft Beer Arena Crawl, anyone?). Check out my Ultimate Guide to Attending a Hockey Game with the Family for ALL the info you need to make this outing outstanding. There are fireworks galore at the beginning so make sure to get into your seats on time!
When I was younger, hitting up the roller rink was THE thing to do on the weekend. Parents dropped off the kids by the carload, picking up spent and happy kids hours later. The latest trend in kid entertainment is the trampoline park- thousands of square feet of jumping joy with a multitude of trampoline types. Altitude Trampoline Park JUST opened in the West Loop in Chicago, and my 5 & 7 year old bounced around for two hours. They begged to stay longer, but the red cheeks and sleepy eyes let me know it was time to go. In addition to basic trampolines, they also had trampoline dodge ball, basketball, rock wall, Wipeout, monkey bars, log roll and more. If you want to whip your kids out but listen to their ebullient recount of a day well spend on the ride home, try Altitude! They have locations all over the US, so find one and hop on over!
See favorite friends dance on ice.
One thing I love about Disney- they offer a character for everyone. My son adores cheeky Miguel from Coco, and my daughter constantly dances along to the Frozen songs. Me? I am a Belle fan from way back, and I love seeing all of the characters from my childhood. This winter, Disney on Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party– a character-filled show with acrobatics, ice tricks and spectacular stunts. The show is produced by Feld Entertainment, which is in its third generation of family ownership. EVERY show I have seen by them has been top notch, and my children are mesmerized by the high-quality, fast-paced, immersive entertainment for which they are known. This is one thing to do with kids in winter that takes advantage of the ice while staying warm!
Venture out on the ice yourself!
When I was little, our neighbors had an ice skating rink in their backyard. We would lace up our Dorothy Hamill-inspired figure skates and grate across the bumpy surface, semi-gracefully hopping and dancing. Since I don’t live in rural Michigan anymore, homemade ice rinks aren’t as popular. Luckily, our rec center has regular open skating hours on a weekly basis with affordable skate rental. Usually if your school has a hockey team, there will be an ice rink nearby that offers open skate hours. Check it out and hit the ice with the family- don’t be afraid to use the walkers provided to prevent a major fall! There are also outdoor ice skating rinks, like the ribbon at Millennium Park if you want to feel the wind on your face. There are also skating theme nights at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which is FREE to skate with themed music by a DJ, and rentals are available for an additional cost. There is also ice skating at Parkway Bank Park in Rosemont- skating is free during open skate and rental is $8. Skate away then grab dinner at one of the awesome restaurants that surround the ice- my fave for kids is Hofbrauhaus. They offer a free kids meal for children under 12 with the purchase of a full priced meal for all school holidays. Prost!
Settle in for a show.
I am SO fortunate to live near a theater-rich city, especially one that incorporates family theater on the regular. Last weekend, I took my kids to see Fantastic Mr. Fox at the Victory Garden Theater in Lincoln Park and it was a joy for ALL of us (the 70s-inspired costumes were just fabulous). Although that show has run its course, there are SO many new shows for children to enjoy. One in particular we are excited to view is “X-Marks the Spot,” a multi-sensory theatrical experience which helps children tap into all of their 5 senses. This show is inspired by children who are visually impaired- it is presented in low light or with blindfolds to encourage audience members to use their EST (Extra Sensory Theatre). It is performed at the Chicago Children’s Theatre through February 24th, and offers a great jumping off point to start discussions about how we are all presented with different challenges and special attributes in life.
Hit the hills.
I learned to ski at the young age of 3 or 4, and have been hitting the hills ever since. Last weekend, I took my kids out for their first foray into the thrilling world of downhill skiing. Hint- you don’t have to actually ski yourself if you want your kids to learn. There are packages that come with an instructor and rental equipment at some locations. We are heading to the Wisconsin Dells this weekend, and booked such a package at Cascade Mountain. Their Cascade Kids package is $99 for ages 4-10 and it includes equipment rental, tow ticket and a 3 hour small group lesson (this is a huge deal- I paid a lot more at a different resort in Michigan, but we did have a private lesson there- ideal for a total newbie).
Go totally tubular.
If skiing isn’t your jam, family tubing can be just as exhilarating and exciting! Most ski resorts offer tubing hills, and sell hourly or daily passes. We hit up Rock Snow Park on our way home from a trip to Milwaukee last year, and it was the perfect side trip for our family. Most have a “magic carpet” that transports you back up to the top of the hill- no climbing required. All you need is snow pants, snow boots and the basic cold weather gear- hat & gloves. This is a great outing for all ages- we went with my parents, so had an age span of 5-70. Check the hill’s rules, but we were able to tie a few tubes together and go down as a group. This is one of my favorite things to do with kids in winter because it requires zero skill but maximum enjoyment.
Splish splash as a family.
If winter weather is getting you down, head inside to Goldfish Swim School where the temperature is always warm and the water is 90 degrees. If you haven’t enrolled your kids in swim school, January is the perfect month to start. You can see progress and skills learned by Spring Break, and expect big strides by summer pool season. Goldfish also has family swim time, which is a great way to jump in and play with your kids. I have gone a few times with my children, and they love showing me what they have learned. Even if you aren’t enrolled in lessons, you can join Family Swim at Goldfish- a wonderful way to see if your kid could benefit from some splash time- perfect thing to do with kids in winter.
Make some waves.
Once your kids gather their skills at swim school, a fabulous reward is a trip to the water park! There are so many around town, but one of our favorites is Great Wolf Lodge. Plan a staycation at one of their many locations throughout the US. We have visited the Wisconsin Dells park, and are planning a trip to the Chicagoland location in Gurnee as well. If you don’t want to spring for a full on winter vacation or fly away to a far-flung locale, booking a staycation at a water park can be a money-saving option for the family. What I liked about Great Wolf Lodge was the focus on family– they have character visits, story time in the lobby, cute wolf ears for each kid, and lots of dining options.
Discover the city through food.
One of my favorite things to do in any new city is take a food tour. The guides are usually a wealth of knowledge about the city in which they dwell, you get some fresh air and see the sights, and of course dine on delectable dishes that are all pre-arranged for you. Pizza City USA hosts pizza tours of the best pizza places in Chicago. This newer tour company was started by Steve Dolinsky, who is a 13-time James Beard Award-winning food reporter. You sample four different styles of pizza on this trip, as well as hear about Chicago history and fun facts. Tours are designed for guests ages 9 and up. During the summer they host walking tours, but in the winter months they have a Pizza Bus tour to keep you toasty.
Cheers to making the best of any situation and not hibernating for months during our cold and sometimes dreary days. However you decide to deal with winter, don’t hate- get out and make it great 🙂