Looking for the best things to do with 3-year-olds all the way through the preschool years? The Chicago suburbs are full of amazing spots for this fun age group to explore. We have a few members of the Kidlist team with preschoolers, and my nephew just entered this phase. So we are always looking for ideas so they can explore new things and have fun, especially during the day while the older kids are at school. On the weekends, we look for more family-friendly activities that fit his age range well, too.
Ready for adventures and ideas close to home with your preschooler? We’re excited to share our expertise and help you make fun plans easily without needing to do extra searching and research. Everything is all right here!
Hang Out at the Library
Libraries are our best friends for the preschool years. So many libraries have built up their children’s areas to be main attractions with light walls, imaginative play, and other fun indoor activities. It’s also a wonderful environment to curl up on a chair or couch and read a book. You can sign up for their storytime while you are there so you can make it a weekly activity!
Explore a Nature Center
Local nature centers are a great starting point for an outdoor adventure with preschoolers. Sometimes, we never even make it out onto the trails! But visitor centers offer a great spot to get advice on kid-friendly trails and take a bathroom break before heading out
Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville has a big playground with a soft, spongy surface and easy access to short trails, too. Red Oak Nature Center in Batavia has two exhibits that let kids take a hands-on approach to nature learning.
Stroll Through Nature Trails
We also have a great list of the Best Trails for Kids. Taking a walk through the forest preserve and talking about plants and animals you see along the way is fun with this age. Fullersburg Woods and Waterfall Glen are a couple of our favorites, but you can check out the full list of amazing trails for kids for even more ideas. Sometimes a simply activity can be a great way to have fun together.
Cantigny Park and The Morton Arboretum are also great places to enjoy nature. Cantigny Park is $5-10 per car depending on the time of year and offers free parking on the first Wednesday of each month. The playground is big and fun, and climbing on the tanks at Cantigny is a local rite of passage for kids.
The Arboretum’s Children’s Garden is really perfect for this age. Be aware that there are little streams and water features the kids can play in; water shoes or waterproof sandals (or bare feet) are really nice for those areas, as is a change of clothes!
Take Advantage of Easy Outings
What do Bass Pro Shop, Ikea, Abt Electronics, and Petland all have in common? They are places that adults view as stores, but for preschoolers it’s a world of fun! We have ideas for over 10 places to have unexpected fun that are super easy and you can also run errands while you are there.
Play at the Perfect Playgrounds for Preschoolers
Explore our readers’ picks for the best parks and playgrounds. In our family, the Sensory Garden Playground in Lisle, Harvester Park in Burr Ridge, and Darien Community Playground are all favorites! Local playgrounds with coffee shops nearby are also excellent for caregivers who want a morning pick-me-up before starting all the fun for the day.
Nature playgrounds are amazing for this age range. Preschoolers need to explore and get their hands dirty! My kids can spend hours at spots like Bison’s Bluff in Schaumburg and Hawks Hollow at Peck Farm in Geneva. The Prairie Patch Play Area in Wheaton is smaller, but still lots of fun with natural materials to explore.
Celebrate Seasonal Fun
The changing seasons are so much fun to explore with preschoolers. They’re old enough to begin to recognize the changing of the seasons, but young enough that there are so many “firsts” to experience.
Farmers markets make for a great summer outing with preschoolers. While the weekend markets can be quite crowded, the weekday markets tend to be much more open. Go early to avoid the crowds and heat! Every Saturday, we walk over to our local farmer’s market and let both of our kids pick out one treat and one fruit or veggie. It’s been a really fun way to try have the kids things like purple cauliflower, asparagus, and heirloom tomatoes . . . but of course, donuts usually win out for their treats!
In the fall, a trip to pick apples or choose a prize from the pumpkin patch is a fun outing for preschoolers. Many spots have activities, too. (They’re also less spooky than some of the other seasonal goings-on!) Fall fests also offer a great chance to experience autumn classics like caramel apples, hayrides, and pumpkin patches.
In the winter, don’t let a little chill keep you inside! Many preschoolers adore going sledding; we’ve got a round-up of local sledding hills to get you started on a snowy day.
Our number one goal at Kidlist is to keep you in-the-know about everything going on each season! Click here for a run down of all the seasonal fun you have to look forward to.
Cool Off with Water Fun
Splash pads and spray parks are great choices for kids who can’t swim solo just yet. Some are even fenced in (such as the splash park at Maryknoll Park in Glen Ellyn, Wolf’s Crossing Community Park in Naperville, Ty Warner Park Spray Park in Westmont, and Gordon Park in La Grange). Willow Pond Park is a great one for this age group because it’s smaller and has an age appropriate playground too. Memorial Park in La Grange Park (pictured below) is another good option because of it’s manageable size.
If you are looking for more outdoor activities, Jamie has tips for a fun time with a creek stomp in Oswego, which has a nearby playground to help make the trip more of an outing.
Visit the Best Zoos for Preschoolers
Brookfield Zoo is a huge local attraction and offers tons of fun for kids. It’s definitely an outing! Brookfield Zoo currently requires reservations. Check out Annie’s recent Brookfield Zoo trip for tips.
Cosley Zoo in Wheaton is another smaller zoo with Illinois wildlife. Kids are free; if you don’t live in Wheaton, you’ll pay $7 per adult. It’s my personal favorite for little kids; check out tips from my recent trip with my family.
Philips Park Zoo in Aurora is a little free zoo! There’s a splash pad and giant playground onsite to make for a fun outing that’s very manageable with little ones.
Randall Oaks Zoo in West Dundee is also great for this age range, with plenty of opportunities to feed the animals and even try a pony ride. (Check the hours for pony rides before you go if that’s a dealbreaker for your preschooler.)
See Farm Animals
There are plenty of farms in our area that are open to the public, some even with extra attractions. Blackberry Farm has a train, play area, and historic learning opportunities, Kline Creek Farm has baby lambs in the spring and also regular events with old-fashioned fun. Click here for the full list of farms to visit.
Sign Your Preschooler Up for a Class
We’ve got a whole guide to classes for little kids 5 and under! It’s full of great options for young kids, and each class option lists the starting age, too. Handy, right?
Your local park district is another great resource for classes. Often, park district classes give kids a taste of a new activity or sport for just the season — which is great for fickle preschoolers.
Check Out a Children’s Museum
Local children’s museums are so much fun, and preschool is really the sweet spot for these fun destinations. Many also have areas for babies and crawlers, so if you’re juggling a younger kiddo as well, that’s a huge relief.
Head to a Farmers Market
If you have one within walking distance, make the walk part of the outing! Otherwise, there are plenty of markets to choose from with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and treats to snack on. We always publish the schedule with details for each market and you can find it here: French Markets and Farmers Markets.
Ride the Train
There are a lot of kid-friendly stops on Metra’s BNSF line. Katie put together a great list of each stop worth checking out with suggestions of where to go. All aboard! Head to our article about train stops to get some great ideas.
Bring Excitement with Special Amusement Parks for Preschoolers
Pirate’s Cove, Santa’s Village, and Grady’s are good amusement parks for this age, with Pirate’s Cove being the smallest of the three if you aren’t up for large fairgrounds.
Escape to Indoor Play Areas
We have an epic list of the best indoor play areas, which are perfect for preschoolers. These are great options, especially on a rainy day or when it’s too hot to spend a long time outside.
Expend Energy at an Open Gym
Does your preschooler like to run around, jump, and play? I think that’s the case with most 3-5 year olds. That’s why many places offer open gym! Our list has locations, times, and features of each so you can plan some gym time.
Visit a Conservatory
Get some fresh air and enjoy the warmth of a conservatory no matter what the weather is doing outside! Oak Park Conservatory has talking parrots in addition to winding paths and a great playground right across the street. Wilder Park Conservatory in Elmhurst is small, but a nice escape and in the same area as a playground, the library, and Elmhurst Art Museum. Garfield Park Conservatory is the largest and most impressive conservatory if you want to head to the city. We love all the rooms, waterfalls, and kids area there.
Let’s keep the ideas rolling in the comments! Let us know your favorite spot for the preschool-age crowd below.
Looking for ideas for another age group?
See all of our Activities by Age Articles for local places to go for every age range.