So it’s the dead of winter, and you’re tired of watching movies at home, sick of all your indoor play spaces, and looking to find something that isn’t covered in a host of germy-germs. May I suggest spending time at the zoo? I know. It’s cold. But there is a way to have fun in winter at the zoo, even with little ones. Here’s my quick guide to surviving winter at the zoo. The day we went, the high was 15 degrees and this is how we did it with a two-year-old and six-month-old.
This year, there’s a Family Free Day on December 4, 2021, and for an extra fee, you can check out wild lights on Dec. 1-5, 8-12, 15-23, and 26-31 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m
This one is the most obvious. Having lived in Wisconsin my whole life, I know how important a good coat is. It’s not hard to come by good quality used coats and snow pants. My go-to is KidsCycle, a local Buy/Sell/Trade site on Facebook run by the non-profit, Love + Lift. Dressing in good quality doesn’t have to cost a lot.
For the toddler, we did a t-shirt, warm fleece sweatshirt, down coat, hat, and warm mittens. On the bottom a cozy pair of leggings with snow pants, double socks, and boots.
For the baby, I did a bodysuit and a zip sleeper with extra socks, fleece booties and a warm hat. Sometimes I choose to babywear, but for this trip, I kept her in the car seat and stroller so she could nap. I buckled her in with her down coat on backward plus the fleece car seat cover. I brought an extra blanket for if she seemed cold, but she was warm to the touch, so I covered the car seat with the blanket to protect from the wind and encourage the nap. It worked!
To get the layers on safely, we parked and quickly got inside a zoo building. We went potty, and then got all the warm layers on indoors, so we weren’t suiting up in the parking lot.
In the summer, we spend lots of time roaming paths and looking at the animals outside. The one drawback to winter at the zoo is that a lot of the animals hunker down in their indoor habitats. So, in winter, we focus on mostly indoor buildings. There are lots of them!
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, some buildings are closed. Others have one-way access and limited capacity. Masks are required everywhere on zoo grounds for anyone aged three and older.
My toddler loves looking at the fish and snakes the most, so I knew we were going to spend a lot of time there. This gave me the opportunity to shed my big parka and get the baby out of her car seat for a while, nurse her, and let her observe the fishies as well.
Three of the buildings at the zoo also have the Mamava pods which are clean, comfortable places to nurse, pump, or otherwise feed and change your baby without distraction. Plus, they will keep your toddler contained while the infant is feeding. Win-win. The zoo has a list of them on their website and they’re easy to find.
Have A Potty Plan
Because I have a zoo pass, I’ve become familiar with which buildings have a bathroom. This is essential for a potty-trained two-year-old. She does a great job, but her bladder is tiny, so I’m always aware of which bathroom is closest so we can get there in under five minutes.
I purposely decided to buy snow bibs with buckles at the shoulders so we can quickly unzip the coat, unbuckle and pull the snow pants down to potty. I don’t even let her take her mittens off for this, which is a huge winter at the zoo time-saver.
Embrace the Snow
Because you’ve come prepared in layers, it’s okay to let your littles enjoy the snow. My toddler played on this snow pile by herself for fifteen minutes. She loved it. They plow clear all the paths, so it’s nice to get from one big pile to another.
When we eventually get back to the car, I have a bag for all the wet stuff and a back-up coat or blanket to cover the toddler. This gets us quickly back out of the parking lot and back home without too much fuss.
Winter in Wisconsin is long, cold, and dark, so try to add outdoors to your activities rotation. It is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it in the end. What’s your favorite place to visit in the winter?