Monday, August 8, 2011

Top 10 Tips for Visiting the Indiana State Fair with Babies and Toddlers

This weekend, I visited the Indiana State Fair and the arrow tagged along. Attending a big, crowded, often miserably hot event like this can be especially tricky if you're toting along a baby or toddler (or both!), but I'm happy to report there is still lots of fun to be had. Many of my tips below are applicable to any large summer festival or fair, so even if the Indiana State Fair isn't in your plans, you might still find these tips helpful.

Top 10 Tips for Visiting the Indiana State Fair with Young Kids:

1.) Seek out lactation/feeding areas. This was the main reason I didn't bring the arrow to the fair when he was a 4-month old. We were still deep in the "eating every 2 1/2-hour phase," and I couldn't help but picture myself trying to discreetly nurse him in the corner of a hot, smelly, dirty swine barn. No thanks. I should have done some more research: the Indiana State Fair offers two lactation/nursing/feeding stations. You'll find these private, shady tents near the Riley Fun Park and Dow AgroSciences Celebration Park.

2.) Head to an exhibit pavilion. If you're nowhere near the above mentioned lactation stations when baby needs to eat, find the closest air-conditioned pavilion. Often the buildings that exhibit crafts, canned goods and other household products are quiet, clean and relaxing spaces. This is also a good plan if you and your kids just need to cool off for a few minutes, change a diaper, etc. We took refuge in the Ball State/Ag Hort building just off the Midway on Sunday for a little while. It was just us and a few old people checking out the enormous pumpkins. We were all approaching meltdown territory when we entered, and after a few minutes, we left in much better spirits.

3.) Review your map in advance. Long gone are the days my husband and I aimlessly wandered the enormous fairgrounds. Instead, I tried to get a general sense of what was where the evening before we headed out to the fair. I knew of a few activities I wanted to do and see, so I got a sense of what was near each other, where we should start our day, etc. Then I referred to the map a few times as we walked around that morning. A little planning goes a long way when taking babies and toddlers to the fair. If you have a Droid or iPhone, the Indiana State Fair now offers an interactive map with their app.

4.) Determine a few kid-friendly activities or areas. There's so much to see and do at the Fair, but not everything is interesting to active toddlers. I tried to make sure we visited at least a few things that the arrow found really fun, activities that are geared toward his age range. A few of my favorites:
I'll write more about some of these on Friday, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. There is so much for young kids to see and do at the Indiana State Fair!

Checking out a sturgeon at the Indiana DNR exhibit at the Indiana State Fair
5.) Bring a good stroller. I used our cheap-as-can-be umbrella stroller and it was clearly the wrong choice. The infield parking area has fairly long grass, and there are many areas I navigated that were really bumpy or unpaved. I should have brought our jogging stroller instead. It also has more under-the-seat storage which would have been helpful to us. Rookie mistake.

6.) Find the wheelchair-accessible tunnels into the fairgrounds. This will make your stroller transporation in and out of the fair infinitely easier. They are marked clearly on the map. Another lesson learned too late.

7.) Cold water is your friend. I packed a few cold bottles in my purse and they were a lifesaver. I saw a few families using bottles they froze in advance. Great idea. I'm not sure if this is frowned-upon by fair staff, but no one said a word to us. It saves you money and time if you already have some of life's most important necessities on hand. The Pathway to Water Quality Exhibit also has cold water if you find yourself in that area.

8.) Use hand sanitizer. Getting to touch and pet the farm animals is a real treat for young kids, but it's important that you also keep them safe. Not to mention the fact than any hands-on exhibit or ride has probably been touched by many of the 900,000+ that attend the fair each year. There are many hand sanitizing stations throughout the fairgrounds, or bring a travel-sized container of your own.

9.) Snacks. A hungry toddler is an angry toddler. I packed some portable snacks for him to munch on as we walked between exhibits and activities and it really kept him happy (and in his stroller!) It was nice not to have to make frequent stops for unhealthy and expensive treats from the many vendors. Save that hassle for meal time.

Riding the carousel on the Midway at the Indiana State Fair
10.) Have a Midway strategy. If you don't want your kids to ride the carnival rides, or don't want to shell out the money, then just try not to walk by the Midway. I don't mind indulging the arrow in a few rides, so we didn't avoid it altogether, but we easily could have. This obviously doesn't work as your kids get older, so enjoy this phase while it lasts! If you do want to enjoy the Midway, then I recommend taking a quick walk around before buying tickets. I set clear expectations with the arrow that he could only ride a few things and he seemed to understand. He chose a few rides, although he still threw a bit of a fit when we left. Regardless, it saved us some tears, for sure. It was also good to walk around because I realized there were only about 3 or 4 rides appropriate for his age and size, so I only bought a few tickets. We also visited the Midway just as it was opening. Not only was there an early-bird discount, but no lines!

While I'm a veteran Indiana State Fair attendee, I'm still a newbie when it comes to visiting as a mom of young kids. A special thanks to Barb at Quick Like a Bunny for throwing in a few tips of her own! I'll be blogging more about the Indiana State Fair later this week, both here and at Visit Indiana's Indiana Insider. If you want to keep track of all the fun at the Indiana State Fair, I encourage you to follow the Fair's social media accounts.

This post is a part of Top 10 Tuesday at Oh Amanda!