Fun for Chicago kids at the Lake County Fair

Most toddlers go through a phase where they are smitten with Old McDonald and all things farm. When we moved from the city to the suburbs, every vast open field we passed my almost four-year-old shouted out, “Look at all the farms, Mama!” If you have a farm loving toddler, you will want to block out some time next week to head to the Lake County Fair.

Closer than heading to the state fair in Springfield, the Lake County Fair has everything a farm-loving city kid will love without having to muck out a stable. For older kids, it’s like Charlotte’s Web come to life! We now live minutes from the fair, and it’s a yearly tradition my kids love. For those of you who aren’t local, here are some tip for heading to the county fair with kids:

If your schedule permits, visit on a weekday morning. The grounds open at 10 a.m., although there is some livestock showing as early as 8 a.m. I have friends that swear by being the first ones in the door on Wednesday morning so that they have the fairgrounds to themselves, which is perfect for preschoolers and kids (and moms!) who don’t like crowds.

We like to start our fair experience in the Livestock Barns. While you may be able to see farm animals at a zoo or other attraction, these are the real deal – and there are hundreds of them. I remember my first time at the state fair. I was in college, and having spent my whole life in the Chicago area, I had never been up-close with a cow other than what was at the zoo. I was shocked at how big the cattle were! Your kids’ eyes will be full of awe as they get to wander through barns filled with all manner of goats, chickens, and the largest pigs and cows they’ve ever seen! For city kids, a special treat is to see the 4H groups presenting their animals. You and your children can talk to the kids that are raising the animals themselves and learn about the animal and what they are looking for to get a blue ribbon. To kids who aren’t even allowed to have outdoor pets, it’s always neat to see other kids taking care of and raising animals.

Generally right outside the barns is the tractor display. Although it’s meant to be a sales stop for farmers, it serves as great fun for toddlers and preschoolers. Many of the tractors are available to climb on and in, a perfect photo op! On Friday night the Farm Heritage Associations sponsors an antique tractor parade, which is always a great time for tractor- and truck-loving kids. We set up shop near the petting zoo (in case the barns full of animals wasn’t enough) and the kids watched the parade while cuddling baby rabbits.

After everyone has had their fill of animals, we like to head to the Expo Hall – don’t worry this is not all business and sales pitches! This is where all the 4H competitions are held as well as the business expo. Children can see art, photography, gardening and other competitions, as well as visit community booths like the Police Department and the Forest Preserve District. Don’t miss the Farm Bureau’s Ag Adventure Area. Here kids can get some real hands-on farm experience from “milking” a cow (it’s not real) to playing in corn and riding mini-tractors. My kids had a great time, and it was hard to get them to leave!

Of course, last but not least is the Kid Korral and the Kidway. This is the area that is full of kid-friendly rides and attractions, the more carnival aspect of the fair. There are kiddie rides, a train ride and petting zoo, pony rides and a magician. Other shows and entertainment, including the ever popular Banana Derby (monkeys racing on dogs), happen throughout the fair, but this is where you will turn over your wallet and the money will pour out, especially if you have older kids that like rides. We always try to set a limit and plan on going over by about 20% (I mean, it only happens once a year).

Some tips for parents:

– This year there is construction around the fairgrounds. Check the fairgrounds site and download the Lake County Passage Ap for current conditions and traffic info. You’re going to want to plan on extra time.

– Bring cash. While some of the vendors take credit cards, admission tickets are cash only.

– It’s worth the extra money to park in the paved lot. It’s closest to the entrance, and by the end of the day no one is going to want to walk anymore.

– Check the Lake County Fair Facebook Page for admission coupons and special package rates. Wristbands are available daily for the midway but only until 5 p.m.

The 86th Annual Lake County Fair runs July 23-27 starting at 10 a.m. daily. Admission (cash only) is $8 Wed.-Fri. and $10 Sat.-Sun.; $5 daily kids 5-13; free kids under 5. Discounts, wristbands, and group passes are also available. See website for full information.

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