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  1. It’s the first 70-degree day in months and you have visions of a perfect outdoor dining experience with the fam. There’s no time to research in between playdates, soccer matches and diaper changes. But we’ve got you covered thanks to crowdsourced recs from trusted parents. These dining dreams promise good food, great patios and enough room for the whole clan. In a city that loves to eat, narrowing the list to a few is challenging, but here’s our best effort for family-friendly dining on all sides of the city. [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Flo & Santos South Loop; 1310 S. Wabash Ave., floandsantos.com Food: Pizza, pierogies and beer Al fresco highlight: A spacious beer garden nestled just off of the El tracks makes this a cozy neighborhood hangout for the entire family, including Fido. Pro tip: Live acoustic music on the patio on Thursdays Café Selmarie Lincoln Square; 4729 N. Lincoln Ave., cafeselmarie.com Food: Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner Al fresco highlight: Tucked in the heart of Lincoln Square, the outdoor seating and European pastries give off old world vibes, plus kids can run around in the square next to the seating. Pro tip: Don’t leave without a baked goodie. Nella Pizza e Pasta Hyde Park, 1125 E. 55th St., nellachicago.com Food: Pizza, Italian Al fresco highlight: Sleek, sophisticated outdoor seating for simply excellent Italian dining Pro tip: Order anything. Reviews argue it’s one of the best Italian spots in the city. Debate ignited. Easy Street Portage Park, 3750 N. Central Ave., easystreetpizzachicago.com Food: Pizza Al fresco highlight: Enjoy the patio and the big game with flat screens outside. Pro tip: Before you dig into your pizza, try the cheese curds. [Related: Chicago date-night ideas that go beyond dinner and drinks] Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits Logan Square, 2051 N. California Ave., & Ravenswood, 4947 N. Damen Ave., bangbangpie.com Food: Breakfast/brunch, bakery Al fresco highlight: At the Logan location, the casual, stylish patio more than doubles the seating on a warm day, and the facing patio doors provide ’Gram-worthy shots. Pro tip: Pie and biscuits are included in the name for a reason. Try both! The Waterfront Cafe Edgewater, 6219 N. Sheridan Rd., waterfrontcafechicago.com Food: American, seafood Al fresco highlight: Live music most evenings in the summer. The perfect urban oasis if you need a quick getaway from the real world. Pro tip: Take the CTA (Red Line: Granville), bike or walk to avoid parking challenges. Honey Butter Fried Chicken Avondale, 3361 N. Elston Ave., honeybutter.com Food: American, chicken Al fresco highlight: The spacious yet comfy patio on a warm summer night makes you feel like you’re hanging in your bestie’s backyard. Plus, there are always activities for the kids. Pro tip: Come for the chicken, stay for the pimiento mac & cheese.
  2. Article
    Moms are incredibly resilient and inspiring. We play instrumental roles in shaping the lives of our children. The communities we live in rely on us and our dedication. Our households function under the faith that we’ll always be there to maintain order (or at least the perception of order!). It’s no question that we are the backbones of our families. These are just some of the many reasons why there is a national holiday for us! Every generation of moms inspires the next, just like the moms in my family have inspired me. On Mother’s Day, kids across the world draw images of flowers on a card or give a pot of dirt with budding seeds in it as a gift to their mother. Of course, she deserves more than what is given to her, but it is cute nonetheless. As we grow up, most of us begin to learn that mothers can’t truly be gifted what they are actually worth to their children and families. But the gesture is still as priceless as the memories they leave behind. If the mother in your life enjoys priceless gifts, here are some special ways to honor her in our city. Connect with the other great mother, Mother Nature: Chicago Botanic Garden - Celebrate spring in one of the most beautiful places for the best Mother’s Day selfies! Lake Michigan for a bike ride, or a stroll and or a picnic for the queen of the house Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for some meaningful connection to nature Garfield Park Conservatory - This final day of its spring event is sure to celebrate mom. Lincoln Park Zoo - Watch momma animals with their mini-mes. Picnic - Indoor or outdoor bliss while the insects have not yet become a nuisance DIY ideas: Make a surprise brunch - Less hectic, cheaper than an outing and more fun for everyone Create an at-home spa day to bring laughter and somewhat of a comfort to the woman who rarely gets a moment to herself Mom’s personal helper for the entire day - Let mom relax and not lift a finger! Create a special gift for soon-to-be-moms - The anticipation of becoming a mother is such an exciting time for many women. Perhaps something with cultural or spiritual meaning she can one day share with her child. Offer care and support to women who have experienced the loss of a child. No matter what you and your loved ones decide to do on this day that honors our most cherished caregiver, remember to tell her how special she is to you. Verbalizing your appreciation for her role in your life is the most meaningful gift of all!
  3. Parenting in Chicago is hard. Two recent events reminded me of this. The first, running our two daughters out to the car parked in front of our house in what seemed like biblical rains — no attached garage to keep us dry. And the second, wading into the Chicago Public Schools application process. After reading about three different ways to apply to preschool, I realized this was the first step in a nebulous 18-year-plus journey. These are surface examples of a subtler thought that has gnawed at me for the last couple of years: This is not how I grew up. In many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a nice suburb and have fond memories of it. That’s why I always planned to raise my children in one. If the suburbs worked for me, why wouldn’t I raise a family in the same way? Marrying a Chicago native changed things. And while we’re committed to living in the city, a review of the news headlines on any given day makes Chicago seem like the least family-friendly place to be. I’m slowly, sometimes reluctantly, learning the city is a great place for a family. What I know now is that the childhood my two daughters experience is not going to be the one that I had — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad. Here's why: Empowerment My daughters will not be intimidated by the “big city” things that scared me. They will know how to get from point A to point B and all the way to Z. And they’ll do it by understanding the CTA routes and schedules. This ability will open up the city to them and make so many experiences instantly accessible: visiting other neighborhoods, biking by the lake, enjoying countless festivals and museums, and soaking in the world-class culture Chicago offers. Diversity The diversity of cultures, learning and day-to-day experiences my children will encounter will provide a perspective — and, I hope, understanding — that’s hard to come by in the suburbs. From trying elotes at the park to neighbors who speak a different language, their close proximity to others different from them raises an opportunity to know people and their cultures better. Social justice My girls will have a chance to see and respond to the challenges of the city. They can be part of making Chicago not just the place where they live, but the community where they thrive. For us right now it looks messy. We cart our girls to homeless shelters and imperfectly prepare meals for guests once or twice a month. But our hope is that one day they’ll lead us to the problems they seek to fix in our city and commit to serving our community. Chicago reminds me on an almost-daily basis that the things that are worthwhile are often challenging. Raising a family in Chicago is a worthwhile challenge, and one that will leave me thankful that my daughters experience a different childhood than my own.
  4. If you're like me, date nights look something like this: drinks, dinner, repeat. My husband and I rarely plan ahead, opting to snag an OpenTable reservation somewhere interesting mere hours before the sitter arrives. A few weeks ago this consisted of an incredibly lucky last-minute opening at Parachute, followed by drinks at Ludlow Liquors. If you wind up at Parachute, don't miss its famous Bing Bread—crispy on the outside and loaded with potato, bacon and scallion. Slather on the sour cream butter if you really want to gild the lily. Hoping to break out of the dinner and drinks rut, I've been brainstorming some new and fun date night ideas for the spring and summer. I've also been mulling over some past dates that could use a refresh. Some are outdoorsy, some are inside, but they're all immersive experiences that are uniquely Chicago. Feel free to "borrow" them and let me know how it goes! Chicago Magic Lounge This requires some advance planning since shows sell out, but the experience at Chicago Magic Lounge lives up to the hype. The space is gorgeous and there's magic everywhere you turn—even the bartenders perform tricks! Dining options here are limited to a small plates menu. For something heartier, try nearby Hopleaf or Immm Rice and Beyond. On Sundays, Chicago Magic Lounge offers The Family Show, a great opportunity if you can't book a sitter and want to go somewhere that satisfies both the adults and the kids. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary Who says date night has to be in the evening? If you and your significant other can swing it, head out for an early-morning date at the Montrose Bird Sanctuary. Bring your binoculars to catch a glimpse of some of the 300 species of birds that have been spotted at this world-famous (really) birding destination. Grab coffee, pastries or sandwiches for a picnic, from nearby Dollop Coffee Co. Blessed with a sitter for the whole day? Chicago Architecture Foundation gives tours of nearby Graceland Cemetery. See the final resting places of Chicago's movers and shakers in one of the most serene and beautiful spots in the city. Trust me, it's truly awe-inspiring. Dusek's and Thalia Hall This is one of my favorite date-night combos and I wish we did it more often! Enjoy dinner at Dusek's in Pilsen, then head upstairs into one of Chicago's grandest concert venues, Thalia Hall. Granted landmark status in 1989, Thalia Hall was originally built in 1982 and modeled after the Prague Opera House. Plenty of wow factor but still intimate enough to enjoy smaller acts. My pick for an upcoming show? The Jayhawks on July 13. After the show head to the basement bar, Punch House, for a nightcap. Moonlight Kayak Tour One of the best ways to see the Chicago River is at night when there are fewer boats and the water is calmer. Wateriders offers a "Moonlight Paddle" tour through downtown Chicago. Enjoy the river when it's all lit up by the lights from bordering skyscrapers. It starts at 8:30pm so there's plenty of time to grab dinner near their dock. Try The Hampton Social for all kinds of fresh seafood like oysters, lobster rolls and crab legs. None of it caught in the river (of course) but it will hopefully still put you in a seafaring mood.
  5. Birthday party planning can be stressful. I get it. I have nine-year-old twin boys and we’ve had our fair share of big, blowout birthday parties. For a few years, we invited all 60(!) of their classmates. Thankfully, our days of parties are over. Now we try to invite a few close friends for a special activity like mini-golf or Great America. If you’re just getting started with your planning, you’re in luck. I’m sharing my recommendations for the best parties I’ve planned, researched or attended. Emily Oaks Nature Center All year round, Emily Oaks Nature Center in Skokie will help you host an unforgettable outdoor-themed event. We hosted a summer party there a few years ago where attendees were “transformed” into mice and went on a nature walk through the woods where they hid from foxes, made a mouse house and found mouse food. Later we went back inside to make a woodland-themed craft. The indoor party room is spacious and you can bring in any food or cake you want. We got catering from Brown's Chicken because they offer really affordable options including pasta. Emily Oaks has a nice outdoor playground if you want to continue the party or entertain children waiting for a parent to pick them up. The choices for party themes at Emily Oaks have so much variety. They have themes built around birds, bugs, bees, coyotes—you name it! There are even nighttime options like storytelling around a campfire and roasting s’mores. Their parties are perfect for kids age 3-10. Activities are limited to 25 children but the party room can hold 70—plenty of space for parents or family members to hang out and celebrate along with the birthday kid and their friends. Facets Multimedia What kid wouldn’t want to see their name on the marquee of a movie theater? We hosted one of our favorite parties at Facets and I highly recommend it, especially for large groups. They’ll curate a custom screening of award-winning short films from their Chicago International Children's Film Festival archive. Optional add-ons include popcorn and drinks. After the screening, head upstairs to the party room where you can serve food and cake. If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing option, Sweet Mandy B’s is less than 5 minutes away, making pre-party pickup a breeze. Art Side Out Studio and Mask Shop I recently drove by this storefront art studio and literally did a double take. I had to pull over to write it down so I could look it up later. Turns out this creative mask shop is also the perfect place to host a birthday party. Teaching artists will assist groups from 5-45 in creating unique and individual masks. Transform into a butterfly, a bear, a dragon—the sky’s the limit. Farther north on Western Avenue is my family’s favorite frozen custard shop, Lickity Split. They cater special events and their custard is so delicious. Need to tire out the troops after a few hours of intense art-making? Head to nearby Indian Boundary Park for a romp through the old-fashioned wooden playground (bigger and better than Oz Park) or explore the new nature play center. Then go home and take a well-deserved nap. Cradles to Crayons Have a child who is exceptionally altruistic? Eschew the traditional birthday party and have friends and family join you for a volunteer shift at Cradles to Crayons. They provide children from birth through age 12 living in homeless or low-income situations with the essential items they need to thrive—at home, at school and at play. Children as young as 5 can help sort donations in their warehouse. If you’re looking for a way to give but not ready to ditch a party completely, have guests bring toy donations for Lurie Children’s Hospital. They take gift donations all year, not just during the holidays.
  6. Is your whole family about to lose their minds to cabin fever? Don’t let it get you down! There is so much free or cheap indoor and outdoor fun to be had. Here are some activities you and your special-needs kiddo can enjoy. Around town activities Free museum days Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children’s Museum, dancing with the kiddos at the Chicago Cultural Center, sensory Saturday at the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago History Museum. Conservatory exploration Explore beautiful plant life at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s always free and it feels like you are visiting the tropics! Live theater See a play that will accommodate those who have sensory issues at Lifeline Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Music Get out and do some serious dancing with your kiddos! Beat Kitchen has a whole kids' concert series! Indoor water parks Splash Landings Aquatic Center in Glenview, The Water Works in Schaumburg and Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park in Bolingbrook Trampoline park Sky High Sports offers discounted open play every Tuesday just for your special-needs kiddos! Obstacle and agility courses For those kiddos who crave climbing and hanging, check out Ultimate Ninjas for open-play weekends. Outreach play Misericordia offers a great play program that gives you a chance to meet and mingle with other parents while volunteers play with your child. Free play KEEN Chicago: Kids Enjoy Exercise Now! Chicago Park District's special rec programs CPD has a lot of available programs for our kiddos. You do have to sign up early as spaces fill very quickly. Sledding and skating Try sledding at one of the Chicago Park District parks. Our favorite hills are Oz Park, Horner Park, Gompers Park and Warren Park. Get skating in at Maggie Daley ice skating ribbon, Warren Park and Wrigley Field. Indoor home activities Sensory bins Create one or a few sensory bins using Insta-Snow, water beads, dried beans, shaving cream or cotton balls to hide and search for treasures. Dress up! Put those old costumes to good use and get dressed up for some pretend play. Have a very posh tea party, get rescued by your favorite little superhero or have your kiddo cure all of his or her stuffed animals boo-boos! Dance party Turn on that music and work out some serious energy! We have different genres programmed on Pandora, like Disney, Kidz Bop, Laurie Berkner, Fresh Beat Band and School House Rock, to name a few! Build a blanket fort and camp inside Make some s’mores Rice Krispies treats with the kiddos and heat up some hot chocolate! Family game day Play Twister, Charades, Old Maid, Hungry Hungry Hippos or whatever you have on hand to enjoy together! Art day Hold a painting party and drink apple cider from fancy glasses. Try re-creating a famous artist’s piece using paint, construction paper, beans, yarn or pasta! Winter can be lots of fun if you get a little creative! Enjoy!
  7. As a child growing up in Chicago, I only thought of Hyde Park as where the Museum of Science and Industry lived. I'd go there on family trips or field trips, once or twice a year, always making sure to pay a visit to the baby chicks. On one memorable visit, my 8th-grade class ran into Davy Jones inside the Hall of Nobel Prize Winners. But for all the times I traveled to Hyde Park, I never truly visited the neighborhood. As an adult with children of my own, I've made a point to get out and really explore our city. I often craft whole itineraries based on their geographic proximity to one or two key places. I'll pull up a map on my computer and my kids will peer over my shoulder shouting out requests (usually asking me to find the nearest ice cream place) and we'll embark on our trip, sometimes pulling over if something new catches our eye. Here are some of our tried-and-true favorites in Hyde Park. Smart Museum of Art: An intimate but robust museum, the Smart hosts monthly family drop-in activities that are perfect for slow winter days. Not only are they free, they’re very high-quality projects. On February 3, it'll be celebrating everything blue with a Family Day inspired by the artist Yves Klein. There's even a cafe in the lobby for the caffeine jolt you’ll need after all that exhausting art-making. 57th Street Books: We almost never come down to Hyde Park without a visit to this iconic bookstore. The labyrinth of connected rooms and low ceilings make the whole place feel like it sprang from an author's imagination. Their selection of children's books is nicely curated and it can special order anything that's out of stock. Salonica Restaurant: Whether we are in the mood for standard breakfast fare like scrambled eggs and pancakes or Greek diner staples like gyros and moussaka, Salonica always has us covered. Their children's menu is a great value and service is excellent. Expect a wait on weekends. Nichols Park: My kids are always up for a trip to a playground in any kind of weather. Even in the middle of winter, we keep our eyes peeled for new or special parks. Nichols Park playground was renovated in 2016 and is a great place to blow off steam when the weather is above freezing (and even sometimes when it's not). Ice skating at Midway Plaisance: Rent skates or bring your own; this rink operated by the Chicago Park District is on the beautiful stretch of land that once hosted amusements for the World's Columbian Exposition including the original Ferris wheel. With the gothic architecture of the University of Chicago as a backdrop, this is one of my favorite vistas. Especially at dusk when the lights from the University buildings are twinkling. The Bakery at Piccolo Mondo: "Can we get hot chocolate?" I hear this one a lot and you probably do, too. My kids always want something “fancier” than your typical Starbucks treat. This Argentinian bakery has one of the coolest versions I've seen: It's called the "Submarino" and you get a glass of steamed milk served with a dark chocolate bar for a DIY hot chocolate that you mix yourself. Needless to say, this one's a big hit. Museum of Science and Industry: I've saved the best for last. Not much new can be said about this place except that you might not be aware of one of the city's best membership deals. At the annual fund level ($300) and above, you get invited to several special events throughout the year that really make it worthwhile. Our favorite is the annual Boo Bash with a buffet dinner, open bar, dessert station, and free admission to the coal mine and other special exhibits.
  8. “10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year!” If this year’s New Year’s Eve countdown reminded you of your bank account balance, it’s time for a change. Now that the first half of the year is over and the holidays are behind us, it’s time to begin planning ahead for summer. Believe it or not, summer will be here before we know it with all of its expenses in tow: summer camp, family vacation, sports...(insert money flying away emoji). Keep reading for suggestions to jumpstart your budgeting goals and handle summer finances with ease. Set a goal. Write it down. Celebrate. Repeat. Begin by sorting your spring and summer expenses in two lists: a “must-do” list and a “can-do” list. Fill your “must-do” list with all of the expenses that have to happen. Think essentials like summer camp, sports teams, school registration fees for next year, etc. Total up those costs and round that number to the nearest hundredth (wiggle room is vital). Divide that total by the number of months remaining until spring, write it down and post it somewhere you can see it daily. When you reach your monthly goal, celebrate the cost-effective way: Have a movie night in or cook something special as a family. Repeat. Do the same for your “can-do” list, but always prioritize your “must-do” list. Pay yourself! There’s an app for that. You’ve set some sort of New Year's resolution, right? Reward yourself for sticking to your goals (or punish yourself when you don’t) with an app that auto-saves for you. There are a few apps that automate your savings, but my favorite is IFTT (If This, Then That), which works by creating “recipes” that trigger certain effects. For example, in a few finger-taps, you can set up a $2 transfer from your checking account into your savings account each time you check in at your gym. I use IFTT with Qapital, another saving app that makes saving easy and fun. Get your significant other to join in and save with you to speed up the goal-achieving process. Budgeting is a team sport Involve your family. Teach responsibility, introduce chores, and model saving and budgeting by turning household chores or everyday tasks into a chance to save money. Instead of paying your child, apply their earned allowance towards their personal expenses. These tasks don’t have to be huge — maybe a dollar for each day your kiddo completes three tasks that they normally struggle with, like making their bed, completing all of their homework and feeding the dog. Keep track of how much money they earn each week, then apply it towards your family budget. Your child will feel great knowing that their efforts helped contribute! #teamworkmakesthedreamwork Don’t worry if budgeting doesn’t come naturally at first. Take baby steps and set realistic goals, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Dave Ramsey said it best: “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”
  9. As parents to a wonderful, energetic special needs 8-year-old, my husband and I are constantly thinking of ways to enjoy our chaotic lives as much as possible. And because our lives are anything but "normal," it’s not always easy to enjoy all the typical fun things like dining out, going to live theatre, visiting a museum or taking a vacation. We are always fearful that Lia will act out because of boredom, frustration or sensory overload. If she gets upset, it is money wasted because you leave so other paying patrons can actually enjoy their experiences. But the good news is Chicago has come a long way in making life more enjoyable for those with special needs! The entertainment industry is finally listening and becoming more inclusive. Here are our favorite Chicago-area spots that are especially accommodating to kids with special needs. Restaurants: There are also some restaurants that offer a special-needs night courtesy of Autism Eats, a non-profit that partners with local restaurants to offer special-needs nights featuring buffet or family-style service and adjusted music and lighting. Hotels: Chicago Marriott Northwest. Recently we were given a certificate for a one-night stay at this hotel, but Lia has terrible sleep issues and falls out of a regular bed. We contacted the hotel and they said they would do what they could to help. We arrived and someone was waiting for us to make sure the mattress they put on the floor with rails and pillows would work out. We had the best time even when she had a tantrum in the hotel restaurant. The manager came over to us to assure all was ok. I can’t stress enough how amazing this was for us! Theaters: Lifeline Theatre Sensory Friendly Show, Blue Man Group. All lower the sound, turn up lights and let your kiddo run around and provide places to retreat for those that need some quiet. Some also offer headphones, fidgets, social narratives and parent guides to support your kiddo. Goodman Theatre offers a sensory-friendly version of A Christmas Carol! Movies: AMC Sensory Friendly Movies are on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month and Studio Movie Grill Sensory Friendly Movies are monthly. Theatre lights are turned up, sound is lowered and there are no previews! Places to play: The Playground for Everyone: Amazing park in Elmhurst created for kids of all abilities. Lia can do a mini zip line safely! Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm Special Needs Weekends: The pre-registration date has passed to gain free admission the Oct. 28-29 special-needs weekend at this pumpkin farm, but all special needs families are still welcome to attend! In addition to pumpkin picking, there's zip lines, pony rides, corn maze, train rides and more. The Field Museum Sensory Saturdays: The Crown Family PlayLab opens one hour early (9-10am) for special-needs families, then you can explore the rest of the museum for free all day. Must pre-register. Chicago Children's Museum Play for All days: On the second Saturday of every month, the museum opens an hour early for families and children with disabilities. The first 250 to register gets free admission. Kohl Children’s Museum's Everyone at Play days: Monthly Sundays from 9:30-11:30am are reserved for special-needs families. DuPage Children’s Museum's Family Night Out and Third Thursdays: See website for details. Parents, get out there and have some fun with your kiddos! We all deserve it!
  10. There are lots of families who already call Lincoln Park home, but many more who haven’t yet explored all it has to offer! Summer is a great time to take advantage of the parks, the markets and the free activities hosted in Lincoln Park. In keeping with our theme of three things—one inside, one outside, one that involves food—these are the top things to do in Lincoln Park. Inside Where can you see the first “L” car, learn about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and turn yourself into a larger-than-life Chicago hot dog? The Chicago History Museum, of course! Admission for kids (under 12) is free, adults who are Illinois residents enter free on Tuesdays from 12:30–7:30 pm. Insider tip: Pick up a membership to the Chicago History Museum or one of its affiliates and get free entry to all of those museums: DuSable Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art and National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. All are well worth the investment, and since they’re a bit off the tourist circuit, you likely won’t have to battle the crowds and lines to enjoy their exhibits. Outside From the south end of Lincoln Park all the way up to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, you can enjoy miles of beautiful paths through the park. Stop by the Lincoln Park Zoo—one of the only free zoos left in the United States! My kids have been especially charmed by Seiku the polar bear, one of the zoo's newest additions. Ask a zookeeper about his training times and you could get an up-close-and-personal encounter with this powerful animal! It seems there’s always something going on around this stretch of Lincoln Park: soccer games, festivals, impromptu concerts—you name it. We love checking out Green City Market on Wednesday mornings, where you’ll never run out of delicious food options to try. Come say hi to me on Wednesday, August 30, at 10:30am—I’ll be reading to kids at the Club Sprout tent! Food We all know Chicago has as many opinions for pizza as there are restaurants in which to eat it. And I love them all. If pressed, however, I’d tell you that my favorite is right here in Lincoln Park: Pequod’s Pizza. That caramelized cheese crust makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Plus, if you go on a weekday for lunch, you can get a 7” pizza plus a drink for $4.95! Lincoln Park has a gem around every corner and it’s easy to fill a whole day just wandering past the parks, the shops and the turrets, those beautiful, rounded towers on corner buildings fashioned after German castles. Bring your imagination (and your appetite) and have a great time! Kathleen Dragan is a South Looper and a mom of two Chicagoans. You can read more about Lincoln Park and many other neighborhoods in Kathleen's children's book Rickshaw Reggie, available now! Follow her on Instagram @RickshawReggie to see more of her Chicago adventures.
  11. Hello, neighborhood explorers! Last time, I left you with a template to use each time you go visit a new neighborhood: Try to plan three things: one inside, one outside and one that involves food. Today, I’m excited to tell you about a neighborhood I love to visit: Bronzeville! Located along the lake just south of the Loop, Bronzeville is a cultural mega-center for art, music, architecture, and a vivid celebration of the significant contributions of African Americans to Chicago’s history and present. So many legends have walked along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, from Ida B. Wells-Barnett to Louis Armstrong, to the man himself for whom the street was named. Check out the cast bronze memorials set in the sidewalk showcasing more than 90 heroes along the “Walk of Fame.” Your kids will love hunting for the next one and reading the names engraved there! Inside Recently I (literally) stumbled upon a true gem in Bronzeville: The South Side Community Art Center. Begun as a gallery to house the work of African American artists, the center is housed in an historic greystone at 3831 S Michigan that was dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941. If the pristinely maintained walls inside could talk, they would whisper of piano concerts by Gwendolyn Brooks, writing groups led by Langston Hughes, and of the vision of the center’s founder, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who also founded the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park. The space and the work it contains are unique and inspiring. During our visit, the many portraits of President Obama in the first floor’s rotating exhibit fascinated my children. You can visit the gallery during its open hours for a suggested donation or check out Bronzeville this summer on one of the Summer Nights trolley tours! The next one is right around the corner on July 21. Outside Ask anyone who has lived in Bronzeville over the last 88 years what they do on the second Saturday in August and they will tell you one thing: the Bud Billiken Parade! It’s the second-largest parade in the whole country and it kicks off the back-to-school season in style. This year’s celebration won’t disappoint: Chance the Rapper will be the grand marshal! Check it out on Aug. 12. Food There are plenty of fantastic restaurants and bakeries in Bronzeville, many of them long-time staples of the neighborhood. A personal favorite is Pearl’s Place, located at 3901 S. Michigan. Since it’s just down the block from the South Side Community Art Center, this is an easy itinerary maker, especially since both are also close to the Indiana Green Line el stop. Pearl’s Place bills itself as a “white-tablecloth restaurant serving Southern/soul food classics such as fried chicken & catfish.” I lived in the South for 27 years, and this place does not disappoint! My kids love the corn bread that comes out hot before your meal, and I love the atmosphere and the prices. Keep exploring Chicago neighborhoods this summer—you’ll never run out of fun things to do!
  12. Worried your child might be losing her immersion language skills over the summer? Are you teaching your family language and eager to find new ways to connect your child to your family language? Parents of children learning other languages, whether through school, nannies or family, will find these ideas helpful to give their kids critical language exposure and support their development this summer. Get books! You can find bilingual books and books in world languages at your local Chicago Public Library, on Amazon, or through publishing houses like Tulika Books, Penguin Random House and many others listed on the Colorín Colorado website. Challenge your child to make these books part of a summer reading challenge. Do the weekly word challenge. Have your child pick a word in the target language, maybe an animal you saw at the zoo or a word in a book. Do a themed craft project around it (toilet paper roll zoo animals, anyone?), write it in fun ways for practice, or illustrate or write a story around it! Download apps and learning games. Games and apps pique the interest of kids and can provide rich learning opportunities in moderation. Traditional language learning apps like Duolingo and Mindsnacks provide fun, gamified experiences for older children. Young children are likely to be intrigued by alphabet games and language-rich YouTube videos. User tip: Extend the learning in the app by asking kids to use what they learned in real life (to write and illustrate a story, to act out a play, to teach a sibling) and pause at moments in videos that grab your child’s interest to make passive learning interactive. Visit language-rich places. There’s no better way to make the language come alive than to go to a place where it’s spoken. That could mean taking a trip to Taiwan or San Juan, but it could also be a weekend afternoon out eating, shopping, and experiencing places like Chinatown, Devon Avenue or Pilsen. Sign them up for events and camps. If you are crunched for time but want kids to have an intensive experience, check in with cultural and religious organizations for camps, Chicago Public Library for bilingual offerings or look into options like Concordia Language Villages or STARTALK programs. Join us at Foreign Language 411! Come to NPN’s upcoming event on Tuesday, July 25 from 6–7:30pm at GEMS World Academy to learn more about bilingualism and best practices for teaching language to your child. You’ll get info and tips, as well as the chance to socialize with other parents, equipping you with fresh ideas for extending learning this summer and beyond. Happy language learning! Jennifer Decker is a former teacher turned entrepreneur at FamLing Design developing products that multilingual families can use to make family language teaching easier and fun. She speaks five languages and is a kid-declared pro at gamifying homework time. She has an M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania and has worked in education in Germany, the U.S. and India.
  13. We all get stuck in it: the “neighborhood rut.” We know our parks, our coffee shops, our favorite routes. Months can go by, even years, and we realize we haven’t left our zip code—short of the odd errand to Costco or inconveniently located birthday party. Then one day we realize that we live in a city with 77 neighborhoods, and we’ve barely been to a quarter of them. I was exactly the same way until I researched and wrote my first children’s book last summer about Chicago’s neighborhoods. It turns out, it’s a good idea to actually visit them if you’re going to write about them! For six months, my two children and I explored nine of Chicago’s neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Rogers Park, Portage Park, Pilsen, Chinatown, Beverly, Pullman, Hyde Park and Bronzeville. I should mention we don’t live in any of these neighborhoods. We don’t even live close to some of these neighborhoods. The experience left us with a deeper love of neighborhoods near and far, and a better understanding of what makes Chicago so great. Why explore new neighborhoods? You’ll find hidden gems you never knew existed. Your brand new favorite pizza place might be tucked away in a different neighborhood just waiting for you to find it—I’m looking at you, Pequod’s. A new neighborhood can feel like a totally different country, but a CTA pass is way cheaper than a plane ticket AND you don’t need a passport. If your children misbehave in another neighborhood, no one will even know you to judge the meltdown. Over the next few months, I’ll be featuring a different neighborhood and the treasures we found there on this blog. To get you started, though, I’ll offer my No. 1 tip for new neighborhood exploration: Pick three things to do. It’s tempting to try to do ALL THE THINGS when you visit a new place, but I recommend that you do three things: one indoor, one outdoor, one that involves food. For example, for a day in Pilsen with kids I recommend: Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art. Play at Harrison Park’s newly revamped playground. Eat a paleta: Mexican-style popsicle with delicious chunks of real fruit (or bubble gum, if you’re into that sort of thing). Doing three things gives you a taste of the neighborhood without burning out—or blowing through naptime. You can always go back another day to do three more things! I hope you’ll have fun visiting neighborhoods this summer and playing tourist in your own town!
  14. We’ve all been faced with the dilemma: How can we leave our house to go anywhere knowing that at any minute we will hear the dreaded statement of “I need to go to the bathroom!” when potty training our kids? Here are some playgrounds around Chicago with adjacent fieldhouses—with bathrooms! Just make sure you visit during weekdays when the fieldhouses will be open and bathroom facilities will be available. [Related: Potty Training for All Abilities (members-only video)] Margate Playground Location: 4921 N. Marine Dr., in the Uptown neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: The fieldhouse is adjacent to the playground and just a short dash in to use the bathroom when needed! The Playground Details: Margate is a large, bright, busy playground with lots to offer all ages. There are great toddler climbing structures including a truck, a pretend pond area with a "dock" and stone water creatures on which kids can sit, with various other toddler climbing structures. There are higher, more challenging climbing structure options for the older set. Wicker Playground Location: 1425 N. Damen Ave., in the Wicker Park neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: There is a large fieldhouse in this park, with a direct entrance from the playground. Phew! The Playground Details: Wicker is a busy playground along busy road, with the el rumbling by, but adjacency to a large park with mature trees creates a feeling of a more quiet location. Pack a lunch and make a day of this playground! Enjoy shaded play, water play, field play and watch the dogs romp and play across the field. Holstein Playground Location: 2200 N. Oakley Ave., in the Logan Square/Bucktown neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: A large fieldhouse is a short walk away, so don’t wait until the very last moment to make the bathroom dash! The Playground Details: Spend time in the large pool or small kids wading pool. When the pools shut down for swim break, change and use the restrooms in the field house, then play at the playground while drying off; a sure way to get the kids tired on a summer day! There are two separate structures: the traditional structure is easy for toddlers to navigate with smaller slides and less height. The more modern, challenging climbing structure will keep older kids entertained. Commercial Playground Location: 1845 W. Rice St., in the West Town/Wicker Park neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: A small fieldhouse adjacent to the playground makes a quick run to the potty easy! The Playground Details: Commercial is a fun, lively playground with many options for all ages. There is a water sprayer, ample climbing structures for all and a small picnic area. Check out the large "serpent" rising out of the playground for children to climb on. [Related: How to make potty training your toddler fun. Yes, fun.] Brands Playground Location: 3259 N. Elston Ave., in the Avondale neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: A large fieldhouse sits right next to the playground The Playground Details: A bustling playground located on a busy street with adjacent field house, Brands is a newer playground great for spending the day. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the large adjacent field for some quality outdoor time. Athletic Field Playground Location: 3546 W. Addison St., in the Irving Park neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: You can splash here, then run to the bathroom in the fieldhouse! The Playground Details: Athletic has many climbing structures with a large water sprayer area that has covered benches nearby, perfect for snacks, sunblock application or taking a break from the hot summer sun. There are sunny and shaded grassy fields and flower areas surrounding playground. Eugene Playground Location: 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., in the Albany Park neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: This is probably the longest walk to the fieldhouse of the playgrounds in this list, so be ready to hustle to get to the bathroom in time! The Playground Details: This is a peaceful, beautiful playground set within larger park. There are plentiful of paths for bike and scooter riding. Spend the day "hiking," enjoying the river and playing. [Related: Potty training regression: What it is and what to do about it] Sheil Playground Location: 3505 N. Southport Ave., in the Lakeview neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: Adjacent bustling fieldhouse right next to playground The Playground Details: Sheil is a small, modern playground with a baseball theme, complete with a huge baseball "scoreboard" chalkboard on the brick wall to the north. This playground is in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Southport Corridor. Make a day of shopping, eating and playing, all without leaving Southport. Adams Playground Location: 1919 N. Seminary Ave., in the Lincoln Park neighborhood The Bathroom Scoop: A small fieldhouse is located within the playground grounds, barely a moment’s walk from the sandbox! The Playground Details: A staple in this neighborhood, Adams playground offers everything under sun and shade: multiple play structures, a water sprayground, a large sandbox and picnic areas.
  15. The holidays are behind us and the long Chicago winter stretches out ahead. This leaves all parents and caregivers with the same question: How the heck are we going to entertain our kids for the next three months? [Related: Make winter in Chicago your favorite season with these fun outdoor activities] Having lived through eight Chicago winters with at least one child, I give you my top activities and favorite things to do to kill time—I mean, educate and stimulate—your little ones. The best thing about most of these tips is they work for both the infant/toddler set and elementary-age kids. Get out and have some fun this winter! My favorite free activities that work for the whole family: The library. I love libraries, all libraries. My local branch has a fantastic section for both elementary-age readers as well as young toddlers. It also offers games, puzzles, computer time, homework help, and movies to keep kids of all ages entertained for a solid stretch of time in the morning or afternoon, and most have Saturday hours! Free days at any of the museums (but go early). I sometimes avoid these days because the museums (understandably) can become so crowded, however I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. The benefits of getting there right when the museum opens: On both the Museum Campus and near the Peggy Notebaert Museum, there is cheap to free street parking that is not yet occupied; and the museums usually doesn’t get insanely crowded until later morning when you will be on your way out. The Lincoln Park Zoo. It might sound insane to go to the zoo when it’s freezing out but here’s why it works: It’s almost always empty when it’s cold out so you have the zoo to yourself if you motivate. There are so many exhibits that are warm and indoors – if you building hop you can spend at least an hour or two there in general quiet and warmth. There is more likely to be free street parking or metered parking around the zoo if you’re not a member and you don’t want to spring for the zoo lot. [Related: Does your child have SAD, or is it just the winter blues?] Great activities for the entire family for a fee: The movies. My 2 year old will sit through pretty much anything if I give her popcorn, but I understand some 2 year olds might not sit through an entire movie. But if you have a movie-going family this is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. The Davis Theater in Lincoln Square was recently renovated and is $9 for kids. Little Beans/Big Beans in Evanston. Definitely not inexpensive but Mondays are $6, and if you get there early, you can relax in the toddler room while your older kids play on the basketball court or on the obstacle course. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. This is a hike from the city and it’s all outside, but to me it is well worth it. If you bundle up and can hit the highway after rush hour this is just an amazing way to spend the day. There is a children’s area that has both a maze garden and a fantastic larger space to explore. There is usually a small craft set out, gnomes to hunt for, rope climbing to tackle, and of course hot cocoa in the cafeteria at the end. If you have just older ones with you there is also the ability to rent snow shoes, which we are hoping to do this winter. I’ve found the biggest challenge to getting out of the house throughout the winter in Chicago is mostly my own attitude. There are some hidden gems in this city in the winter, and if I can just motivate to get out to see them it’s always worth it.

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