West Loop Soccer Club invites children born 2015-2008 to join us for a Soccer Fright Fest on Sunday 10/31 at Skinner Park in the West Loop neighborhood. This is a beginner friendly event in which kids will take part in friendly scrimmages against their peers. Halloween Costumes are welcome!
Advanced registration required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Cost is $20 / child.
Free parking on both Adams and Monroe streets.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: email@example.com
When my husband and I decided we needed to stretch out a bit more than our then 1-bedroom condo would allow, we cast a wide net into Chicago’s neighborhoods, but our criteria was firm: close to the lake, strong residential feel, and good walkability.
We stumbled upon a townhome close to the lakefront that had some architecturally cool features, was priced right, and had room for us to tackle some renovation work and add some equity to the home. Still relatively new to Chicago, we didn’t mind that the home was located in a neighborhood we were not very familiar with — Buena Park — and instead we focused on the investment opportunity and work we could put into the home.
What started as a this-looks-good-on-paper purchase turned out to be a great decision for us. We fell in love with the blocks surrounding our home, the neighbors we became closest to, the local businesses that kept popping up, and the amazing access to the lakefront. I could go on and on about Buena Park, but there are a few key highlights that I mention often to my clients who are considering purchasing in the neighborhood:
Buena Park is a small, primarily residential neighborhood that borders Lake Michigan. It seems like every street has sidewalks and mature trees, and there is a pedestrian path under Lake Shore Drive that provides easy access to the bike path, Montrose Harbor, and Marovitz Golf Course. Many don’t know one of the absolute GEMS of the city, architecture- and history-wise, is the enclave of beautiful homes and estates that reside on huge lots right off of Marine Drive — a perfect backdrop for a walk around the 'hood.
[Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash]
Buena Park may be small, but its park game is mighty. Buena Park Circle, Peace Circle (tranquility and waterfall!), Challenger Park and even Challenger Dog Park are all sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. And of course, immediate access to the lakefront trail, Montrose Harbor and beach, Montrose Lakefront Track, Montrose Point bird sanctuary (an amazingly peaceful spot) and Cricket Hill.
Park View Montessori is a cheerful spot for pre-k kids, and Walt Disney Magnet is not only extremely popular for families in the neighborhood, but a sought-after school city-wide.
Eating & Shopping
For a relatively small neighborhood, Buena Park has a great selection of local dine- in or take-out spots along Montrose and Broadway. There are multiple grocery options, and a Target nearby that makes errands quick and easy. Plus, if you are looking for more action, Lakeview is so close you have the best of both worlds — additional restaurant and boutique options are hopping just minutes away, but you get to go back home to your quiet, residential street.
[Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family]
Compared to other neighborhoods south along the lakefront or west of downtown, Buena Park real estate can be very reasonably priced. For an extra 5-10 minutes north on Lake Shore Drive, you can maximize your purchase power with a lot more space and amazing access to Lake Michigan.
Our family has doubled since we bought our beloved Buena Park townhouse and we had to move on to our next chapter, but I’ll always have a nostalgic love for the neighborhood. It’s one of those communities I never get sick of talking about…and I just may have recruited a buyer or two who has now planted roots in this Chicago gem!
New social club Guild Row (located in the Avondale neighborhood) will host a celebration for Dia de Los Muertos in collaboration with Latinx-owned Plant Stand Collective. Activities include sugar skull decorating for kids and adults, the unveiling of a handmade community Ofrenda and candlelit commemorative procession, and an on-site pig roast. The event will culminate in a communal feast with the aforementioned pig, as well as sausage, chicken, salsas, “sweet treats” from Churro Parlor, and cocktails! Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for attendees ages 12 and older.
Advanced registration is required. Please go here to register.
Cost starts at $10/per person.
Free street on Belmont Avenue and on Rockwell Street between Belmont Avenue and Elston. Additional parking in the neighborhood on Fletcher Street.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org
Attend a free sneak preview screening for the new CINDERELLA movie at the ShowPlace ICON Roosevelt Collection, starring Camila Cabello! Dress in the spirit of the film to walk the red carpet! Prizes and photo opportunities!
RSVP Required. Please go here to register. Capacity is limited. First come first served
Parking lot attached to the theatre.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: AmazonStudiosChicago@gmail.com.
Walk For Wishes is a nationwide Make-A-Wish® fundraiser that celebrates the more than 330,000 wishes that have already been granted, while raising funds for future wishes. It's a free family-friendly event powered by wish families, volunteers, companies, donors and friends. By participating in your local walk at one of the Illinois locations, you can help bring the life-changing impact of a wish to children in your community who are battling critical illnesses.
This is a free event, with fundraising within community encouraged.
RSVP Required. Please go here to register.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: email@example.com
The popular Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (GAAF) returns in-person to Rogers Park for its 20th year, bringing more than 120 artists and over 30 live music acts on two stages to the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, steps from the Morse Red Line ‘L’ stop at 6900-7000 N. Glenwood Avenue and 1300-1500 W. Morse Avenue. Admission is free to the public. The Fest includes an art fair, live music, kids’ artmaking activities, three craft beer stations, food from local restaurants, and live demonstrations of performance art and artmaking.
The festival will kick off with a Friday Night Cobblestone Jam (music only), Friday August 20, 6-10 p.m. headlined by Joana Connor and Air Credits. Live music continues on Saturday, headlined by White Mystery, and Tamaris T. & Thee Elektra Kumpany, and on Sunday, headlined by Plastic Crimewave Syndicate, and Funkadesi. Other confirmed bands are Amazing Heeby Jeebies, Beats y Bateria, Bev Rage & the Drinks, Bianca Shaw, Bones Jugs, Cass Cwik, Clickbait, Coyote Man, Duke Davenport, Monarchy Over Monday, Osmium House, Ovef Ow, Son Monarcas, Sonic Octopus, The Polkaholics, Tierra Roja, Tinkerbelles, Tommy Carroll, and Wild Earp.
The Outdoor Art Fair will run on Saturday, August 21 from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, August 22 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., presenting a diverse selection of over 120 artists and craftworkers, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glass, textile, metal, mixed media and functional art. Each booth displays hand-made work by the artist, giving attendees a unique opportunity to purchase original artwork directly from the artist. Mass-produced merchandise is not permitted.
The festival will feature a KidFest Area, with free hands-on arts activities for kids provided by the International Arts Group, sponsored by Morse Fresh Market.
The festival will host two craft beer stations, one by the West Stage featuring Empirical Brewery, and the other by the East Stage featuring Sketchbook Brewery. Rogers Park Social will be hosting a beer station in front of its location at 6920 N. Glenwood Ave. Food vendors include Badou Senegalese Cuisine, Black Dog Gelato, JB Albertos Pizza, Smack Dab, Taqueria Dona Balbis, and Urban Tables.
There will be a live art demonstration area called Outrageous Open Arts, featuring performance arts and artists demonstrating techniques and works-in-progress at Lunt and Glenwood Avenues, beneath the CTA tracks, sponsored by Code Create Art and Science. Saturday programming include: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., enamel arts demo by Leslie Perrino; 2-4 p.m., music performance by Heritage Jazz Orchestra, a 16 piece jazz big band sponsored by Le Piano, which also offers live music indoors every evening of the festival; 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m., art demo by Ewa Clark from Whimsical Creations, enamel arts demo by Kathryn Kiel, and European swordplay by Chicago Swordplay Guild. Sunday programming include: 11 am-1:30 p.m., poetry by Chicago Labor & Art Collective; 2 - 5 p.m., “Traverse, An Animatronic Puppet Show & Workshop” by Code Create Art and Science; 5:30 - 7 p.m., art demo by Ewa Clark from Whimsical Creations.
To insure public safety, the festival will comply with COVID-19 guidelines applicable. Specific safety protocols will be announced prior to the festival, based on the most current public health guidelines.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the first in a series of articles exploring family-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago.
I’m a big planner. I like to be prepared, anticipate what’s coming next, and have a plan. So imagine my surprise (at myself) when bambino #2 arrived and we found ourselves in a townhouse that did not include a bedroom for the new little man in our life. Whoops!
And then…global pandemic. No school. No childcare. Walls felt like they were closing in on us, we were craving more outdoor space, and absolutely needing more office space. And of course, more bedrooms. Aaaand a 2-car garage, and…the list was getting longer and I was becoming increasingly uncompromising in what I wanted.
I had been looking casually for over a year. The planner in me envisioned our family in Lincoln Park, Old Town, or Bucktown. We also considered the North Shore. But all were either out of our budget, too far from the city, or didn’t have the space we were looking for.
[Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family]
During the initial quarantine days, we drove over to the LaBagh Woods forest preserve to get some fresh air, and after walking through the amazingly secluded-feeling trails, spotting several deer, and waving at friendly kayakers, we stepped out of the woods onto Bryn Mawr Avenue and were immediately greeted by a family playing in their yard. As a realtor, I had been in Sauganash with clients before, but that day I felt like I had rediscovered the neighborhood: people gardening in their yards, kids riding bikes on the sidewalks, grandparents pushing strollers, and couples walking dogs. It just felt like home.
We struck up a conversation with this family about how their kids knew all the other kids on the block and how generations of families plant their roots in the community. I remember looking at my husband and saying: Do we want to live here? Three months later we had closed on our new home, and it has made our lives so, so much easier. We now have plenty of bedrooms, two offices, multiple living spaces, a yard and a garage — hallelujah!
Our family has absolutely fallen in love with Sauganash for so many reasons, but the ones that stick out the most are:
The sense of community
Sauganash feels like a village. Multiple generations populate each street, and you can run into someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 30+ years just as easily as you can meet a new young family. I’ve yet to encounter someone who doesn’t say hello, and I’ve met dozens of people just by walking around the neighborhood. Parents know all the kids up and down their street, and when someone new moves in, it’s not uncommon for neighbors to drop off welcoming goodies to their front door. Just yesterday I saw a sign in the window of a home that read: “Children, bikes and dogs are welcome on this lawn!” It truly doesn’t get any better.
[Related: 3 reasons I'm happy my kids aren't growing up in the suburbs like I did]
From 1920s Tudors to mid-century ranches to French revivals to Cape Cods and even new construction, Sauganash is anything but cookie-cutter. The Sauganash Community Association prides itself in being a resource for renovation and construction, encouraging property owners to embrace different architectural styles.
This was a huge consideration for me. As someone who lived near the lakefront for over a decade, I never thought I could let that go. But living by the forest preserves means we have access to trails and nature, so jogging, biking and unicorn hunting is covered. And Sauganash’s proximity to I-94 means you can get downtown in 15 minutes or less (my husband and I can get to the West Loop for dinner in 12 minutes!), get to O’Hare in about 15 minutes, and easily bounce around the greater Chicago area.
There is such a wide variety of homes in Sauganash, there truly is something for every price point. While the inventory does tend to get snatched up quickly (which is why you need a well-connected real estate agent…hiiii!), if you act quickly, you can find fixer-uppers in the $300s and more updated homes starting in the $600-$700s. For the square footage, you can easily double your purchase power for a home here compared to neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Old Town and Bucktown. The schools
There are excellent pre-k schools in and around the neighborhood. Sauganash Elementary is a highly rated (Level 1+) K-8 school that soon will have a brand new addition to house more classrooms — including dedicated STEM rooms — and a new gym. Queen of All Saints, which enjoys a robust athletic program, is also in the neighborhood.
Since moving to Sauganash, our day-to-day life as a family has become so much easier, and we can still navigate around the city easily, too. Sauganash may be one of the not-so-best-kept secrets in Chicago. If you’re thinking about a move here, let’s talk! Just don’t tell anyone else…
Image: Chicago Neighborhood Walks
Come for music class, stay for brunch!
Join us outside on the patio of Tuco & Blondie for a fun and active music class for the whole family! Work up an appetite and earn that margarita with non-stop interactive songs and activities!
For families with children ages 0-6.
RSVP required. Please go here to register.
This is repeating event every Saturday and Sunday at 9:00am through October.
The cost is $15 / child.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: email@example.com
You're invited to Kiddie Academy for Storytime LIVE!, where we will celebrate literacy and share a story together - with a special visit from the beloved Curious George. This event is FREE and open to everyone — bring a friend or two.
Please RSVP on our Event Website to reserve your spot.
This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juneteenth is the oldest celebrated commemoration of the enslavement of Africans in the United States. It has many names — Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day — but no other name has been used as frequently as Juneteenth. This joyous African American holiday began on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. Many Americans have never heard of, nor learned about this historical event in their school textbooks.
I, too, was once oblivious to this day. I can’t remember when I first learned about Juneteenth, but It wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020 that it became significant to my family when I, among countless other Americans, began to see a shift in our country after the murder of George Floyd.
[Related: What role should white parents play in Juneteenth?]
Last year, in most Black households, there was a sense of reprieve from the endless supply of videos on police brutality when the interest of Juneteenth began to surface heavily online. A celebration of images expressing Black joy and honor around the country went viral. As a Chicago mother who celebrates Black history all year round, I found several virtual events scheduled during the month of June in which families could participate safely. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were not comfortable attending any of the amazing in-person events we read about. Not to be outdone by the virus, we took our children on a driving and walking tour around the South Side and West Side of the city to learn and see the historical contributions made by Black freedom fighters then and now.
During the tours, we stopped at Black businesses, such as Can't Believe It's Not Meat in Hyde Park for lunch. We talked about what joy our ancestors must have felt on that day. And we talked about what it must have been like for the men, women, and children who were forced into work that never provided them financial compensation, nor security in the right to stay connected to their families — something some of us are privileged to have strengthened during our months of quarantine.
[Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?]
Although the formal recognition of the abolishment of slavery (also known as the 13th Amendment) brought much joy to enslaved Africans at the time of its announcement back in 1865, June 19th wasn't recognized as a holiday until 1979 when it passed legislation in Texas. It's now a state holiday in 49 of the 50 states (including Illinois), but has yet to be recognized as a national holiday.
In some areas, it is a day, a week, or a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for rejoicing, processing, and planning for the future. Some would say its growing popularity signifies a level of growth, maturity and dignity that's long overdue. The recent acknowledgment of the racial trauma inflicted on people of African descent is being displayed in cities across the country. People of all races, nationalities, and religions are now acknowledging 400+ years of legalized horror. Honoring those that built the wealth of this nation is an honorable place to start the healing process — especially in the city of Chicago.
It’s been over a year since we retreated into our homes “for a couple of weeks”, to wait for the virus to pass. Weeks led to months, the new year rolled around… and we’re only now thinking of re-entering the world. So, as parents, how do we reintroduce play dates for our kids?
First order of business is to take stock of the current conditions and guidance in your area. Be mindful that just because restrictions might have lifted, there may be reasons why others are reticent about getting together. Proceed with sensitivity and respect.
Ask your child if they would like to meet up with friends. Try not to bring in your own anxieties but listen. They may well be excited to get out again, or they may be nervous. Let them know that what they’re feeling is ok, and that you’ll be there with them.
Start with a virtual intro, to (re)build familiarity with friends. Encourage sharing of masks over Zoom, so they can recognize buddies when they meet up in person. My daughter loves to show-off her new kitty look.
[Related: Nurturing your child's mental health in the pandemic's aftermath]
Most children are practiced at wearing their masks now they’re back at school (at least part of the time), but they can be reluctant to keep them on. We’ve found jersey ones to be soft and tolerable, while disposable ones are apparently “stink.” A practice run can be helpful.
Pick an outdoor venue, so you can relax a little. Playgrounds are obviously fun, but fraught with challenges; all those touchable surfaces and potential crowds. Try picking somewhere a little less obvious and limit the stress.
Expecting children to pick up where they left off in March 2020 is unrealistic. Making friends is an art that children learn as they grow. Understand that they’re out of practice and may need you to facilitate. Bringing along a game — a soccer ball or drone — can jump-start activities.
Having a time limit sets expectations, prevents boredom, and makes it easy to leave without awkwardness. Keep first play dates short and set your kids up for success. You can build up to longer later.
Have your child send a note or text a picture. I like the Photoshop Express app since I can use an image snapped while out, and the kids can have fun personalizing with stickers. This helps pave the way for an ongoing friendship. Review
Ask your child if they enjoyed themselves. What did they like best? What was challenging? Then see what you can address. Perhaps another time of day would work better? Decide together what actionable things you can do to make the next occasion fun for all.
Whether the play date was successful or not, don’t leave it too long before organizing another. If your little one is timid, or needs to enhance their play skills, then it’s important to get out there again. If necessary, find an activity that involves you too, and ease youngsters into the new social scene.
It can be daunting for any of us to start meeting up again in-person. We’re following the numbers and reading the reports, feeling optimistic one minute and doubtful the next...then layer on some rusty social skills and think how it feels to be a child. By talking and doing some prep work, then following some simple steps, this can be a more successful experience for our kids, and even an enjoyable experience for us grown-ups, too.
Looking for a special gift or just a treat for yourself? Check out this list of Black-owned businesses in the city (many of which offer delivery or curbside pickup), where you can get everything from cocktail-themed artisan soaps to kids' toys.
Food & Drink
Batter & Berries: Breakfast/brunch/lunch spot in Lincoln Park
Berry Berry Sweets: Cakes, cupcakes and cake pop caterer
Bettie Lou’s: American cuisine in Andersonville
Brown Sugar Bakery: Cakes and cupcakes in Chatham
Chicago French Press: Coffee roaster that offers bean subscriptions and beans by the pound
The Common Cup: Coffee shop in Rogers Park
Demera: Ethiopian cuisine in Uptown
Dream Chef: Restaurant, catering, meal delivery in Tri-Taylor
Eleven | Eleven: American cuisine and to-go cocktails in West Loop
Ethiopian Diamond: Ethiopian cuisine in Edgewater
Friistyle: Belgian frites in Bronzeville
Frontier: Meat-focused restaurant in Bucktown
Fruve Express Juicery: Cold-pressed juice in Loop and South Loop
Gimme Some Sugah: Pies, cakes, cookies and more in South Shore
Good to Go Jamaican: Jamaican cuisine on Rogers Park/Evanston border
The Grail Cafe: Breakfast and lunch in South Loop
Ida’s Sweet Tooth: Cupcakes and sweets caterer
Ina Mae’s Tavern: New Orleans cuisine in Wicker Park
Justice of the Pies: Pies available in markets and some restaurants
Kilwin’s: Ice cream and sweets in Hyde Park
Kyoto Black: Coffee shop in Edgewater currently offering coffee bean delivery
Lem’s Bar-B-Q: Barbecue spot in Chatham
Life’s Sweet: Cafe in Rogers Park
Lizzy J: Catering, cafe and housemade iced tea in Ravenswood
The Long Room: Bar/restaurant in Ravenswood currently offering to-go cocktails, beer and wine
Love Corkscrew: Wine delivery; also available in various retail locations
Luella’s Southern Kitchen: Soul food in Lincoln Square
Mr. Brown’s Lounge: Jamaican cuisine in West Town
Ms. T’s Southern Fried Chicken: Fried chicken and fish in Wrigleyville
Pearl’s Place: Southern cuisine in Bronzeville
Rooh Chicago: Indian cuisine in West Loop
Shawn Michelle's: Ice cream shop in Bronzeville
Sip & Savor: Coffee shop in Bronzeville
Soule: Southern cuisine in West Town
Surf’s Up Avondale: Seafood and Southern food in Avondale
Sweet Maple Cafe: Breakfast/brunch in Little Italy/UIC
Taste 2 Go: American cuisine in West Loop
Taylor’s Tacos: Tacos for catering or pickup (Tuesdays only) in East Garfield Park
Teapot Brew Bakery: Tea and treats in Near South Side
Uncooked: Vegan restaurant in West Loop
Urban Grill: Burgers and sandwiches in Uptown
Virtue: Southern cuisine in Hyde Park
Clothes & Accessories
The Advocates: Online-only social activist T-shirts
A’nies Accents: Boutique in South Loop
Buttonsbyferrai: Etsy shop featuring custom and social activist buttons
Kido: Kids' toys and clothes in South Loop; online ordering available
Kiwi’s Boutique: Boutique in Tri-Taylor; online ordering available
Mimi’s Tot Closet: Shop for girls’ clothes in Auburn-Gresham; online ordering available
Love Peridot: Accessories shop in South Loop; online ordering available
Recycled Modern: Vintage, upcycled and handcrafted furniture and home decor shop in Lakeview
Reformed School: Etsy shop featuring humorous and social activism T-shirts and accessories
The Silver Room: Jewelry, accessories, clothes, gifts and more in Hyde Park; online ordering available
Sir & Madame: Fashion brand with a store in Hyde Park
Standout Style Boutique: Online-only clothes and accessories
80th and May: Online-only shop featuring artisan soaps and bath salts
Blade and Bloom: Etsy shop featuring skin-care products
Bodi Shak: Group fitness gym in Uptown
Chatto: Natural hair- and skin-care products in West Loop; online ordering available
Depart with Art: Online-only shop featuring organic body products
Eb & Flow: Yoga studio in Bucktown; currently offering live online classes
Goldkissed Essentials: Online-only shop featuring handmade soaps
Karyn’s: Vegan restaurant, spa and health products; online ordering available
Mad Moisture Beauty: Online-only skincare products
Mango Moi: Online-only mango butter skin and hair products
Mind Body Defense: Kickboxing gym with private classes in Uptown
Pear Nova: Online-only vegan nail polish
Soap Distillery: Cocktail-inspired artisan soaps
Sweet Beginnings: Beekeeping social enterprise featuring honey and honey-based body care products; online ordering available
Black Owned Market: Online-only bath and body products
Urbane Blades: Men’s barbershop in Near North Side
Wholistic Skincare: Skincare salon in Clybourn Corridor; online ordering available
Books, Gifts & More
Helendora Samuels Picture Framing: Custom frame shop in Wicker Park
Rose Blossom Chicago: Online-only florist
Semicolon Chi: The only Black woman–owned bookstore in Chicago. Store in River West; online ordering available.
Thepairabirds: Etsy shop featuring illustrated artwork
Third Coast Comics: Comic and graphic novel shop in Rogers Park
This is not an exhaustive list, so we'd love to get your recommendations for awesome Black-owned businesses in Chicago. Tell us at email@example.com.
My boys and I want to spend every waking minute outside in the summer, and that includes meals. Picnics are a favorite activity and over the years we have become alfresco experts. With a little planning, you too can enjoy the great outdoors and some great food, too.
I like to keep these essentials in my picnic basket so we’re ready to go:
Picnic blanket. In my opinion, you have to go big here. A large, water-resistant blanket made for this purpose is an investment in fun and practicality for years to come. Put this in your basket last because you always need it first when unpacking.
Hand sanitizer. Packets of wipes are perfect when kids have been digging in the dirt and come running back for a snack.
Bug spray. Keep a small bottle in a zip-top plastic bag in your picnic basket. Nothing ruins a lovely outdoor event like vicious bugs attacking you or the kids.
Dinnerware. Plates, napkins, eco-friendly disposable silverware. What’s a picnic without food? One secret to family-friendly picnic fare is to stick with what your kids know and love, in portable form. For kids, the novelty is in the outdoor experience—not the food. That’s not to say that grown-ups can’t enjoy tasty treats, but there are ways to appeal to both kid and adult palates. Making food in advance leaves more time to play and less time trying to assemble at the picnic. Try this pasta salad recipe your whole family will love!
[Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing]
Pasta salad for everyone
The night before your picnic, cook, drain and chill 8 oz of your family’s favorite pasta (rainbow fusilli is great but if your little person will only eat macaroni, go for it).
In a 2 qt container, put a generous ½ cup of ranch dressing (or your favorite) in the bottom. Add 1 cup of shredded cabbage or kale on top of the dressing, and top with a variety of diced raw vegetables of your choice such as carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Diced apples and dried cherries or cranberries are also great additions. Lightly salt this layer if desired.
Top with the cooled pasta, seal and refrigerate.
At the picnic, serve plain pasta and raw veggies to your kids, then mix up the rest of the salad, grown-up style.
[Related: Summer camp in Chicago: Where, when and how to sign up for summer fun]
More picnic tips
Use egg cartons to transport mini-muffins or cupcakes
Freeze juice boxes and yogurt packets overnight to keep things cool, and of course the kids can drink/eat them as they thaw
Wraps travel better than sandwiches. Assemble in advance, slice and wrap in plastic wrap as a “log.” Place these side by side in small plastic containers. Try these easy combinations and use flour, spinach or wheat tortillas as the wrap:
Sun butter or nut butter and jelly or honey
Cream cheese with thinly sliced cucumbers
Hummus and olive spread
Thinly sliced meats (such as turkey, ham and salami) with American or Havarti cheese
Small bags of chips or crackers are not only fun, but make portioning easy
Use small muffin tins to organize food for little fingers and help avoid (almost inevitable) spills
Mini containers of fruit (mandarin oranges, blueberries, strawberries, grapes) travel well and fit into muffin cups perfectly
See you at the park!
With a new vocabulary that includes “shelter in place” and “social distancing,” get-togethers seem destined to remain a little different for a while. But that doesn’t mean we can’t mark the special occasions—we just need to re-imagine how we celebrate them.
If you’re uncomfortable meeting up in person just yet—given that keeping kids apart is a challenge—virtual parties can solve the problem. We’re all now up-to-speed using Zoom, so with just a little imagination, you can create a party atmosphere. Asking everyone to dress up in a fairy or superhero costume and coordinating a themed dance-off takes very little effort.
If you’d rather not coordinate schedules, have friends send a video message instead. We’ve used Apple TV to make an occasion out of watching home movies. Alternately, VidHug is an affordable service that will collate video clips for you. Then dress up, add some photo props, fashion a red carpet, and order some Oscar lookalike statues, and you’ve just brought the Academy Awards into your house.
[Related: No-gift birthday party ideas]
If you’re suffering from Zoom fatigue (a real phenomenon), or never know how the days will pan out, keeping things really simple takes the pressure off. Now Mickey Mouse, Ariel and many others will either FaceTime with you or send a pre-recorded greeting. This is infinitely cheaper than a traditional party—a real consideration during these financially challenging times.
Or maybe combine your desire to maintain your social distance with your inherent belief in being a good citizen. Have your child post a video encouraging friends to decorate their own "birthday boxes" that they can fill with items to donate. Then have everyone regroup (sharing photos or through a virtual meet-up) to unveil their creations and where they plan to send their donations.
A friend of mine organized a stroll-by-and-grab-a-cupcake celebration for her daughter’s birthday. This still keeps contact to a minimum yet offers the in-person connection we’re all craving. Our children were thrilled for the sugar fix, and it gave us all a focus for a stroll as well as providing some welcome fresh air.
[Related: 4 unexpected spots for your kids' next birthday party]
If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard in the city, take advantage by hosting your social circle at your place. Adding a fun activity (such as decorating your own water bottle or snack bag) to each seat can help keep youngsters in place. Games like charades also prevent children from running around in a pack.
Picnic in the park
If you don’t have your own outdoor space, plan a get-together at a local park. Encourage guests to bring their own blankets and use those to delineate each grouping. Sharing food remains a no-no but sending a menu ahead of time that guests can pull together themselves works well, ensuring no child is tempted to sample off a plate elsewhere.
Pin up a sheet outside and project a kid-friendly movie. Invite families to bring their own lawn chairs and congregate with their clan. Providing individual packs of popcorn adds to the ambiance while keeping away from communal bowls.
After being cooped up for so long, there’s no need to deny ourselves any joy. As long as you follow sensible guidelines (being sure to keep up with current recommendations), you and your family do not need to miss out on celebrating those important occasions. Nurturing our souls with a little human interaction is now more important than ever.
While almost everyone I know east of the Mississippi dreads the winter, my family and I look forward to it. There is so much to do that can’t be enjoyed at any other time of year. Here are some of our favorites.
Chicago may not have the Rockies, but it’s a great place to learn how to ski. Wilmot Mountain, on the Wisconsin border, offers plenty of beginner runs. They have a great and affordable ski school. For little more than babysitters cost, you can put your kids in group classes and enjoy adult time on the mountain.
A few tips for Wilmot:
Register online in advance, particularly for equipment, as rental lines can be long. If you think skiing could potentially be a family hobby, invest in equipment. It pays for itself quickly. Buy boots online and join a trade-in community at the end of the season.
Wilmot has a large food court and a nice tavern called Walt’s. Make a reservation at Walt’s as soon as you arrive for later in the day.
In February, check out Ski Girls Rock: a 2-day program that mirrors the best ski programs in the country.
Alternatively, venture to the Wisconsin Dells. Cascade Mountain offers free skiing for kids and a bit more challenge. If you wind up staying at Mt. Olympus, in addition to the free indoor waterpark and amusement park, skiing and tubing are free for all guests at Christmas Mountain. I recommend going for the winter carnival. In fact, all the mountains above have a winter carnival that includes bounce houses, night-time ski parades, fireworks, live music, and silly ski competitions. Finally, The Grand Geneva resort in Lake Geneva also has its own ski hill and carnival.
Tubing is offered at all of the resorts above. Wilmot has 22 long lanes, while Christmas Mountain has Cyber Tubing at night. Not far away is Camp Maclean in Burlington, Wisc. (approximately 1.5-hour drive), which opens its unique toboggan run to the public on Sundays.
Ice skating & hockey
Chicago Park District rinks, including the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park and the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, offer free ice skating (with rental fees). Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville operates an affordable skate program, and skate exhibitions as well as parties throughout the winter.
Like skiing, investing in skates pays off. For toddlers, get Bobs — double-bladed skates that attach to shoes. Many skates for kids are adjustable up to four sizes. Many rinks offer free lessons. Just ask!
Lastly, the Little Blackhawks Learn to Play Hockey program (held at various rinks around the city) provides first-time participants FREE head-to-toe equipment, including skates. Be on the lookout for events at all of the above locations. The Skating Ribbon hosted a Fire & Ice Festival last year including an exhibition, pyrotechnic performers, and free s’mores. How can anyone dread a season that involves s’mores?
Winter is in fact too short to enjoy everything the Chicago area has to offer, not to mention time for sledding and snowball fights. Winter is a time to be a kid with your kids! So bundle up, grab some hand warmers and embrace it. It’ll be over before you know it.
Family biking in Chicago and the surrounding areas is fun, healthy, inexpensive and earth-friendly. You just have to know the rules of the road, and have a few family-friendly destinations in mind.
Step 1: Start small
Air up tires and adjust helmets so they are level to the ground, and won’t move around when your child shakes her head yes or no. To warm up, ride around the block or in a paved park or schoolyard. Try riding to a favorite park that is a little too far to walk. Living in Roscoe Village, one of our favorite destinations is Margaret Donahue Park near School Street and Racine Avenue. Short rides give you a chance to try out your equipment and learn your rider’s limits. Remember that little bikes have little wheels, so no matter how hard your child pedals, it’s harder for them to go as far as you or older siblings. The important thing is just to get out there.
Step 2: Go farther
Your kids are ready to caravan with you on the street only when they can ride in a straight line and will follow all of your verbal instructions. Until then, ride with them in a seat, trailer or cargo bike or stick to off-street trails. Try an out-and-back ride or bring your bikes to a destination via your car or on the train. Google Maps bike directions are easy to use and the City of Chicago publishes maps that show all the bike lanes, paths and recommended streets. View the map online or pick up a free copy at your local bike shop. Bring snacks, water, sunblock, a first aid kit, and a well-charged phone.
River Park, 5100 N. Francisco Ave. (at Foster Ave.) Ride, picnic, swim, splash and swing along the river.
Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave. (Montrose Ave. & California Ave.) Gentle hills make this a great place to pick up speed to learn balance.
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St. (Fullerton Ave. & Stockton Dr.) Plenty of bike racks and so much to see.
Gompers Park, 4222 W. Foster Ave. (Foster Ave. & Kostner Ave.) Jump on the North Branch Trail, which goes all the way to the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
Promontory Point, 491 S. Shore Dr. (55th St. & the Lake) Some of the best views for miles.
Northerly Island / 12th St. Beach, 1200 S. Linn White Dr. (near Roosevelt Rd. & the Lake) Beautiful picnic and bird-watching spot.
Green Bay Trail, 1200 Wilmette Ave. (East side of Green Bay Rd. at Wilmette Ave.) Tree-lined trail that passes through numerous parks.
The Garden Jumps at Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St. (Melrose & the east side of the River) Dirt jumps and paved path riding for all ages.
The 606 Bloomingdale Trail (between Lawndale Ave. & Ashland Ave.) An elevated path with easy access to parks and restaurants.
Chicago Kidical Mass Neighborhood family rides throughout the city and some suburbs. Meet other families and see different kinds of bikes and carriers. See upcoming events at Facebook.com/ChicagoFamilyBiking.
Fathers are often the overshadowed parent when it comes to how we honor them. But lest we forget, there are so many dads, poppas and other positive male role models that deserve recognition.
Father’s Day is more than giving your favorite guy in your life a new tie or other gender-based gifts; it’s for showing honor to the men who have a genuine and nurturing presence in the lives of those who cherish them. Here is a list of innovative, fun and nonconforming ideas to honor all the father figures in your life on June 16.
For the creative dad
The annual Artists of the Wall Festival is held near the lakefront at Loyola Park in Rogers Park. Come watch amateur and professional artists decorate the 600-foot sea wall during this two-day festival, June 15 and 16.
For the sporty pop White Sox vs New York Yankees for an afternoon of some ballpark fun! Tickets start at just $10.
For the foodie father Learn the ways of Southern cooking at the Chopping Block. Children ages 6 and older are invited to help their families prepare a delicious and festive feast—including mac and cheese, fried chicken, and fruit cobbler—that Dad will drool over!
For the nature-loving daddy
On Father's Day, the Shedd Aquarium will have its Family Festival, two hours of family-friendly activities that celebrate the natural world. Meet a live animal, engage in hands-on science activities and make a craft to take home. Activities are designed for families with children ages 5-12.
For the sun worshiping baba
The city has officially opened its beaches, so get out and host a beach day for Dad.
However you celebrate with that special man in your life, enjoy your time together!
Having a little one shouldn’t stop you from getting out and soaking up the rays. Here’s a roundup of some of the best sandlots around the city that are perfect for baby’s first trip to the beach. Stock your diaper bag with swim diapers and sunscreen, and get ready to introduce baby to Lake Michigan!
Great for South Siders Margaret T. Burroughs (31st Street) Beach
3100 S. Lake Shore Drive
Burroughs Beach stretches from 31st Street to 26th Street and offers amazing skyline views for adults and a newly renovated and ADA accessible playground for kiddies of all ability levels. Yummy concessions, easy and affordable parking, and a “green roof” for family picnics make this beach an easy choice for South Siders.
Great for North Siders Loyola/Leone Beach
Touhy Avenue and Lake Michigan
Loyola/Leone Beach is perfect for North Side dwellers and active families alike. Chicago’s largest beach features a 2/3-mile walking trail along the beautiful beach and Lake Michigan, making this the perfect beach for stroller walks and jogs. In addition to a playground, there is also a softball field and basketball court available for older siblings.
Great for families with dogs Foster Avenue Beach
5200 N. Lake Shore Drive (Foster Avenue and Lake Michigan)
Parent to a baby and a dog baby? Head over to Foster Avenue Beach and get the best of both worlds. Foster Beach has its own dog beach at the northeast end and outdoor showers so that your fam can clean off after a day in the sand and sun.
Great for water adventuring babies Kathy Osterman Beach
4600 N. Lake Shore Drive
Osterman Beach is located in the northernmost tip of Lincoln Park and is perfect for families that want to explore the water: it is known for having shallower water than other beaches.
Great for water-shy babies 63rd Street Beach
6300 S. Lake Shore Drive. (E. Hayes Drive at Lake Michigan)
Baby not quite ready to frolic in Lake Michigan? No worries! 63rd Street Beach has interactive water fountains that are perfect for letting your little one enjoy the water without swimming in the lake.
Great for a day of relaxing 12th Street Beach
12th Street at Lake Michigan on Northerly Island
If a less crowded day at the beach is what you’re in search of, 12th Street Beach is the perfect spot for you. Nestled just south of Adler Planetarium, this beach feels like a private sandy shore just for you and your family. Concessions and restrooms are nearby and you can check out the nearby museums when you need a break from the sun.
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
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.
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
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.