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•  Summer Fun with the Kids
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•  Exploring RiNo
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•  The Changing Face of Evanston
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•  The Cheapskate's Guide to Chicago
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•  Air Conditioned Chicago
•  Dancing Under the Stars

Summer Fun with the Kids
Dina Weinstein

Chicago is a child-friendly metropolis with attractions and activities year-round. But things really get fun for you and your little ones in the summertime. This list of activities features one-time and on-going events. As well as plenty of free activities for the cash strapped. Those with a larger budget can keep the kids busy in organized and supervised camps and lessons. All are enriching in giving kids a taste of the outdoors, the arts, physical activities, and literature. Fill your calendar with the following offerings, dear parent or caregiver, and the little ones will tire out, leaving you free to enjoy a cold beverage in peace and quiet at the end of a long day.

Millennium Park
Photo: Dina Weinstein
The Big City
Downtown’s Millenium Park offers free family activities, a huge splash fountain, and concerts. It’s a respite from urban life as a clean and green open space at the foot of the city’s skyscrapers. The Crown Fountain is a special draw, cooling the little ones on scorching days, offering hours of fun in a quarter inch basin. Every day this summer in Chase Promenade North, children can complete craft projects and have their face painted at the Family Fun Activity Tent. The city is offering diverse cultural entertainment and interactive performances such as drum circles, storytelling, dance lessons, and concerts at the Family Fun Performance Stage. These offering are presented in conjunction with some of Chicago’s most popular museums, including the Chicago Children’s
Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Shedd Aquarium. Millennium Park is a busy place for free family fun!

Just around the corner from Millenium park, the city of Chicago is inviting the public to “Come in and Play” at the Chicago Tourism Center. It’s a groovy, well-stocked playroom. The installation focusing on the “Art of Play” features FREE board games, tournaments, and workshops throughout the summer. It’s nestled amongst downtown shopping and good for a kid break. On the day we visited, my boys weren’t too enthralled with the paper doll-making activity (custom designed by Chicago fashion designers). However, they were glued to the free pinball for hours!!

Life’s a Beach
Once you’re done with shopping or dragging the kids around downtown, you have the obligation to succumb to the sun, surf, and sand. Lake Michigan beaches feature hours of fun. Beaches, needless to say, are located on the eastern edge of the whole city and often reflect the neighborhoods they border. I recommend the beach at 63rd Street and Lake Shore Drive for the creative fountain that shoots water out of the floor at timed intervals. Kids can play in the spray even when the beach is closed due to high bacteria levels. (I advise calling the Chicago Park District’s beaches and pools department first to avoid bumming-out your little beach goers.) The casual drumming circle that forms on summer evenings at the 63rd Street Beach awakens the ancestors (or old hippies) and is fun for all ages. My other favorite beach is the hidden 12th Street Beach conveniently located south of the Adler Planetarium situated on Northerly Island. This beach is a true gem.

The Beach
Photo: Dina Weinstein
Wet N’Wild
Pools offer a more contained water experience and the Chicago Park District operates more than 85 indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Many feature water slides and other diversions. Cool off at FREE family & open swim sessions. Those yearning to get aquatic exercise or skills, can sign up for Chicago Park District learn-to-swim programs, swim teams, or swim camps.

Instructors at the Rainbow Fleet Sailing Program teach school-age kids to sail on beautiful Lake Michigan. Lessons are taught on Pico and 420 sailing dinghies. The week-long sailing camps (plus adult and youth sailing lessons as well as family sailing excursions) are offered by the Chicago Park District at Burnham Harbor.

Photo: Dina Weinstein
Play Da Music
In Chicago, music and neighborhood festivals abound in the summer. Take your rock ‘n roll kids to Kidsapalooza, a part of Lollapalooza, the three-day music festival in Grant Park August 3-5. Kidsapalooza
is a space that features family-friendly musicians, the hip-hop workshop, a rock-n-roll petting zoo, hair and make-up styling, and dance workshops. Our favorite event at Kidsapalooza was the drumming circle headed by the energetic and friendly percussionist John Yost of Rhythm Revolution. Bring earplugs! Lollapalooza is LOUD! I felt like an old fogy at Lollapalooza last summer. Most of the adults are clearly hard-core music fans who won’t let becoming a parent get in their way of enjoying such acts as Pearl Jam, Patti Smith, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Muse, Iggy and The Stooges, and Interpol. Rock on mom and dad!

Hit the Books
There’s plenty for kids to do in Chicago’s neighborhoods. I’m all about keeping my kids’ head in a book this summer with the Chicago Public Library’s FREE summer reading program. Children can sign up at all of the CPL’s seventysix branches and two regional libraries. The summer reading program focuses on Chicago history. The Chicago History Museum is the CPL’s partner in the theme “Chicago City of Big Readers.” Those that participate get weekly prizes for their effort. Kids that complete the program get a cool t-shirt they can wear proudly. Chicago history themed events are scheduled at all branches (as well as story times for pre-schoolers and junior book club discus-sion groups). The central Harold Washington library houses the CPL’s biggest juvenile literary collection at the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library, a perfect place to go when in search of an air-conditioned locale on those sweltering vacation days. At branch libraries card-holders can also check out passes to ALL Chicago-area museums, granting free admission for two adults and two children to the city’s venerable institutions.

Hyde Park Ceramics
Photo: Dina Weinstein
Artsy Fartsy
Chicago’s vibrant art scene can be welcoming to children. For starters, The Art Institute of Chicago’s Kraft Education Center is a comfortable family-friendly space, complete with exhibitions, games, puzzles, and a children’s library. It’s also a good place to rest between galleries. On weekends the center opens their workshop for hands-on drop-in activities. Families meet there for special gallery tours. Kids also tend to like the miniature gallery at the museum and The Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, composed of more than 1,500 objects.

There are many opportunities in Chicago for those looking for an exclusively hands-on approach to art. Kids and caregivers can do art together or sign up for art camps at various art schools and centers throughout
the city. The Hyde Park Art Center, on the city’s south side offers one and two-week creativity camps as well as on-going classes for children and teens. Taught by working artists and art educators, kids divide their day
between art making, drama, and playing in the nearby parks. The program includes a weekly field trip to museums.

Nearby, The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art holds a drop-in art program “Art Afternoons” every Wednesday from 12-3 pm. The education department and friendly staffers provide all materials at these hands-on programs. Staffers invite kids to learn about the museum’s collection and exhibits. Children then try their hand at various techniques. In August, kids will explore sculpture, printmaking, animation, and ceramics. Best of all, you’ll walk away with cool, colorful work to hang on your walls.

Childrens Museum
Photo: Dina Weinstein
Where A Kid a Can Be a Kid
Kids play and learn at the Chicago Children’s Museum. The Museum features three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits as well as hands-on activities. Our favorite exhibits include climbing netting, a do-it-yourself construction zone full of nuts and bolts and real construction materials, water fun and exploration, and the art studio. We were thrilled to participate in a one day workshop with a Chicago artist on comics. It was fantastic considering our current obsession with the Adventures with Tintin series.

The Children’s Museum location at Navy Pier means expensive parking, hordes of tourists, and sub-par concessions, but if you can withstand the negatives, hours of fun await you at this venue. My sons love the free entertainment outside the children’s museum (featuring a troupe of goofy historical Chicago figures, magicians, jugglers, or local cultural groups showcasing their folkloric traditions). Navy Pier’s rooftop amusements, including the landmark Ferris wheel and merry-goround, make the Children’s Museum visit a memorable one.

Final Thoughts
Each summer families in Chicago have many great options for fun under the sun, whether in a smock, in a bathing suit, or losing yourself in a good book. Chicago truly is a kids’ paradise. But despite this I still can’t guarantee you won’t hear: “Mom, there’s nothing to do…”

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