Connect to your neighborhood

Fifteen places and resources for families


Anneliese Kumler

South suburban resource guide Finding ways to tear your kids away from the warmth of the couch and their favorite TV shows may seem like more of a challenge during the winter months. So we’ve compiled a list of great winter activities for families in the south suburbs. From storytelling to game nights to night hikes, you’ll find plenty of reasons to brave the cold and make some family memories.

We also realize that parents have more on their minds than just keeping their kids busy. Connecting with parents facing similar issues or finding parenting classes and play groups can be a trial. So we’ve uncovered many local supportive and educational opportunities tailored to the needs of south suburban parents. If you’re searching for direction, an open ear or a chance to meet other parents, this resource guide is for you.

Activities for families and kids

The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn 9600 E. Shore Dr., Oak Lawn (708) 423-6709 Ages: 2-10 (recommended)

The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn is home to nine interactive exhibits, including water tables, kite flying and a puppet playhouse. Events: "Teaching with Tales," 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday. Kids can have fun with weekly storytelling activities. Winter Sports Day, Jan. 2. This event features an obstacle course and parachute activities. Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 26-30 and Jan. 2-7. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Beginning Jan. 8, regular hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. The third Saturday of each month, admission is free and kids can make art projects and watch magic and puppet shows. Call ahead for daily updates. Admission: $3.50, $3 ages 1-16, free under 1.

Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center 20000 Western Ave., Olympia Fields (708) 481-2330 Ages: Families

This recreational center offers a variety of hiking trails and nature-based activities. Events: "If I Lived in a Pond," 1-2:30 p.m. Jan. 8. $10, $7.50 members. Are your kids curious about underwater life? Kids ages 7-11 can find out when Irons Oaks transforms the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet Club pool into a pond-like environment and invites kids to don swimsuits and explore life as a water creature. Lifeguards will be on duty. "Winter Bingo," 9-10 a.m. Jan. 16. $1 per card. Play the classic game while learning about winter. Grandparents are invited, too. "Owl Prowl," 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 27. $10 per family. This is a night hike for the whole family. Listen for owls, learn about their nocturnal habits, play games and maybe even catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. Registration required for all events. Call or check the Web site for more activities.

Jerald S. Galowich YMCA 749 Houbolt Rd., Joliet (815) 744-3939 Ages: Families and kids ages 4-10 (recommended)

Along with fitness programs for both adults and kids, this Y holds themed family nights one Friday each month. January’s theme, "Family Game Night," 6:30-8:30 p.m. Jan. 13, features one hour of gym games and one hour of pool games. Basketball, tug-of-war, a scavenger hunt, swim races and splash contests are just some of the activities planned. Keep your energy up with nachos, hot dogs and popcorn. Admission: $10 per family, $8.50 program members, free full members.

Lake Katherine Nature Preserve 7402 Lake Katherine Dr., Palos Heights (708) 361-1873 Ages: Families

This nature preserve has 3½ miles of trails that wander through prairie, woodland and garden environments. For families in the south suburbs, one of the best parts of winter at Lake Katherine is Winterfest, noon-4 p.m. Jan. 28. Past activities have included an obstacle course, hayrides, ice rescue demonstrations, animal visitors and live performances. The event’s No. 1 draw is the ice sculpting. Food is available inside the center. Admission: $5, $3 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under.

Tinley Park Public Library 7851 Timber Dr., Tinley Park (708) 532-0160

Local public libraries can be a great resource for family activities, both for books and for fun activities. Events: "Winter See and Do," 10:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-2:15 Jan. 11 and 25. Kids ages 2-4 and their parents are invited for storytelling and crafts. "Family Activity Night," 7-8 p.m. Jan. 19. This is a fun opportunity to learn a craft and listen to a special guest. This month’s focus is origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. Activities available for families with valid Tinley Park or Orland Hills library cards. Call to register. Admission: Free.

Support and education for parents

Chicago Area Families for Adoption (CAFFA) 1212 S. Naper Blvd., Ste. 119, Naperville (630) 585-4680

CAFFA provides information, support and networking opportunities for adoptive parents and parents interested in adopting. Informational meetings on domestic and international adoption are held the first Tuesday of each month. Play groups, family outings and educational events are offered throughout the year. Call or e-mail Shila Khan, CAFFA membership chairman, at [email protected] for more information. Annual membership is $40 and includes a monthly newsletter, e-mail updates and discounted or free event fees.

Good Shepherd Center for Exceptional Children 17314 Kedzie Ave., Hazel Crest (708) 335-0020, (708) 351-TOYS

Parents of kids with special needs of any age can benefit from Good Shepherd’s services. Parents can arrange for trained Lekotek staff to visit their home with a therapeutic toy library adapted specifically to meet their child’s needs. Sessions last about an hour and children are allowed to borrow six to 10 toys to keep until the next session. A computer library is also available. The cost is $5, free for low-income families. Call Mary Ellen McLoughlin, (708) 351-TOYS to schedule a session. Good Shepherd’s Respite Service provides professional babysitters trained to handle disabled children. Parents in need of a break can schedule free in-home care to attend an all-day event or a dinner date, up to 180 hours per year. Contact Dawn Dixon, (708) 335-0020, ext. 22. Other Good Shepherd services include an integrated preschool for ages 3 and under and an autism lending library.

Governor’s State Smart Start Program 1 University Pkwy., University Park (708) 235-7330

Smart Start is dedicated to keeping families connected and giving children a strong foundation through fun and educational events. Parent-child play groups, family activities and early childhood classes are just some of the programs Smart Start offers. Classes include infant massage, child safety and CPR, stimulating child exploration and pre-kindergarten for kids under 5. Childcare is available for adult classes, and most are free or low cost. Smart Start also arranges family outings such as trips to area museums. The winter schedule was not available as of press time, so call for details.

Mothers and More P.O. Box 31, Elmhurst (630) 941-3553

This nonprofit group works to improve the lives of mothers by offering support, education and advocacy. Mothers and More works for social equality by recognizing the importance of the work that mothers do, both in the workplace and at home. South suburban moms meet at the Crest Hill Library Community Room in Crest Hill. Events: The Supernanny, 6:45 p.m. Jan. 2. Free. This program focuses on managing child behavior. Performance Tune-Up: 6 p.m. Jan. 19. Carefree Culinary Coaching: 6 p.m. Jan. 23. Call Mary Jane Papesh, (815) 370-0100, to register for this event. $30 for both Performance Tune-Up and Culinary Coaching. Annual membership: $45. Nonmembers are allowed to attend up to three events before joining.

Parent and Child Education Society (PACES) P.O. Box 13, Lombard (630) 835-4111

PACES offers support for parents of children from birth to age 5 through play groups, parenting seminars, workshops, babysitting co-ops and social outings. Annual membership: $32. The south suburban branch meets the third Tuesday of each month at Life Church in Palos Heights. Meetings feature keynote speakers and a chance for parents to share their experiences. Childcare is provided. Call Victoria Hamel, (708) 598-9415, to register. The January meeting is 9:30-11:30 a.m. Jan. 17. $2, free members.

For infant play groups in Palos Heights, Orland Park, Frankfort and neighboring communities e-mail Dawn Mack, [email protected]

Parents Anonymous of Chicago and Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network

10046 S. Western Ave., Chicago (773) 429-9307

Free parent support groups meet weekly to discuss issues including child development, finances, frustration and self-empowerment (see story on page 40). Calumet City offers chapters for teen parents and Spanish speakers. Two more chapters will open to all interested parents in Riverdale. Meetings last one to two hours. Free childcare is provided. Groups often arrange family field trips, including excursions to the zoo and the circus. Parents also have been working together to create scrapbooks. For more information or to find a meeting in your area, call Tonya Gaddis, (773) 429-9326.

South Suburban Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Riverdale (call for exact location) (708) 308-3849

Grandparents raising grandchildren from birth to age 18 are encouraged to share their experiences, concerns, joys and frustrations at this support group sponsored by the Children’s Home and Aid Society of Illinois. Refreshments are served and free childcare is provided. Contact Merna Watkins, (708) 308-3849, for the location. Hours: 10-11:30 a.m. Monday. Admission: Free.

University of Illinois Extension 5527 Miller Circle Dr., Matteson (708) 720-7500 l

Family Life Extension Educators teach free courses on family issues throughout the year. Events: "Remaining Strong in Trying Times," 1-2:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Kendall County Extension office, Yorkville. This class explores how families can be more resilient during challenges and difficult circumstances. "Building Family Strengths," 7-9 p.m. Jan. 10 at Kimberly Heights School, Tinley Park. Learn how open communication, togetherness, humor, optimism, spirituality, flexibility, self-esteem, shared values and a sense of history can help build strong families. "More Than Words," 7-8:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Evergreen Park Holy Redeemer School. Discuss how open communication can help families solve problems. Registration is encouraged. Call Donna Murphy, (708) 532-6434. Admission: Free.

Young Single Parents Inc. (708) 802-0804

Young Single Parents Inc. provides an instant network for divorced, separated, widowed or unmarried parents. The group arranges two family and two adult activities per month and weekly adult social nights. Nonmembers are welcome to participate in up to three family or adult activities before joining. January’s family outing is a sledding party at Plum Creek Forest Preserve in Sauk Village followed by hot chocolate at a member’s house. Call to introduce yourself, ask questions and register for all events. Events: Weekly adult nights. $4, free members. South Chapter: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Centennial Bowl, 16050 Centennial Circle, Tinley Park. Southwest Chapter: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Kopperwynd Bar & Grill, 11265 W. 159th St. (at Wolf Road), Orland Park. Annual membership: $25 for the first year, $20 thereafter.


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