There are three things you can count on at the Illinois State Fair: You'll get dirty, you'll walk a lot and you'll wow your city slicker kids.
Dust is abundant, and when it pours (as it did when we visited last summer), expect to tromp through some serious mud. If your kids are short on stamina, rent a stroller at the front gate so you won't need to sanitize your own after the day is done.
The dirt serves to remind kids of Illinois' agricultural roots, and the fair shows them farm kids in action. Look (and smell) past the sheep, cows, horses and swine to see kids proudly prepping their animals for one of the many junior livestock competitions. My suburban-raised kids were impressed.
Our kids loved the "Try Your Luck ... Milk a Cow" for a dollar. The experience (which rendered some utterly hilarious pictures) included a toast with the milker's choice of white or chocolate milk after the deed is done.
The fair offers plenty of food, shows and rides. The "Coliseum Corner" offers cheap family-friendly fair fare. Skip the "Ethnic Village," which purports "worldwide cuisine." You'll find more authentic meals at Chicago's neighborhood celebrations.
There's free face painting at the "Kids Korner," an oasis for little kids with its LEGO tables and a private "Rockin' and Nursin'" station. My 5-year-old triplets fully embraced the audience participation segment of a folk concert there, singing and playing tambourines with gusto.
Of course, the kids loved the rides, all of which were standard ones you can find at any suburban celebration. We purchased a one-day ticket, good for all rides.
This year's fair is Aug. 11-20. Fairgrounds are open 7 a.m. to midnight daily; buildings are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $3 for ages 13-65, $2 for seniors and free for kids 12 and under. Parking is $7. Ride coupons are $1; megapass is $60 for unlimited rides throughout the fair.
The schedule changes daily, so if you have your heart set on seeing a certain band, tractor pull or 4-H exhibit, visit www.agr.state.il.us/isf before you go.
Jill S. Browning