Right about this time, your bag of summer-fun tricks may be
nearing empty. Time for a little refill! Ideas for fun stuff to do
with your kids that reach beyond the standbys can be cheap, fun and
easy. Some are as close as your backyard, others are day-trip
destinations. We're betting just reading through our inspiration
list will jumpstart some creative ideas of your own.
Try a backyard campout to spruce up your summer
Yes, you do that fall apple-picking outing every year, but July
is peak blueberry season. Blueberries are easy for little hands to
pick-bushes are just 4-6 feet tall and there are no prickly thorns
like those on some other berry bushes. Really wee ones can get the
berries down low, while you aim high (and help them get what
they're picking into the buckets).
We like Plow Creek Farm in Tiskilwa, just a
two-hour drive from downtown Chicago. Run by three Mennonite
families, the farm has a picnic area and the bushes are on a
picturesque, grassy, blueberry hill. Make this a morning
destination: It's more pleasant to pick before the sun's high in
the sky. Bring your own bucket or bowls to tote the berries home
in. The farm provides water to keep you hydrated as you pick, but
you may want to pack a picnic lunch and some extra water
You can also stop in pretty Princeton for lunch (just off the
interstate, 15 minutes from the farm) when you're done picking.
Visit www.plowcreek.org/farm, read the little "how to pick
blueberries" tutorial and get directions. Call before you go to
make sure there are still berries. Additional U-pick berry farm
listings can be found at ChicagoParent.com.
Give kids a pile of assorted "stuff" along with the challenge to
build a robot, action figure "set" or playhouse and they're
guaranteed to get engaged.
If you don't happen to have a pile of scrap lumber, poles,
tubes, plastic buckets, tiles, etc., hanging around, head to the Chicago
Resource Center's Creative Reuse Warehouse. For $5, you can
fill a bag full of whatever odds, ends and objects strike your
kids' fancy. The assorted flotsam and jetsam available changes
almost daily, so you never know what you might find there. Prices
are also negotiable; you can bargain for a better deal on the
stuff-good to know if you've got a bunch of kids.
Tip: If younger children want to hammer along with the big kids,
but you're nervous about nails, give the littler ones a box of
wooden golf tees and a toy plastic or wooden hammer. Puncture a big
cardboard box with some tiny holes. Poke the tip of each tee into a
hole and let them nail the box full of tees.
Open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Saturday and closed Sunday, Chicago's Resource Center is located at
222 E. 135th Place. Visit resourcecenterchicago.org for more information
Splatter-painting a big sheet hung from a clothes line is a good
"permission to get messy" alternative to playing in the mud. Get
some big bottles of tempera paint, fat brushes and some plastic
plates to put the paints on. Standing a few feet from the sheet,
shake dipped brushes at the sheet to splatter-paint fun patterns.
The finished sheets provide a colorful backdrop for a backyard
family talent show, or make a colorful cover for a card table
Another cheap/free backyard play option kids never tire of is
the obstacle course. Let siblings (or whichever kids you have in
your backyard that day) each take a turn setting up the course or
have them set it up together: Chairs, wagons, a box of balls, pile
of stuffed animals and silly hats/costumes all come in handy.
Obstacles can range from things you run around, balance on, jump
in or out of and crawl under. There can also be "tasks," i.e. toss
each ball in the bucket, or each stuffed animal in the bushel
basket, put on the silly hat before running around the chair, etc.
Parental involvement can be as easy as shouting "mark, set, go!"
and timing who's fastest through each run of the course or putting
the kibosh on any dangerous obstacles your older kids will
inevitably try to set up. Have a huge box of Popsicles on hand for
The surprise element makes this more fun, so shhhhh! Get your
spouse or a friend to take your kids for two hours, hurry back home
and convert your backyard into Camp Out-back. Set up the tent,
colored lights, a fire pit and camp chairs. Get the grill going.
Then usher your kids back to the now anything-but-boring
Bonus? You won't have to deal with those nasty campground
bathrooms for your shower and putting on pajamas. And dinner
cleanup will be a lot easier than pumping water from a cold spigot
over some dirt. A little extra pre-prep to enhance the event? Pick
up the makings for s'mores from the grocery store and a nice
assortment of scary stories (or story CDs) from the library.
Chances are, you've made a jaunt to the Illinois State Fair (the
two biggies of 2010 are the Illinois State Fair in Springfield,
Aug. 13-22, and the DuQuoin State Fair in DuQuoin, Aug. 27-Sept 6)
but did you know that July and August are packed with dozens of
county fairs, too?
There are more than 50 fairs happening in Illinois this month
and another several dozen in August. The fairs are one of the most
exciting places that kids can view a wide range of the Midwest's
finest farm animals-cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, poultry and
more, up close and smell-able. There are truck and tractor pulls,
hay-bale-throwing and husband-calling contests, pig races, horse
shows, harness races, midways, rides, concerts and every possible
carnival food-on-a-stick. The fairs are also a great place for
urban kids to check out what their peers in other parts of the
state can do in 4-H. Visit the various agriculture, food and
hobbyist exhibits to see ribbon-winning entries. The website, agr.state.il.us, has a complete list, dates and
links to the various county fairs.
See more of Monica's stories here.
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