We're midway through summer and you can already see
everything your kids learned in school slipping away like the
waterdrops off their swimsuits. It's time to start thinking about
heading off complete summer brain drain.
Luckily, the Chicago area offers plenty of opportunities
to have some fun while sneaking in a little learning about history,
art and geography.
Here are a few ideas to make sure little brains stay
engaged the rest of the summer.
Family outings can be easily adapted depending on the age
of the child, and activities before or after a visit to a local
landmark can supplement what you've learned.
Chicago and its suburbs offer hands-on opportunities to learn
about the history of those who settled the land. Step back into
life on a farm in the 1890s at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago.
One of the kid favorites (this will surprise most moms and dads) is
the farm chores programs, says Keith McClow, education site manager
for Kline Creek.
"One of our biggest ones is the laundry process. They want to do
it again and again with the scrub board and the soap," McClow says.
Mom's farm chores are highlighted on Mondays; dad's are featured on
Thursdays. During dad's farm chores programs, kids erect a
scaled-down version of a timber-framed farmhouse.
"It's small enough for kids to lift the pieces and
assemble, and then they can climb up on it and see how sturdy it
is," McClow says. Kids also like collecting the eggs from the
chicken coop or listening to stories from that time
To supplement the learning, visit your library for books
by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Elsie Dinsmore, two young girls who
wrote about life in pioneer times, McClow says.
An African safari isn't in the cards for this summer, but
luckily we have two world-class zoos filled with animals from
around the world. Instead of just dragging kids from ape house to
reptile house to the way-too-expensive gift shop, try taking
shorter trips focused on a single animal. Kids can study animal
behavior or use field guides to identify the animals in a specific
"This might be a great activity for parents and kids this summer
to learn about the science of animal behavior and then try out some
of the things they learned when they visit the zoo," says Leah
Melber, the Lincoln Park Zoo's director of student and teacher
Chicago's art museums give kids a chance to learn about artists
and create a little art of their own.
The Elmhurst Art Museum offers
summertime drop-in programs that are free with admission. The
museum's staff teaches classes about one of the exhibitions and
guides children as they create a project based on this artistic
influence. The drop-in programs are from 10 a.m.-noon Wednesdays
and Fridays. Fridays are also free admission days, so you can do
the whole morning without opening your wallet. The drop-in programs
are for all ages, even the very young.
The Art Institute and the Museum
of Contemporary Art also offer programs throughout the summer
for kids to learn about artists and create a piece of their own to
Chicago has a wealth of opportunities for learning about other
countries and cultures.
Chinatown is one of the few ethnic neighborhoods in
Chicago that's more than just a commercial district-families make
their home here, so visitors are truly immersed in the language,
colors and customs of the Far East. Visit one of the many stores
for trinkets, snag a large bag of fortune cookies for a bargain at
a bakery, or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. If
the weather's nice, pack a picnic and sit along the river at Ping
Tom Memorial Park.
for Little Feet tour
To learn about our country's Mexican heritage, visit the
National Museum of Mexican Art, a free museum in the heart of the
Pilsen neighborhood whose brightly colored artwork will even appeal
to young children. Follow up the museum by trying out some
traditional Mexican dishes at nearby Nuevo Leon (1515 W. 18th St.),
where food is cheap and portion sizes are huge (cash only). On nice
summer days, street vendors sell mangos and traditional Mexican
popsicles. Pilsen is by the Chicago River, 16th Street, Western
Avenue and Canal Street
With the miles and miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in the city
and the suburbs, consider doing a little beachcombing when you
visit. While we don't have the exotic starfish and seashells found
near the ocean, there's plenty here to interest kids while
encouraging a little learning.
Related: The 10 kid-friendliest
beaches in Chicago
At Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, north of the city, little
beachcombers will find almost two miles of unspoiled shoreline to
explore. In addition to beach glass and driftwood of all shapes and
sizes, kids can look for impressions of coral or other ancient
animals and plants.
"There are large white outcroppings, like a sea wall, and
if you're climbing on them you can see that quite a few have
fossils embedded in them," says Jamie Zaplatosch, education
director for Openlands.
Consider bringing a sketch book and having kids make
drawings or rubbings of what they find, says Charles Mutschuller,
Openlands' communication director. Capture it with a photograph or
Or find a nature center closer to home to look for
plants, trees and rocks. Consider packing a Peterson guide to help
identify what you see. Or take photos of the plant life or fossils
and identify them at home, using books from the library.
Get tips from the experts! We asked five Chicago Public School
teachers how to keep kids sharp over the summer at home - read what