Visiting a conservatory may not be the first idea that comes to mind when looking for some rainy-day fun with the kids. But don’t discount the cool quotient of being surrounded by nature while indoors.
"We recognize that historically kids haven’t been trained to look at plants," says Robin Cline, education programs developer at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. "So what we’re trying to do is put plants in action."
The conservatory does this by helping kids recognize how plants differ from people.
"They do things we can’t, which makes them really cool," says Cline. For example, she says, plants don’t need to move to get their food. With natural sunlight, through photosynthesis, plants make their own food.
The Sweet House at Garfield Park Conservatory is a kid favorite. Bananas, sugar cane, oranges and chocolate grow here. "Right here in our very own conservatory, chocolate does grow on trees," says Cline.
Another kid-friendly attraction at Garfield Park Conservatory is the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden. It has a slide, oversize plastic plants and insects and a craft area. There are also scavenger hunts from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday.
Oak Park Conservatory is another great destination, but on a smaller scale. Here, most of the displays are close to the ground, where young kids can get an up-close look.
But you should exercise caution in any conservatory, says John Seaton, manager of conservatory operations for the Park District of Oak Park. "It is a lovely place for kids, but there are natural hazards so the parents need to be on the ball."
Playing tag around a cactus patch, for example, is not recommended.
Oak Park Conservatory also has resident fish, turtles and birds, including one that talks. "Twinkle Toes likes young ladies," says Seaton.
Perhaps the greatest allure of a conservatory is the varying landscape. Kids can explore a tropical forest and a desert, all in the same building.
"Some kids say they feel that they’re in the middle of a story book," says Cline.
Seaton adds, "At this time of the year, [it’s neat] for them to see things green and growing, especially when you can look out and see the snow. You get this candy-shop feel, and you’re in the candy shop."