When she grows up, 3-year-old Victoria Hopkins, who lives in Lincoln Park, wants to be an airplane. Not a pilot or a flight attendant. An airplane. Fortunately, there are places throughout the Chicago area where it’s an asset to have such a big imagination.Because playing pretend isn’t just a game. “I think it helps [kids] open up their imaginations,” says Della Allen, who runs Fantasy Kingdom, a Chicago playland, with her husband, Mark.At Fantasy Kingdom, kids can test-drive life as a police officer, firefighter, cook, princess or knight in shining armor. In the child-size fire station, kids don red-and-yellow fire suits, answer emergency calls, roll up a hose and slide down a pole before driving the kid-powered fire truck away. The other stations in this small, clean venue are similarly well stocked. If your kids prefer dress-up and theater, head for the Exploritorium in Skokie. After parading their costumes in front of three big mirrors, kids can stage a show for their parents. Or they can prove, as one little girl did, that queen robes and cowboy hats really are a fashion statement.Kids can run an entire imaginary town at Kohl Children’s Museum. Preschoolers and toddlers sweep restaurant floors, care for babies, buy groceries and wear lab coats while they heal stuffed dogs and cats. The new venue in Glenview has an open, accessible setup so kids can wander from one exhibit to another, deciding what they should pretend to be next.Unstructured play is also key at My Corner Playroom. Kids can choose what they want to tackle: dress-up clothes, crafts, train tracks, slides and blocks. Monica Hopkins, Victoria’s mom, liked the place so much she ended up working there after she and her daughter had visited a few times. “Creativity is so important for young kids,” Hopkins says.Diana Oleszczuk
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