Summertime in Chicago means festivals, concerts, street fairs and just being outside. It's a great time to experience the city as a family and, with a few helpful tips, it doesn't have to cost a fortune.
Start the day off with a free Wiggleworms show every morning at 10 a.m., beginning June 9 and running through Sept. 3 at Millennium Park. Organized by the Old Town School of Folk Music, the show gets kids singing and dancing to popular songs. Details
"My daughter Heidi loves going to Wiggleworms, and on really warm days we walk over to the water area at the park and she cools down splashing around and getting sprayed at Crown Fountain," Chicago mom Alma Treichel said. "It's a fun, free way to stay cool."
North Siders can also catch free live music for the little ones every Wednesday and Friday at 9:15 and 10 a.m. at Lincoln Park Zoo. Starring Mr. Singer, of Sharp Cookies fame, a local kids musical act with a handlebart mustache and quirky energy to match. Story time at the zoo is targeted to children 6 and under, teaching them about the alphabet, numbers, colors and animals. There's a suggested dollar donation.
Kids looking to explore, discover and learn a thing or two are in luck as well. Several of Chicago's museums offer free admission throughout the summer. Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier is free every Thursday from 5-8 p.m. and the Chicago History Museum is free every Monday. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon Drive), is free to the general public every Thursday and includes a butterfly exhibit kids love and, through Aug. 7, a "Nature's Architects" exhibit that's worth a morning visit.
To enjoy the outdoors, take advantage of the hundreds of parks and forest preserves throughout Chicago and its surrounding communities. Beginning June 6, kids 8 and up can learn archery for free at St. James Farm in Warrenville. The class is one of many provided by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
On extremely sweltering days, those trying to beat the heat can head to any of Chicago's public libraries for air conditioning and a number of free story time activities.
"Our summer reading program will start in the beginning of June and runs through the end of July," said Leland Elder, a public relations representative for the library.
The program is open to kids 6-13 and additional story time sessions for toddlers and younger children are also available throughout the summer.
Or hop on Metra's BNSF line and head west for free weekly outdoor concerts in the villages of Hinsdale and Burr Ridge. Every Thursday evening in Hinsdale from June 16-Aug. 18, families load up their strollers and head to Burlington Park for free music.
Hinsdale resident Precious Schultz enjoys taking her three sons.
"My husband gets off the train and meets up with us, and it's a great place for the kids to burn off that afternoon energy before bedtime," she said. "They dance and run around with their friends."
The Burr Ridge Village Center offers "Concerts on the Green" from 7-8:30 p.m. Fridays, June 10-Aug. 5, at its village center, 1000 Village Center Drive.
After a long day of activities that require no swiping of the credit card, take advantage of the hundreds of Chicago-area restaurants that offer "kids eat free" options. From slices of cheese pizza to stacks of waffles, a free or discounted meal for the little ones can be found any day of the week by logging onto kidseat4free.com and clicking "Chicago."
Wheaton mom Colleen Moore has often treated her daughter Keira to breakfast for dinner at IHOP on "kids eat free" night.
"They have a decent array of healthy choices and if she wants pancakes for dinner, she can have them," Moore said. "Finding food a 2-year-old likes to eat that is healthy and free is priceless. It's also nice knowing I'm not wasting $7 when she's being a picky eater."