There are so many almost-secret gems in the Chicago area that cater to special children–and most of them are free. So make a plan now to leave your neighborhood and explore a little more this year for more family fun.
Oak Park Library Sensory Storytime
Who: Ages 3 and up
Details: Classes are held on Tuesday afternoons, and are structured with boardmaker schedules. Children are provided with lap weights and fidget toys if requested. Children and siblings listen to picture books and sing songs.
More info: 834 Lake St., Oak Park, (708) 452-3420; oppl.org
Geneva Public Library
Who: Ages 3-8. A Geneva library card is required for the first week of registration, then registration opens to the general public. Registration is required.
Details: The event starts with a schedule so everyone knows what to expect. Sit discs, dim lights, fidget toys and sensory toys are provided if needed. Kids get to do everything from making cloud dough to looking for hidden items in shredded paper and doing other sensory activities, in addition to a storytime.
More info: 127 James St., Geneva, (630) 232-0780; gpld.org
Sensory Storytime at the Harold Washington Library
Who: All ages
Details: Children on the autism spectrum and those with other special needs listen to stories and play at the library during this monthly storytime.
More info: 400 S. State St., (312) 747-4200; chipublib.org
Brookfield Public Library Special Needs Playgroup
Who: Ages 2-12 with a caregiver. It's open to the public, but registration is required.
Details: Interactive games, activities and stories help children practice social and communicative skills.
More info: 3609 Grand Blvd., Brookfield, (708) 485-6917; brookfieldlibrary.info
Pump it Up Orland Park and Elmhurst
Who: Ages 2-10
Details: These locations host sensory jumps once a month for children on the autism spectrum. The lights in the room can be lowered if requested, and everyone will understand if your child needs to take breaks.
More info: 1141 W. 183rd St., Orland Park, (708) 479-2220; 684 W. Lake St., Elmhurst, (630) 941-7867; pumpitupparty.com
Art-Ability at Northbrook Public Library
Who: All ages with a caregiver. It's open to the public.
Details: Crafts geared for children with special needs are offered 10-11 a.m. on the second Saturday morning every-other month.
More info: 1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook, (847) 272-6224; northbrook.info
Club Wonder at the Skokie Public Library
Who: Ages 3-7
Details: This monthly program for families with children with special needs is taught by local therapists. Children have enjoyed everything from art to yoga, plus music and play.
More info: 5215 Oakton St., Skokie, (847) 673-7774; skokielibrary.info
Rainbow Therapy Time at the Skokie Public Library
Who: Ages 7-12
Details: This is a monthly program for older children with special needs that occurs the third Sunday of every month. The focus is on strengthening motor skills, practicing social skills and increasing language use. Volunteers also help the children interact with dogs.
Reel Movies for Real Needs at Marcus Theatre
Who: Children with autism of all ages.
Details: Lights are up and the volume is down for first-run showings once a month. Check the website or call for times and titles.
More info: 1555 W. Lake St., Addison, (630) 932-0864; marcustheatres.com
SMG Special Needs Screenings at Studio Movie Grill
Who: Children with special needs and their siblings
Details: Flicks are offered free (adults pay the before-noon matinee price) during special screenings just for them once a month. The lights are up and the volume is lower than normal. Children can stand, walk and dance as needed.
More Info: 301 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton, (630) 480-9557; studiomoviegrill.com
Chicago Children’s Museum
Who: Ages 13 and under
Details: On the second Saturday of the month, the museum opens an hour early for pre-registered children with disabilities for its popular Play for All event. The first 250 people will get free admission to the museum.
More info: 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (312) 527-1000; chicagochildrensmuseum.org
Kohl Children’s Museum
Who: Ages 8 and under
Details: Six times a year, on Sunday mornings, the museum is closed to the public and opens to children with special needs. The museum was designed to be inclusive of all children regardless of ability, so its 17 exhibits and two acres of outdoor explorations are designed for play for everyone.
More info: 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, (847) 832-6600; kohl childrensmuseum.org
DuPage Children’s Museum
Details: On the third Thursday night of the month, the museum opens for families with children with special needs. A range of adaptive tools and equipment is available and kids can play in the sensory-based exhibits and interact with Alex, the therapy dog.
More info: 301 N. Washington St., Naperville, (630) 637-8000; dupagechildrens.org
Citizens Park in Barrington
Details: Children with disabilities can roll up to the first universally accessible treehouse in Illinois. It's a three-level treehouse where visitors can perch to watch a basketball game or simply sit and read a book. The 2,000-square-foot structure has more than 180 square feet of ramps, which rise around ash and oak trees to an open-air deck, gazebo and an enclosed cabin with electricity. This took more than four months to build using 32 white oak logs.
More info: 511 Lake Zurich Road, Barrington; barrington parkdistrict.org
SEBA Park in South Elgin
Details: This new playground caters to every child and has ramps that move from play station to play station, treehouses with slides, handicap-accessible swings plus other wheelchair-accessible play spaces.
More info: 151 Water St., South Elgin; southelgin.com
Sensory Garden Playground in Wheaton
Details: This playground is specially designed for children with sensory processing disorders and includes a fragrance garden that's full of blossoming plants, a sound garden with oversized instruments kids can play and the Pony Stables Playground for kids 2-5. Future phases of development will include a boulder climbing area, water play area and playground for older kids.
More info: Danada South Park, Wheaton; playforall dupage.org
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.
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