6 Chicago locales perfect for growing minds

Your city kid is brilliant, brave and full of boundless talents—everybody knows that! Here are some of our fave (and urban-tastic) ways to keep your growing gourmand, musical maven, creative crawler and eager explorer on the path to grownup greatness.

For the future foodie 


You want to give your kiddo the world, right? What better place to try a little bit of (literally) everything without any fear of wallet pain? Not only is every last type of cuisine preference and dietary restriction accounted for (on gigantic pallets, no less!), but those sample carts are a public service and a downright foodie hero. Pad Thai? Fried tofu? They’re not going to say no to anything in one of those tiny paper cups. (Pro tip: Club members are under zero obligation to buy anything they’ve tasted, but this is a great opportunity to model extreme graciousness to the folks providing Second Breakfast/First Lunch to your kiddos. Might even warrant multiple samples!)

Various locations around Chicagoland

For the soon-to-be songbird

Old Town School of Folk Music

Sometimes you’ve just got to stick with the classics and be a Wiggleworm. It’s a rite of passage shared by so many Chicagoans—and their parents, who still can’t get ‘Five Little Monkeys’ out of their heads. With classes for newborns up to preschool, there’s a singing, dancing, music-making, caregiver/kiddo-bonding class that’s perfect for your Itsy Bitsy Spider’s age and stage.

‘Lullabies’ is the perfect option for the smallest member of the family, and ‘Sibling Wiggleworms’ answers the question of “What the heck do I do with my other kid during class time?” (Spanish offerings are available, too!) With classes available at six locations, you’ll definitely find the one that makes you happy (and you’ll know it). 

Various locations around Chicagoland

Merit School of Music

This West Loop mainstay offers classes for the very young, encouraging their creativity and self-expression, all the while teaching them the fundamentals of musical appreciation. (‘Movers and Groovers’ or ‘Ukelele and You’, anyone?) Then, once they rock it—which they will—they’re encouraged to continue on with the Instrumental Music program before eventually auditioning to enroll in the lauded Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory (yes, you read that right), for professional training in jazz combos, guitar, chamber music and everything in between. 

Joy Faith Knapp Music Center, 38 S. Peoria St., Chicago

For the aspiring artist

The Art Institute of Chicago 

This place has been voted the No. 1 museum in the world (repeatedly) by TripAdvisor, and with good reason. The collection of fine art alone—including an unparalleled number of rare European beauties from the masters—is a must-see, and the Thorne Miniature Rooms will have your little ones crafting their space of their dreams in no time. But the real draw for the non-walking set? Those gallery stroller tours, which are absolute perfection for exposing your offspring to the most famous art in the world—in a crowd who totally gets it if your toddler has a meltdown by the Monet. 

111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

For the happy hiker

Walking Stick Woods

When’s the last time someone told you to get lost—and have it be a good thing? Especially in a city, the ability to hike, stroll or crawl around in nature is incredibly important, and this offshoot of the North Park Village Nature Center Park is a local fave. With plenty of deer-spying practice areas for your bird calls and sweet structures that’ll make you daydream about living off the grid, Walking Stick Woods’ well-defined trails will help you get your nature fix. Whether you plan on wearing the backpack or simply hitching a ride in one, this spot is absolute perfection for a quick swap from cityscape vistas for dense foliage—and a breath of fresh air.

5747 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory

While this oasis in the city boasts tropical temps year ’round, the green season is when it shines like the sun. Yes, the majestic Palm and Show Houses are Instagram-worthy, but the Garfield Park Conservatory’s take on Monet’s Garden is worth its weight in francs, and the City Garden just begs for a good game of tag—watch out for the lily ponds, though! The Play and Grow Garden, open seasonally, is the place to express yourself, whether it’s through wooden xylophone-playing or mud-pie baking (no judgment, here), and kids are never too young to learn about variety and sustainability in the Demonstration Garden. Another reason to love this spot? All of the produce is donated to the Garfield Park Farmers Market (which brings us right back to the first category of well-rounded, up-and-coming Chicagoan). 

300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago

This article originally appeared in the digital edition of Hey Baby. Read the rest of the issue

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