8 ways to get dirty this summer in Chicago

Kids get dirty. Don’t fight it – redirect it! We’ve got eight completely acceptable mess-making activities to satisfy that destructive urge. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be less likely to take a crayon to the walls.

Kids get dirty. Don’t fight it – redirect it! We’ve got eight completely acceptable mess-making activities to satisfy that destructive urge.

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse


We all want to encourage our children’s creativity, but we don’twant the mess. Enter Make a Messterpiece.

The 10,000-square-foot studio and play spaces leave ample roomto explore various media as art, including paints, crayons,glitter, glue and even food. “Splat’tacular” tables and easelsprovide accessible workspace with all the necessary materialsprovided.

Masterpiece without the mess

Make a messy masterpiece

We all want to encourage our children’s creativity. We want themto draw, paint, sculpt, explore, but we don’t want the mess. Thecreators of Make-a-Messterpiece in Glenview provide hours of creative play,
combined with easy clean-up.

The 10,000-square-foot studio and play spaces leave ample roomto explore various media as art, including paints, crayons,glitter, glue and even food. “Splat’tacular” tables and easelsprovide accessible workspace with all the necessary materialsprovided. My 4-year-old was drawn to the paint station, where hecombined brushwork with his own fingerpaints. Big mess? No problem.Every art station is equipped with sinks and paper toweldispensers, making it easy to clean up. The studio provides smocksin different sizes and designs to protect kids’ clothing.

Customers have unlimited access to table space (and supplies)and two play areas with $10 admission, but you may also want toconsider buying two or three additional art activities for $5each.

At Little Sprouts, nature lovers make environmentally friendlyprojects such as tote bags and flower pots. Older kids can play madscientists at Experimentation Station, where science lessons resultin take-homes like magic potions and kaleidoscopes. Projects changeevery few weeks so kids won’t get bored at return visits. At theKids Creative Kitchen we made and ate a color-wheel pizza. My sonalso loved pressing the buttons in Bubble’ology and rocked out tomusic and paint-filled drums in the percussion-heavy Drum Roll.

I accompanied my preschooler from project to project, but thestudio’s layout makes it possible to keep an eye on multiple kidsat once. They also have equipped their adult-friendly Club M caféwith video monitors projecting images from each studio space. Manymoms were sipping coffee and reading magazines while their kidsengaged in art.

The excellent staff of artists and educators helps guidechildren’s creativity without interfering too much, encouragingartistic expression and learning while still keeping everythingfun. They’re not there to supervise children, as much as to makesure everyone is having a good time and getting the most out of theexperience.


Composting is the decomposition of yard and fruit and vegetablefood scraps into a garden-friendly, nutrient-rich gunk that willperk up your peonies in a hurry. Worm composting, or vermiculturecompositing, is one of the best ways to really pack in thenutrients. You can do it in as little as 1×2 feet, “ideally in agarage, porch or basement,” according to the city of Chicago’s compositing website So get a
bin, get digging for worms, and get started!

Go grub-hunting


If your kids can’t resist slimy, sticky, messystuff, they are absolutely going to love flubber. Also known asSilly Putty, flubber is a slimy, malleable substance that willentertain your kids for hours. Plus, it is the ultimate at-homekitchen science experiment. Get started with ourstep-by-step craft with photos.

Or check out our This is Science video.

How to make flubber

If your kids can’t resist slimy, sticky, messystuff, they are absolutely going to love flubber. Also known asSilly Putty, flubber is a slimy, malleable substance that willentertain your kids for hours. Plus, it is the ultimate at-homekitchen science experiment.

In addition to being great fun, flubber also has someinteresting science behind it.

In technical terms, a polymer is a large molecule composedof repeating structural units. These sub-units are connected bycovalent chemical bonds.

In flubber, the Borax starts out as a solid and thencombines with the glue and water to create a colloid polymer. Boraxhooks the glue’s polymer molecules together to form a putty-likematerial. As a result, flubber has properties of both a liquid anda solid.

Flubber can stretch without breaking, but you can alsoeasily tear a piece of it off. You can squeeze flubber through yourfingers, but it will also bounce like a rubber ball. Flubber willkeep its shape if you hit it with a hammer, but you can gentlypress your hands into it and leave an impression.

Challenge your kids to think of new ways to put flubber tothe test!







Make a terrarium

Tried-and-true Terrarium





Embrace Chicago’s role as America’s grocery store with a trip toa working farm. Wagner Farm has ongoing events like “Rise
& Shine,” where you can play a role in milking the cows,
gathering eggs from the coop and feeding the animals.Kline CreekFarm does blacksmithing demonstrations Saturdays at 1:30p.m.
and has seven summer “Farmhand Sessions,” each including three days
where kids can experience life on an 1890s farm.

Visit a working farm


There’s no better way to help kids connect with nature than abackyard garden. Kids can help plant, tend to and harvest theircrops, and when it comes to getting kids to eat their veggies, “yougrew this!” can’t hurt. Getting there is easier than you with ourGarden to Table in 7 Steps guide.

Check out our Going Green section.

Get gardening!

Garden to table in 7 easy steps

Last year, 7.7 million American households tried ediblegardening for the first time. That’s a lot of newly greenacres.

But it’s likely a lot more parents out there have their greenthumbs still hidden in their pockets-parents who are tempted to trygardening with kids but need a little help.

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

“We connect with nature by trying to get out with our kids asmuch as possible. The outdoors has so much more to offer than anyindoor thing that costs money. We also try to live as green as wecan, and promote all the ways to do that to our kids. It is theirEarth, their future, and they need to be educated on how to saveit.” Tom Prehm “My kids and I garden together. They each have theirown plot of land, so they can pick the types of vegetables to grow.They have to learn about which types grow best in our climate andabout the amount of sun each needs. We also have a flower garden,which we use to create bouquets for our dinner table.”

Angie Biery

“Our family connects with nature by making sure we do our partkeeping the earth clean and safe by not littering, picking upgarbage when we see it, recycling, composting our food and plantingour vegetable and flower gardens every year. We also enjoy outdooractivities, including family bike rides for pleasure and errands,walks to the park, picnics, and climbing trees.” Karen Steele “Ourdaughters love to connect with nature by exploring the outdoors.They are both very girly girls, but love to get down and dirtylooking for bugs, planting flowers and going on nature hunts. Ourgirls also get up close and personal with animals at the zoobecause their daddy is a keeper. They have a great love andunderstanding for all creatures big and small.”

Jenny Foster

“When my daughter observes someone behaving in a manner that isnot ‘earth friendly,’ I try to use it as a teaching moment. Insteadof throwing garbage on the street, what would have been a goodthing to do? Why do you take a water container to school every dayinstead of a new water bottle every day? Why don’t we feed theanimals at the zoo? At home we try and reinforce the idea of savingenergy. What happens if we leave the water running? Or the lightson in rooms that we aren’t in? Our visits to the Morton Arboretum,as well as the zoo, help provide us with opportunities to enjoy anddiscuss the wonders of nature as well.”

Lisa Fridono

“Our 2-year-old daughter learns that nature is everywhere. Wealways explain the cause and effect of things like why we recycleour juice boxes or why we water the plants. We want her to feelconnected to ‘her’ Earth.” Darleen Caldwell “My kids connect withnature by learning about the animals that are in our neighborhoodand how they are part of our natural ecosystem. We also dogardening in the yard together.”

Toni White

“I’ve always wanted my children to learn to cherish theoutdoors, and I found the best way to get them excited about natureis through their own interactions with the natural environment.During the warmer days, we take hikes, sit outside at night, visitwildlife centers, etc. Also, my children help plant and maintainvegetables and flowers we grow in our own backyard. The importantthing is that nature gives my children inspiration, entertainment,comfort and perspective. As modern life becomes more complex andover-stimulating, an appreciation of our natural world offers mychildren a gift that will last a lifetime.”

Natalie Stover

“While my kids love being outside and


Garfield Park Conseravtory is one of Chicago’s hidden treasures- beautiful, historical and packed with free activities for thebudding horticulturalist (or bored kiddie). Or if you’re makingyour own adventure, print out the conservatory’s Eye Spy Hunt before you go.

Garfield Goats

One weekend a month, June 8 – Oct. 12. The
conservatory has found a great way to keep its grass mowed: goats.
One week a month, goats will be munching up prairie grass and the
public is invited to see them.

Wild Wednesdays

Last Wednesday of every month, drop in anytime betwen 3 p.m.and 6 p.m.

Meet live animal presenterScott
Heinrichsand get a close-up look at some fascinating
critters. And get an animal painted on your face.

Backyard Bingo Scavenger Hunt

 Drop in anytime between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Agreat way to learn about the conversatory grounds. Take your bingocard and look for Amazonin lillies, historic bulls and backyardbees, among other species. Cards are available at the frontdesk.

Garfield Park Conservatory – Open for Business


The Chicago Botanic Garden just opened its Grunsfeld Children’sGrowing Garden and is planning a summer of interative programs.

The garden is having free drop-in activities every Saturday and Sunday,
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Immerse yourself in the habitat of butterflies with their Butterflies in Bloom exhibition, through Sept.
3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily when the weather’s nice.

Children’s planting garden at Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden will get a little help this summerwith planting, although some of the new gardeners may look a littlesmall. On June 2, the new Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden willkick off a summer of interactive programs.

The Botanic Garden has always offered children the opportunityto plant, but in the past, it’s always been in a pot the child thentook home, says Eileen Prendergast, Youth and Family Programdirector. This is the first dedicated space where children canplant and later come back to see how their contribution to thegarden is growing.

The 10,000-square-foot children’s garden will be used fordrop-in and family programs, as well as summer camps. A number ofthe growing beds are raised to accommodate wheelchairs for childrenwith disabilities. Classes for children as young as 2 will givethem the chance to plant and harvest. The area is enclosed sochildren can roam safely.

“Our philosophy is you’re never too young to appreciategardening and appreciate nature,” Prendergast says. “It’s difficultto explain to a 4-year-old about pollution and global warming, butif you can get them to love a plant or being outside, that willstay with them.”

The growing garden will offer drop-in activities 11 a.m.-4 p.m.on weekends.

The Botanic Garden is also working on another area that willappeal to children-The Cove. This pond will have a protected wadingarea where kids can put on waders and check out aquatic lifeup-close. The Cove is expected to open in the fall. A new LearningCenter with indoor classrooms also is in the works.

Entry to the Botanic Garden is free, although it is $20 to park.For more information, visit chicagobotanic.org.


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