Beat back summer brain drain at these Chicago hot spots

We’re midway through summer and you can already see everything your kids learned in school slipping away like the waterdrops off their swimsuits. It’s time to start thinking about heading off complete summer brain drain.

Luckily, the Chicago area offers plenty of opportunities to have some fun while sneaking in a little learning about history, art and geography.

Here are a few ideas to make sure little brains stay engaged the rest of the summer.

Family outings can be easily adapted depending on the age of the child, and activities before or after a visit to a local landmark can supplement what you’ve learned.

We’re midway through summer and you can already see everything your kids learned in school slipping away like the waterdrops off their swimsuits. It’s time to start thinking about heading off complete summer brain drain.

Chicago and its suburbs offer hands-on opportunities to learnabout the history of those who settled the land. Step back intolife on a farm in the 1890s at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago.One of the kid favorites (this will surprise most moms and dads) isthe farm chores programs, says Keith McClow, education site managerfor Kline Creek.

“One of our biggest ones is the laundry process. They want to doit again and again with the scrub board and the soap,” McClow says.Mom’s farm chores are highlighted on Mondays; dad’s are featured onThursdays. During dad’s farm chores programs, kids erect ascaled-down version of a timber-framed farmhouse.

“It’s small enough for kids to lift the pieces andassemble, and then they can climb up on it and see how sturdy itis,” McClow says. Kids also like collecting the eggs from thechicken coop or listening to stories from that timeperiod.

To supplement the learning, visit your library for booksby Laura Ingalls Wilder or Elsie Dinsmore, two young girls whowrote about life in pioneer times, McClow says.

Celebrate history


An African safari isn’t in the cards for this summer, butluckily we have two world-class zoos filled with animals fromaround the world. Instead of just dragging kids from ape house toreptile house to the way-too-expensive gift shop, try takingshorter trips focused on a single animal. Kids can study animalbehavior or use field guides to identify the animals in a specificexhibit.

“This might be a great activity for parents and kids this summerto learn about the science of animal behavior and then try out someof the things they learned when they visit the zoo,” says LeahMelber, the Lincoln Park Zoo’s director of student and teacherprograms.

  • Take our interactive Lincoln Park Zoo for Little Feet tour
  • Check out zoos’ online educational guides (Brookfield’s is here and Lincoln Park’s is here). Lincoln Park Zoo has “Zoo Tracks” on a
    number of different themes. Each guide highlights five species of
    animals living in various locations around the zoo. Pull up fact
    sheets about different animals on the website, then visit the zoo.
    Zoo Tracks offer questions to consider when you see the
    animal.
  • Or, print out the “Species Safari” field guides that focus oneither the Regenstein African Journey or the Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House. To gear
    up for the visit, parents and kids can research the animals they’ll
    be seeking out and learn about them from the fact sheets on the
    website, Melber says.
  • For older kids, visit ethosearch.org. Ethograms are a list of
    possible behaviors an animal might exhibit, and researchers use
    this list when conducting studies, Melber says. Kids can print out
    ethogram data sheets for different species, not only those at the
    zoo but ones found at home such as squirrels, cats and dogs.

Take a walk on the wild side


Chicago’s art museums give kids a chance to learn about artistsand create a little art of their own.

The Elmhurst Art Museum offers
summertime drop-in programs that are free with admission. The
museum’s staff teaches classes about one of the exhibitions and
guides children as they create a project based on this artistic
influence. The drop-in programs are from 10 a.m.-noon Wednesdays
and Fridays. Fridays are also free admission days, so you can do
the whole morning without opening your wallet. The drop-in programs
are for all ages, even the very young.

The Art Institute and the Museumof Contemporary Art also offer programs throughout the summer
for kids to learn about artists and create a piece of their own to
take home.

Get artsy


Chicago has a wealth of opportunities for learning about othercountries and cultures.

Chinatown is one of the few ethnic neighborhoods inChicago that’s more than just a commercial district-families maketheir home here, so visitors are truly immersed in the language,colors and customs of the Far East. Visit one of the many storesfor trinkets, snag a large bag of fortune cookies for a bargain ata bakery, or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. Ifthe weather’s nice, pack a picnic and sit along the river at PingTom Memorial Park.

Tour:Chicagofor Little Feet tour

To learn about our country’s Mexican heritage, visit theNational Museum of Mexican Art, a free museum in the heart of thePilsen neighborhood whose brightly colored artwork will even appealto young children. Follow up the museum by trying out sometraditional Mexican dishes at nearby Nuevo Leon (1515 W. 18th St.),
where food is cheap and portion sizes are huge (cash only). On nice
summer days, street vendors sell mangos and traditional Mexican
popsicles. Pilsen is by the Chicago River, 16th Street, Western
Avenue and Canal Street

Tour: Pilsen

Go ethnic


With the miles and miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in the cityand the suburbs, consider doing a little beachcombing when youvisit. While we don’t have the exotic starfish and seashells foundnear the ocean, there’s plenty here to interest kids whileencouraging a little learning.

Related: The 10 kid-friendliestbeaches in Chicago

At Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, north of the city, littlebeachcombers will find almost two miles of unspoiled shoreline toexplore. In addition to beach glass and driftwood of all shapes andsizes, kids can look for impressions of coral or other ancientanimals and plants.

“There are large white outcroppings, like a sea wall, andif you’re climbing on them you can see that quite a few havefossils embedded in them,” says Jamie Zaplatosch, educationdirector for Openlands.

Consider bringing a sketch book and having kids makedrawings or rubbings of what they find, says Charles Mutschuller,Openlands’ communication director. Capture it with a photograph orvideo.

Or find a nature center closer to home to look for
plants, trees and rocks. Consider packing a Peterson guide to help
identify what you see. Or take photos of the plant life or fossils
and identify them at home, using books from the library.

Hit the beaches


Get tips from the experts! We asked five Chicago Public Schoolteachers how to keep kids sharp over the summer at home – read whatthey said!

5 more ways to stay sharp

Stamp out summer brain drain with these tips from Chicago teachers

Summer is for lazy days at the beach, barbecues, baseballgames, picnics and the pool. It’s time to unplug from busy schoolyear schedules, to relax, to get outdoors, to play.

Unfortunately, research by theNationalSummer Learning Institute has shown that many children lose one
to three months of learning over the summer. So summer is also the
ideal time to encourage learning through hands-on, fun and active
fieldwork and projects.


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