A (free!) day at Millennium Park

Exposing the kids to all the sights, sounds and culture of Chicago can get pretty pricey for a family, but with the return of Millennium Park’s free Family Fun Festival, June 9-Sept. 3, we can experience the best of Chicago at minimal expense.

Millennium Park’s Family Fun Festival runs June 9 – Sept. 3.

The festival, presented by Target, is a combination of hands-on activities, performances and events. My sons are always eager to get to the Family Fun Tent (open 10 a.m.-3 p.m.) located on the park’s Chase Promenade North where they can play, watch a show or create an art or science project. Projects change each week as Chicago’s museums and cultural institutions take turns coordinating activities. For example, visit June 14-20 to find “Mexico: A Festival of Toys” presented by the Chicago Children’s Museum or stop by Aug. 9-15 for the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Science and Exploration Week.”

Young children will enjoy singing along with Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms every day at 10 a.m. You can catch storytellers and a reading circle at 11 a.m. or live performances by local artists each day at 1 p.m. Beyond activities and entertainment, the tent is a great respite from the sun.

Festival programming also includes two special family events. Emerald City Theatre will bring its comedic production of “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” to the park’s Great Lawn at noon on Sundays in August, and the Chinese Fine Arts Society will wind its way through the park at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22 with the tale of “QiXi: A Chinese Love Story.”

Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion is also the site of great performances. My family has watched the CSO rehearse and dance troupes practice, all for free, and all amazing. Its lawn is also a great open space where kids can play tag or catch.

In addition to the Family Festival, no trip to Millennium Park is complete without racing around Cloud Gate and splashing through Crown Fountain. Enjoy a stroll through Lurie Garden to explore native flora. It’s a great place for a color-themed “I Spy.”

My family always finishes the afternoon downtown with some treats, maybe ice cream or dessert from Park Grille. We go home exhausted and happy.

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