Chicago is full of places that can captivate both the well-seasoned and budding green thumbs in your family. The question is: How will you get your green on?
If you haven’t yet said hello to that green side of your family, perhaps you’ll consider it soon.
Besides deepening the natural connection children have with the earth, gardening teaches many great lessons along the way. I’ve seen my own two children evolve from being just seed holders to budding green thumbs. Besides their emerging skills giving us the pleasure of devouring some homegrown tomatoes and seeing our flowers bloom, they’ve also learned about responsibility, patience, kindness and love. And let’s not forget those interesting animal encounters that come along with getting your green on.
Although there is nothing those little green thumbs love more than getting their hands in dirt, a true naturalist at heart will also enjoy the many beautiful gardens and nature-inspired places in our city, as well as the many activities that can stem from having a green thumb.
So after visiting your local garden shop or your own garden, I encourage you to visit these places to learn more about gardening and allow your children’s curiosity factor to kick in.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is home to a myriad of plants, including almost all flowers and vegetables imaginable. This wonder in Glencoe is spread over 385 acres and features 26 gardens and four natural areas; the perfect setting to deepen their love for nature and gardening. Walking along the garden paths is like emerging yourself into an awesome interactive class: there is always something to explore and learn. Our favorites are the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, the Japanese Garden, Waterfall Garden and Model Railroad Garden. Yes, there are trains involved! Before you think that walking along gardens is all you can do, let me just tell you that running around, jumping from stones, biking, hiking and even having a picnic can all be part of your next adventure. The Garden has activities all year round and super cool camp opportunities.
The Garfield Park Conservatory is amazing for introducing your children to their green thumb and nurturing their love for learning. I love that you can let the kids run wild outdoors in the Play & Grow Garden. From making mud pies and to jumping from the tree trunks, to playing in the teepee, there’s fun galore! Indoors, the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden is the place to be. Who doesn’t love a huge slide? Besides that, children learn about nature through different hands-on activities such as soil digging and nature-inspired projects. One event I’d recommend is Morning Glories, filled with stations that spark curiosity and make your kids want to come back. However, don’t limit yourself to visiting just the children’s gardens. The rest of the Conservatory is just as charming with many lovely sights.
Cantigny Park in Wheaton is a great combination of nature and history. On its grounds you’ll find the McCormick Museum, taking us back into the times of war. Outside you can let the photographer in your children shine through. There is no doubt that nature is inspiring. Why not capture that in photos? Perhaps you see a flower or shrub you’d like to add to your future garden plants; you can let your children practice their photography skills. Afterwards, why not do some bird watching? Perhaps you’ll find all 28 species that live nearby. While bird watching, you can teach your children about what our role is in providing a safe habitat for animals and the importance of caring for our Earth. The ending to this great nature walk and talk is enjoying the playground.
The Morton Arboretum in Lisle is one of our favorites for mixing education and fun together, and yes, for being full of trees. However, that is not all you will be enjoying given that their collection has over 222,000 plants from 40 countries. The Backyard Discovery Gardens and Adventure Woods are must visit places, featuring engaging activities and structures that children will absolutely love. I mean, what kid doesn’t love some climbing a tree house?
Besides being extremely fun, the Arboretum is quite educational, helping children learn about the way plants work, how they grow from seeds and what they need to grow. Visiting this magnificent place is emerging yourself in a sensory-filled adventure that leaves unforgettable smells, sights and noises in your mind. Definitely worth the trip!