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101 summer ideas in Chicago for your family

Now that the initial excitement of summer is waning, the “I’m bored” is kicking in. If you’ve run out of ideas to keep the whining at bay, we’ve come up with 101 things to do to fill your lazy summer days.

    1. Set up a tent in the backyard and have a close-to-home camping trip.

    2. Catch fireflies, watch them glow and set them free.

    3. Dig for worms.

    4. Join a fun sports camp or program at your local park district.ChicagoParkDistrict.com.

    5. Explore the Maggie Daley Park where you’ll find endless hours of fun from rock climbing to sliding down the winding slides in the Play Garden.

    6. Visit one of the many attracttions at Cantigny Park. Each day is filled with new adventures and discoveries from World War I tanks to nature trails. 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton.

    7. Find some rocks around your backyard and paint fun animals or shapes on them.

    8. Play a few rounds of frisbee with your family or dog (if you have one).

    9. Plant a flower bed or vegetable garden.

    10. Take a family board game outside to the deck.

    11. Watch a sunset.

    12. Make a homemade birdfeeder for the birds around your neighborhood.

    13. Get a telescope and look for stars and planets.

    14. Go to a local pond or riverwalk and feed the ducks.

    15. Lie down in your backyard and cloud watch. Try to find images or specific shapes within the clouds.

Explore Chicago’s great outdoors


  1. Head to North Avenue Beach downtown or Centennial Beach in the western suburbs and build a sandcastle.
  2. Have a splash in Highland Park’s newly rennovated Rosewood Beach. You can also visit one of the three protected coves, rent a paddleboard or even climb up the shaded beach playground.
  3. Backyard beach day. Bring out a cooler, beach toys, a plastic pool and make your own version of Lake Michigan.
  4. Round up a bucket and doggie shampoo and have a doggie wash day.
  5. Visit the Bean at Millennium Park and splash in Crown Fountain.
  6. Make a wet and wild obstacle course with sprinklers and a slip ‘n’ slide.
  7. Play liquid limbo! Grab the hose and use the water as a stick.
  8. Open a family car wash. Help wash cars or even bikes and scooters.
  9. Inflate your wading pool, fill up some water balloons and throw a pool party.
  10. Don’t have a sprinkler? That’s OK! Make your own by cutting holes into a soda bottle and placing the hose through the top.
  11. Play a round of Marco Polo in the pool.

Chicago’s hot – find some water to cool off


  1. For a special treat, head to Black Dog Gelato on Damen Avenue in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Your kids will like the basic fruit flavors, while you get to indulge one of their unique flavors such as the Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel or Maple Cayenne Bacon.
  2. Make homemade pizza and watch a movie.
  3. Take a worldwide trip without leaving Chicago. Visit Chinatown or Little Italy. Try eating something new.
  4. It’s backwards day! Start with dinner and have breakfast at night. Wear your clothes backwards.
  5. Build a campfire and make s’mores together as a family!
  6. Pick berries and other seasonal fruit at an orchard near you.
  7. Get an Italian ice at Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand in University Village, 1066 W. Taylor St., Chicago. Try a fun flavor like pinneapple or cantaloupe.
  8. Go to your local grocery store or farm and cook dinner together as a family with some fresh, seasonal produce.
  9. For some entertainment with your meal, visit the All Aboard Diner in Downers Grove where each meal is delivered by a toy train.

Find some yummy ‘summery’ treats in Chicago


  1. Build a robot out of things you find in your recycling bin.
  2. Buy a disposable camera and a photo album. Make a scrapbook of the photos the kids took.
  3. Attend one of the many art festivals happening this month including the Old Town Art Fair and the Wells Street Art Fair. They both run from June 11-12.
  4. Now that you’re inspired, create your own art masterpieces at home.
  5. Use boxes to make houses for stuffed animals. Get really creative and make your own wallpaper and furniture.
  6. Make your own playdough.
  7. Make a paper chain counting down to when school starts (this might be mom’s favorite).
  8. Check out the Weekend Animal Arts and Seasonal Stories Program at the Mitchell Museum. This Evanston museum has an impressive collection of American Indian artifacts, most touchable. Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons include a take-home craft project and a lesson about tribes and the animals within them.
  9. Build a clubhouse and have a secret meeting.
  10. Make bottle cap bugs. Use googly eyes and glitter to really make them glow.
  11. Set down some paper on the driveway and try your hand at finger painting.
  12. Create sand art. The only materials needed are paper, sand and glue.
  13. Make a windchime with string, plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

Let Chicago inspire and supply your little artists


  1. Put on a skit. Dig through your Halloween costumes for inspiration for characters.
  2. Wait until it gets dark and tell ghost stories.
  3. Join a dance class for fun and try out a new style, such as jazz, tap, ballet and even breakdance at the ABC Dance Academy downtown. Private and group lessons are offered for kids and adults.
  4. Have a Dr. Seuss Day. Read the books and make green eggs.
  5. Learn to whistle. Have a contest to see who’s loudest.
  6. Grab your friends and jam out together to some of your favorite summer songs.
  7. Play the drums. Make some from things in your cabinets.
  8. Have Christmas in July. Turn the air conditioning down low, get small gifts to wrap from the dollar store, and have cocoa and cookies.
  9. Talk with fun accents for an entire day.
  10. Try a new hairstyle and model it down the hallway runway!
  11. Have a puppet show! Create your characters using brown paper bags and construction paper. Or visit one in a chicagoland area near you!

Let your kids use Chicago as their stage


  1. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Meet new faces or see how many animals you can find!
  2. Have a neighborhood swap for toys and games.
  3. Invite some of the kids in the neighborhood to play a few rounds of Red Rover, duck-duck-goose or other fun group activities.
  4. Round up the neighborhood pets and have a pet show.
  5. Set up a lemonade stand and let the kids earn some money.
  6. Declutter the house and particpate in a neighborhood yard sale.
  7. Play a basketball game with neighbors at the local park.
  8. Bake a plate of cookies and take them to a new family in the neighborhood.
  9. Grab your chalk and decorate the sidewalks.
  10. Camp out in your backyard and have your kids invite their neighborhood friends. Build a fire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows before snuggling up in the sleeping bags.

Hey neighbor, whatcha doing later on?


  1. Make and fly paper airplanes.
  2. Rent a quadcycle and pedal as a family along the Chicago lakefront. Find them at several locations through Bike and Roll Chicago.
  3. Play hopscotch.
  4. Get a piñata to fill and hit.
  5. Play leapfrog.
  6. Solve a mystery game. Create clues around the house for the kids to follow.
  7. Play while doing good. Have your kids come up with a goal – 100 jumping jacks or cartwheels, for instance – and collect pledges to give to a worthy cause.
  8. Play dress up and make believe. Let your imaginations go wild.
  9. Play a round of hide-and-seek around the house. See who finds the best hiding spot!
  10. Have a pillow fight with old pillows around the house.
  11. Stormy weather? Spend the day playing active Wii games inside.
  12. Have a hoola hoop competition.
  13. Go bowling. You can even register your kids at kidsbowlfree.com to get up to two free games during the summer at select locations.
  14. Grab a deck of cards and play a few rounds of Go Fish.

Indoor and outdoor summer games for your kids


  1. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago on a Thursday evening from 5-8 p.m. when it’s free for everyone from the state of Illinois. Kids 14 and under are always free.
  2. Get some air. Head to Cricket Hill at 660 W. Montrose Drive, Chicago, with your favorite kites and watch them soar against the stunning skyline.
  3. Take a hike, bike, picnic, boat and don’t miss the huge antlered elk at Ned Brown Preserve, know as Busse Woods, in Elk Grove Village.
  4. Visit a Chicago Food Festival. From wings to ribs to hot dogs, there is sure something for your whole family to enjot this summer.
  5. Experience teh encounter of nearly 1,000 exotic butterflies with a visit to the Notebaert Nature Museum’s Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. The museum is free for Illinois residents on Thursdays.
  6. Hit the movies. At Classic Cinemas, every Wednesday until Aug. 10 features a G or PG rated movie. Get there early for games and activities. Doors open at 9 a.m., movie begins at 10 a.m. Admission is .
  7. Visit the animals at the Brookfield Zoo and feed the parakeets, walk with the Wallaby’s or even chill with the red panda in the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit.
  8. Experience a mission to the moon, discover how our galaxy was formed, or even learn what it means to be a planet at the Adler Planetarium this summer. Select days are free to Illinois residents with a valid ID.

Best Chicago spots to visit over the summer


  1. Talk to the kids about summer safety.
  2. Download Lincoln Park zoo’s free, interactive iPad book, “Chimps Should be Chimps” at chimpsshouldbechimps.com to learn more about these entertaining animals.
  3. Have a read-a-thon with your kids to see who can read the most books this summer.
  4. Tackle science. Visit the Museum of Science and Industry’s website for simple experiments you can do at home.
  5. Go grocery shopping and have your child try to add up the cost before getting to the register.
  6. Purchase a butterfly kit and watch nature grow.
  7. If your planning on going on a trip or vacation, include your children to help plan it out. It’s not only fun, but it teaches them the importance of planning and time management.
  8. Buy a book for identifying birds or wildlife in your area. See what you can find in your own backyard or around the neighborhood!
  9. Write a story or play together and act it out afterwards.
  10. If your children enjoy videogames, play an educational one with brain teasers or higher-level thinking to keep their minds active.

Don’t let summer brain drain set in


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