Tree House Tales at Morton Arboretum

It’s no secret that the Morton Arboretum is a great place for kids to run and explore. But what can they do when all those trees are off-limits to little feet just itching to climb?

That’s where Tree House Tales comes in. The new exhibition is made up of six kid-friendly, educational “tree houses,” although they’re probably not quite what you think. Each tree house is built around the concept of a namesake tree, which stands nearby.

I took my 2-year-old nephew to explore the new area and we had a blast. Although he’s too young to appreciate the educational aspects (signs present facts about the different trees, and the Silver Maple Tree House focuses on how trees make food), he loved the chance to duck through doorways, climb ladders and fly down a slide.

Imaginative play abounds, with the opportunity to play in a settlers’ cabin, an old-fashioned clubhouse (with a sign that proclaims “No Grown Ups Allowed”) and a barn-red doghouse, not to mention my nephew’s favorites, the Empress Tree Castle and White Pine Ship. He passed the time pretending to be a farmer, driving a car, and using the ship’s spyglass.

Fortunately for active kids, the houses are spaced far enough apart to allow for freedom to run. And although the exhibit is aimed at kids 2-10, the open space means it easily could appeal to those outside that age range.

The area isn’t particularly shady, but the houses offer some refuge from the sun. And since the exhibition is a half-mile from the Visitor Center, the nearby port-a-potty was a wise choice. But be sure to bring along sunscreen and some water, especially on hot days. Or take a few minutes to swing by the Children’s Garden for a quick splash in the stream.

For families looking to make a day of it and get the most bang for their buck, Tree House Tales would make a great way to split up the hours. With picnic tables in close proximity to the houses, an outdoor lunch is another great option, so grown-ups can sit and eat while little ones work off their energy.

On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer, the educational aspect will be amped up, with volunteers on hand to share details about the trees. The arboretum’s “Family Twilight Adventures” also will be themed around the tree houses, as will several other summer programs.

Morton plans to expand the exhibition next summer with additional houses. But it already feels complete – and a great place for kids to climb, run and make believe all summer long.

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