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If your little train lover is about to turn one year older, make yourself a really useful engine and throw a Thomas the Train party. With a little imagination, turn your house into a bustling railroad station and get ready to host the most exciting birthday party of the year. All aboard!

thomas-invitephoto: Julius Scissor on Etsy

Send Out the Itinerary

Let your guests know about the train-filled adventure by sending tickets out ahead of the big day. These make-shift ticket invites will have your kiddo’s friends all RSVPing in a jiffy. Available from JuliousScissor on Etsy, they are customized and sent to you via email. Simply send the finished file to a printer and you’ll be ready to ship.

If you’re up to the challenge of DIY invites, check out this tutorial from The Youngest at Heart on creating train ticket invites. Grab paper and scissors, and get ready to wow your friends and family!

img_3267-2photo credit: I.D. Mommy

Get Dressed for the Main Event

If you want to go all out, check out this Sir Topham Hat and Thomas the Train Wagon tutorial. Guests will be talking about this look for days and your little might not want to take it off.  And, after all your hard work, you might just let him keep it on!

A simple but festive way to make sure the star of the day is ready to greet passengers upon arrival is donning a pair of classic OshKosh Overalls. Once your little tyke is decked out in these duds, add a few accessories—hat, bandana, whistleand he’ll feel like he’s boarded the birthday train.

thomas-dressphoto: The Sew Princess Boutique

Sure, girls can rock a pair of overalls. But if your train lover is a little lady and looking for something more feminine, check out these polka dot dresses with matching bows from The Sew Princess Boutique on Etsy. With the adorable shoulder bows and matching hair bow, the birthday star will truly shine.

thomasthetrainbirthday1_stephanieandlukeblogspot_redtricyclephoto: Stephaneandluke.blogspot.com

Set the Scene

Lead guests to the station with “tracks” of black tape lining the sidewalks. Welcome guests with balloons or a DIY sign. They’ll get excited as they imagine they’re entering the Island of Sodor for the birthday train adventure. Keep the tracks going inside like Stephanie and Luke for major impact.

thomas-place-settingphoto: Stiletto Lawyer

For Thomas-themed table settings, you can’t go wrong by incorporating bright primary colors. Not only will you pay homage to each of the useful engines, but it’ll make a festive scene too! Check out Stiletto Lawyer’s red, white, and blue decor. The plush Thomas the Train centerpiece (with balloons, of course) makes for a fun, simple and kid-friendly way to decorate.

thoas-paper-suitephoto: ChoosaRoo via Etsy

If DIY talk leaves you feeling like you’re on a runaway railroad car, consider purchasing a Train Birthday Party Printable Package. This is an easy way to coordinate everything from food labels to banners and more. Most packages even include matching invites and thank you notes to keep the up coordinated look before and after the party!

food-serving-trainphoto: Tonya Staab

Prep the Dining Car

Create a snack-carting train by purchasing mini tin-foil trays and gluing cut-out wheels like Tonya Staab did. Set up a Thomas toy to lead the way, and fill the trays with tasty treats like tortilla chips and salty pretzels so kiddos can go down the line and peck as they please.

Continue the train theme into the main course. Kendra at Me and My Insanity crafted a sub sandwich and then used toothpicks to add wheels. Since you can order in a sub sandwich or craft one up ahead of time, you’ll be able to enjoy the party ride and take in the sights with your guests. If a train just won’t do for the main course, consider adding a fruit or veggie train!

Keep the party chugging along by adding a few drinks that will spice up the party decor and add yumminess to the table. Kendra from On My Side of the Room went all out with beautiful water dispensers that will work great for this party and any in the future! Simply add a little magic sign that says “Diesel Fuel” or “Water Tower”, and the kiddos will be loving their Thomas the Train inspired drinks.

blowing-out-candles-thomas-cakephoto: Richard Gillin via Flickr

The Clever Cake

A birthday party isn’t complete without a cake, and a Thomas party calls for a Thomas cake. No matter your baking skills, you’re going to leave guests impressed whether you use this Thomas Cake Pan or go all out with this handcrafted 3D version. Don’t forget the candles!      

If you can’t decide on the flavor of the cake, get busy making a cupcake train. Check out TeenyTinyCakes for step-by-step instructions on a picture perfect display.

thomas-pin-the-1-finalphoto credit: PBS

Entertain the Passengers

Real steam engine or not, there’s no need to scratch your head over train-related activities. Kids love classic party games, so why not include those with a little twist? Try Pin the 1 on Thomas, Bingo or if you’re feeling adventurous, why not a piñata?

traingames_crackofdawncrafts_thomasthetrainpartyideas_redtricyclephoto: Crack of Dawn Crafts

Help your little ones get their energy out by holding train races! Try these homemade, cardboard trains from Redheads Plus One and see which little engine can move the quickest! Based on the age of your guests, don’t be scared to give them a special challenge and make the course a bit harder. Maybe you’ll drop ballon “boulders” that kiddos need to keep in the air or spread out bubble wrap “ice” for jumpers to clear.

Put your really useful crew of guests to work by setting up Thomas and Friends crafts. Check out Craftulate for instructions on making your own party costumes and creating a group train.  

traintable_joshmazgelis_flickr_thomasthetrainparty_redtricyclephoto: Josh Mazgelis via flickr

If your tyke is not already the proud owner of a train table, a party might be the perfect time to get, or maybe even make, one. In no time, you’ll have a perfect activity for guests, scene-setting decor and a birthday present that will be used for years. If you prefer something smaller scale, this train set from IKEA is reasonably priced and still lots of fun!

goodybags_whatrachelmadetoday_thomasthetrainparty_redtricyclephoto: What Rachel Made Today

End of the Line

As the party train approaches the final stop, the kiddos will be excited for Thomas party favors to take home. We’re liking What Rachel Made Today‘s simple way of decorating. Purchase a simple blue bag and train-related stamps to decorate the party favor bags. Add a personalized touch with a name tag, and we’re sure each kid will be clamoring for theirs before the day is up.

Don’t forget to fill the bag with amazing goodies! This Little Engineers Set of a cap, bandana and train whistle will bring back the memories of the party. Add a candy train to the bag to keep the conductors full throughout their journey.

By giving each little conductor a Thomas and Friends-First Look and Find book, you’ll not only give them a fun favor to take home, but you’ll also have an extra activity on hand. As the party winds down, pass out the favors and you’ll have conductors sitting quietly as they search for items on each page. Breathe! What a success!

thomas-thank-you-cardphoto credit: PBS

Don’t Stop Yet

After the train has left the station and the party has come to an end, be sure to send a thank you to show your appreciation. It’s a great habit for littles and there’s a free template from PBS. No more excuses!

3856100382_1c6c212eef_zphoto credit: Steve VunCannon via Flickr

You might think the fun ends there, but if you have a true train aficionado on your hands, make his or her dreams come true by gifting a “Day out with Thomas.” With this ticket, your little will take a ride, meet Sir Topham Hat and spend a day surrounded by everything Thomas. Who says the fun needs to end when the party’s over?

Have you planned a Thomas the Train bash? Share your success in the comments section below.

—Lisa Snart, Christal Yuen and Claire Schillings

 Check out other birthday party themes HERE
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Hear ye! Hear ye! If you have little royalty on your hands, don’t miss the excitement and head to Once Upon a Castle, the latest temporary exhibit at the Chicago Children’s Museum. It invites kids to live out their dreams of feasting like a king or rescuing a princess. Don’t miss this opportunity to bring your fair ladies and noble knights to this fantastical play space. Read on to learn more!

once-upon-a-castle-2

Dress the part.
Before venturing up the tower or heading to the medieval market, kids can take their pick of crowns, cloaks, armor and more. Hung neatly at kid height, littles will enjoy exploring the collection of costumes and choosing the perfect outfit for their fairy tale adventure.

once-upon-a-castle

Explore the scene.
Kids, and parents, will love the bright open space of the exhibit. The clean lines of the tower, long feasting table and elegant yet simple throne make it easy for parents to keep an eye on their children but provide plenty of opportunities for kids to explore. Once kids get over the excitement of the rope bridge and velvet throne, they’ll suddenly notice secret tunnels and a dungeon.

Create an adventure.
The costumes and space are sure to spark a child’s imagination. Your littles may start with ideas from a familiar story like Rapunzel, but before you know it, the story will be headed in a different direction. There are so many possibilities within the space, which means the fun will just keep going. If your child needs a little something extra to get started creating his or her story, the hundreds of props throughout the exhibit will do the trick. Or maybe it’ll be a wizard wandering through the market that gets the creative juices flowing.

once-upon-a-castle-3

Plan your trip.
Once Upon a Castle is open until May 14 and is included with museum admission. Chicago Children’s Museum is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays for free family night from 5 p.m. -8 p.m.. Admission is also free the first Sunday of each month for guests 15 and younger.

once-upon-a-castle-4

Back to reality.
When all the fairy tales become too much, head back to reality and check out the other exhibits at the Chicago Children’s Museum. With a fire station, market, camp ground, huge water table and more, there’s something for everyone.

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., open until 8 p.m. on Thursday
Cost: $14
Chicago Children’s Museum
Located at Navy Pier
700 East Grand Avenue
312-527-1000
Online: chicagochildrensmuseum.org

Have you had a chance to visit Once Upon a Castle? Share your littles’ adventure below!

— Lisa Snart

Photos courtesy of Chicago Children’s Museum

Tap That: Maple Syrup Events & Adventures

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Our not-so-wintry winter is coming to a sweet finish! This means cool nights and warmer days, but with that comes the flow of maple sap and the maple syrup season. Yes, there is a maple syrup season in Chicago. Who knew? Your family can get in on the fun with these maple sugaring outings for all ages, from back-to-basics demonstrations to full-on festivals to pancake brunches. Reward your new knowledge with some pancakes or vanilla ice cream covered in syrup.

northparkphoto: Chicago Park District

In Chicago: Maple Tapping with the Family
Learn how syrup goes from tree to table and taste the sweet results. You’ll see the process from start to finish, from tapping the maple tree to boiling sap to make syrup. (It takes a whopping 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup!) Finish the day by sampling the goods right off the fire. The festival also includes walks through the sugar bush (a group of sugar maples), storytelling and craft making.

Mar. 4; 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Free
North Park Village Nature Center
5801 N. Pulaski Rd.
312-744-5472
Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

In Oak Brook: Maple Syrup! Kid’s Day Off
Get the kids off the couch and into the woods for their day off school. They’ll enjoy a sugaring adventure to discover how Native Americans and pioneers made maple syrup.  While they’re at it, they’ll learn how to identify and tap maple trees, collect sap and boil sap into syrup.

Mar. 3, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
$6/person; ages 6-8 & 9-13
Fullersburg Woods
3609 Spring Rd.
Oak Brook
630-850-8110
Online: dupageforest.com

naper-maplephoto: Naper Settlement

In Naperville: Maple Sugaring Days
Try your hand at old-fashioned drills and tapping spouts, and lug a yoke and bucket the way the early Naperville settlers would have done. Your curious worker bee will be interested to know that maple syrup was the most important food sweetener in the U.S. until the end of the Civil War. Collecting sap was hard work requiring many people, and making it a celebration of spring turned drudgery into a joy.

Mar. 11 & 12; Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun., 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
$12 adults; $8 youth (4-12)
Naper Settlement
523 S. Webster St.
Naperville
630-420-6010
Online: napersettlement.org

In Batavia: Maple Fest
Watch a tree tapping demonstration and learn all about the process of making syrup at the Red Oak Nature Center. Programs begin every hour, on the hour. Purchase a maple snack and enjoy it while taking in beautiful views of the Fox River.

Mar. 18, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Free
Red Oak Nature Center
2343 S. River St.
Batavia
630-897-1808
Online: foxvalleyparkdistrict.org

maple-mortonphoto: Morton Arboretum

In Lisle: Syrup Tree and Silver Dollar Brunch
Families start their adventure with a hike down to Morton Arboretum’s tapped sugar maple tree to see how sap flows and is collected. After traveling down the trail, kids will learn how to drill into a tree and take turns practicing with a tool on a fallen log. It all ends with brunch, including pancakes, sausages, fruit, a special maple treat and beverages.

Mar. 18 & 19, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
$18/members; $25/non-members (registration required & includes admission)
Morton Aboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle
630-958-0074
Online: mortonarb.org

In Schaumburg: Sugar Bush Fair
Your kids will flip for the pancake breakfast. But the main focus is still the sweet and fascinating syrup. You’ll learn to process sugar the way pioneers would have, watch a puppet show and jump aboard a hayride.

Sat., Mar. 18 & 19, 9 a.m.-noon
Free admission; breakfast ranges $4-$6
Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm
1111 E. Schaumburg Rd.
Schaumburg
847-985-2100
Online: parkfun.com

In Riverwoods: Maple Syrup Hikes
Take a one-hour hike through the woods to learn about maple trees and taste sweet sap in one of the pretty Lake County Forest Preserves. On the trails, you pass historic buildings and through a dense forest. You might just feel like your family has been transported to a woodland retreat.

Sat. & Sun., Mar. 11-26, every half-hour from noon-2 p.m.
$6/person (advance registration required)
Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area
21950 N. Riverwoods Rd.
Riverwoods
847-968-3113
Online: lcfpd.org

Throughout the Area: Perhaps you’d rather cut right to the good stuff? Check out these local pancake hotspots to accompany your syrup.

What maple syrup season family celebration do YOU love? Shout about it in the Comments!

— Lisa Snart

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Pi — there’s no way around it. This famous irrational number is encountered every day in all things circular, from the pipes bringing water to your house to the soccer ball being kicked around the field. No need to stress about the mathematics involved, with the ratio of a circle’s circumference to diameter, but use it as an excuse to celebrate on March 14! Make the party planning easy by checking out these fun ideas that range from eating pie to running in the name of pi.

Bennisons Cakes Pi Dayphoto: Bennison’s Bakery Pi

Eat a pi(e). It’s a celebration, so why settle for just a slice of pie? Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston and Swedish Bakery in Andersonville are offering mini-pies for just $3.14. Choose your favorite flavor and dig right in!

Mar. 14; 6 a.m.-7 p.m.
Bennison’s Bakery
1000 Davis St.
Evanston
847-328-9434
Online: bennisonscakes.com

 

Pi Day Pi K croppedphoto: Illinois Science Council Pi Day Pi K

Go for a Stroll. Work off that pi(e) by signing up for the Pi Day Pi K Fun Run/Walk. On the evening of March 14, get the family moving for 3.14 miles at one of the 4 locations (Old Town, South Loop, Lincoln Park and Elmhurst) and then celebrate your exercise with a party at the finish! There is a $10 registration discount for students under 17 and you’ll be supporting the Illinois Science Council while having fun.

Mar. 14; 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Pi Day Pi K Fun Run
Fleet Feet Sports in Old Town, Lincoln Square & Oak Park
Online: PiDayRun.org

Eat a pizza pi(e). Simplify meal time by dialing up your local Lou Malnati’s for a some of that buttery, deep-dish goodness.

Online: loumalnatis.com

Lucky for you we have a list of America’s best pizza by state, just in case you’re on the road 3.14.

 

Museum of Science and Industry Brick by Brickphoto: Museum of Science and Industry

Test Your Engineering Skills. LEGOS may not be round, but the whole family will be amazed by the creations of all shapes and sizes on display in the Brick by Brick exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Admire the round shapes of the Hoover Dam and Roman Coliseum recreations. Kids can use their engineering knowledge to build structures to withstand earthquakes or get creative in the open build area.

Mar. 14; 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Hyde Park
773-684-1414
Online: msichicago.org

Play a Game. If you prefer to keep the celebration at home, pick up the Pie Face game for the whole family to enjoy. Siblings will wait in anticipation to see who will end up covered in cream and you might even have fun getting in on the action. Visit Building Blocks Toys or Cat & Mouse Games to pick up the game and get ready for a night of family fun! If you’re short on time, call ahead and the store will have your order waiting.

Mar. 14; 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Cat & Mouse Games
2212 W. Armitage
Bucktown
773-384-4454
&
1112 W. Madison St.
West Loop
312-465-2178
Online: Cat-n-mouse.com

Mar. 14; 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Building Blocks Toys
3306 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lakeview
773-525-6200
&
2130 W. Division St.
Wicker Park
773-235-1888
Online: buildingblockstoys.com

Do you have any fun Pi Day plans? Throw them at us in the Comments below!

—Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart

A Pop-Up Worth Popping Into

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If you’re not already living the Pearachute lifestyle, which means you have a pass to Chicagoland’s hottest classes for littles, the recently opened pop-up space might sway you to join.  Read on to learn why the sandbox, snacks and silliness now happening in the Pearachute Pop-Up Playroom are worth checking out.

Pearachute 3

Grab a Toy
Before you can even sign a waiver and take off your child’s shoes, he or she will most likely be checking out the toy-filled shelves.  From train tables to play food, the Pearachute Pop-Up Playroom has something for everyone.  Don’t forget about the giant sandbox – or should we say sandroom- that entertains kids when the weather doesn’t cooperate for a day at the beach.  You can cook up a snack or work on the tool bench along with your little one or take a seat at one of the spots along the window. The space might not be large, but there are plenty of toys to keep kids busy.  If your little one is into entertaining themselves, check the Playroom schedule for open play hours.

Partner Up
Pearachute knows how to do relationships — whether it’s helping out members or collaborating with entertainers and teachers.  By providing a space to hold classes, the Pop-Up Playroom makes it possible for even more classes to be offered, benefitting all of its partners.  Whether your kiddos want to exercise, tap a tune or take up a foreign language, the Playroom can make that happen.   Kids have been spotted boogying down at the Hip Hop Dance Party and belting out songs during Tunes with Tim.

Pearachute PopUp 2

Bring a Crowd
One of the really awesome benefits of having a class in a playroom is that there is plenty to do for siblings who might not be in the groove of that day’s offerings.  Just because bigger brother isn’t up for yoga — no need for others to miss out on the fun — let him play on his own in this safe space. Maybe you want to bring a friend? Everyone is welcome at the Pearachute Playroom.  Non-members can pop into open play for $10 or $15 for a class.  If you get hooked, you can apply that fee to a Pearachute membership. Weekly social events, from picnics to happy hours, will be held so that Pearachute families can get to know each other and plan their next adventure.

Pearachute PopUp

Get the Deats
The Pearachute Pop-Up is located in the former Kids Island space in Lincoln Park until September 18. Hours vary daily based on class offerings. If you forget the required socks, they are available for purchase.  There are a few snacks and drinks available for purchase if you or your kids need to refuel.

Pearachute Pop-Up Playroom
2205 N. Southport Ave.
Lincoln Park
Hours vary by day until September 18
More information online at: blog.pearachutekids.com/pop-up 

Have you checked out the Pearachute Pop-Up Playroom? Share your experience in the Comments below.

— Lisa Snart

Enjoy a Sweet Treat By the Park

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A visit to By the Park can satisfy the strongest sweet tooth with its creative selection of fresh baked treats.  Bring the family into this sweet spot to check out the cookies named after parks across the country and leave with an extra pep in your step thanks to the coffee, relaxing atmosphere and, of course, the delicious cookies.  Read on to learn why this Lincoln Park newcomer is a must visit and much like a walk in the park!

By the Park Cookie Owner

The Best Picnic Basket
The can’t miss items at By the Park are the freshly baked cookies.  Cookies inspired by non-cookie foods, like PB and Js, Funfetti birthday cakes, and cinnamon rolls are named after parks and baked with love.  These soft and flavorful indulgences are sure to please everyone who takes a bite. Gluten-free and vegan options are available.  If you’re feeling indecisive or have a group to feed, go with the “Day in the Park” and for $25 take home one of everything in the shop – eight cookies, three bars and two biscotti- and be guaranteed several happy mouths.

Millennium Park Blondiephoto: Millennium Park Blondie

Pick up a Stumptown Coffee or Rishi Tea and you’ll be picnicking in style. Nothing compliments a cookie for the little ones like a glass of milk, so of course that is available as well.

Casual and Inviting
Just like nearby Lincoln Park, the atmosphere of By the Park is welcoming to anyone who steps through the door, especially families.  Larger groups can spread out at the picnic tables and smaller tables are available if you’ve got a date with your tot. Kids might not stay put for long, because there’s a small play area tempting them away.  Toy trains, books, puzzles, a rocking moose and more can keep the kids entertained while you enjoy a few moments of quiet or catch up on work with the free Wi-Fi.

By the Park Play Area

Entertainment Included
Keep your eyes on the calendar on the By the Park Website to learn about special events hosted in store.  This past winter, story time and arts and crafts were hosted weekly.  More recently, kiddos have gotten busy creating “Puzzles for Papa” and for Mother’s Day the shop teamed up with Curate to host a pop up shop.

By the Park Cookie Shop Inside

Room to Spread Out
If you’re looking to host a crowd, By the Park rents out its calm and inviting space for parties.  With its simple design, ample seating and convenient location, consider this spot for a shower or birthday party.  Throw in some baked goods and guests might not want to leave! If you’re looking to add some deliciousness to an outside event, the friendly staff will assist you in choosing the perfect cookie assortment or favors.  Delivery is available via Caviar and Door Dash; maybe order some samples for dessert tonight?

Passion Abounds
By The Park founder, Isabel Carpenter, was once an investment banker but has followed her culinary calling to open this special cookie spot.  Her vision of creating a space that is more than just a cookie shop, but an entire experience is now a reality.  Bring the gang to check out the space or escape for a few moments on your own, either way- you’ll be welcomed with a smile and hopefully leave with some inspiration of your own!

By The Park
Hours: Tues.-Fri., 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
2342 N. Clark St.
Lincoln Park
312-585-7553
Online: bythepark.com

Have you had a chance to visit By the Park? Share your favorite sweet in the comments section below.

— Lisa Snart

Get Pumped to Explore Odyssey Play Place

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Imagine a play space created by a kindergarten teacher, dance instructor, youth pastor, mom and dad. It would be filled with fun and engaging activities, cozy spots for parents and never-ending opportunities for kids to explore. Good news! With the recent opening of Odyssey Play Place, there’s no need to just imagine anymore. Read on to learn how Jario and Leena Gavin drew upon their experiences to create the ideal play space that justifies a trip to Palatine.

Family Spring Fling!

The Dynamic Duo behind Odyssey
Mr. Jario and Ms. Leena are a husband and wife team and parents to a preschooler and a baby. They’ve worn a variety of hats and drew from their experiences when they dreamed up Odyssey Play Space.  Lucky for us, their vision is now a reality and we can visit the play place and kids can even take classes with each founder.  When opening Odyssey Play Space, the couple achieved their passion of “working together, parenting together and helping others.”  For the past two years, Mr. Jario was a full time stay-at-home dad.  Prior to that, he was a youth pastor, caregiver for his mother-in-law with Parkinsons and child drama instructor, among other roles.  Ms. Leena has worked as a kindergarten teacher in a variety of settings and as a dance instructor.  She wants Odyssey to help kids develop a lifelong love of learning.

Inviting all families with children ages 0-6 to join us for a TGIFN Event~ SPRING FLING! Dress up for a night of dancing, music, crafts, open play and celebrating Spring together! Odyssey Play Place is a new indoor creative play space for little ones; your home away from home! We are a whimsical world of discovery for little ones and a relaxing oasis for parents. ;) Our lounge offers couches, free coffee, water and wifi. Remember to wear SOCKS and feel free to bring in PEANUT FREE food. :) Join us for a fun filled event for the whole family!

The Kids-and You-Won’t Want to Leave
The inviting atmosphere of Odyssey Play Place makes it somewhere you want to stay and a place you want to return.  Whether the kids choose to dress up as a super hero, dance at the ballet bar, or slide into the pool filled with balls they’re sure to be having a fun time.  The space is divided into different areas, much like centers in a classroom.  There’s something for kids ages 0 through 6, including a colorful crawlers area, magical book tent, learning games, pretend play area and more.  There’s a comfortable lounge with tables, a cozy sectional, and free Wi-Fi and coffee.  You can sit back and relax as your kids play or join them in the fun in the play areas. There are kids’ tables with art and science supplies in the lounge as well. The cost of admission allows you to play for the whole day so you can pack a peanut-free lunch and hunker down. Even with all the choices, the space remains calm and nurturing.

Family Spring Fling!

Learn Something New
Kids are sure to soak up something while imagining and playing with the carefully selected toys and activities throughout Odyssey, but this hot spot takes things one step further by offering classes, including storytime and Move & Groove classes with Odyssey founders.  Ms. Leena leads a daily story time and focuses on different skills based on a specified age group.  It’s great preschool and kindergarten prep! Mr. Jario’s Move & Groove classes will get kids 2 and older active and having fun.  Kids practice things like following directions, working as a team and acting. Curious what will be covered on your visit? Check out the Odyssey Play Space website for weekly classes and themes.  Weekly learning themes are incorporated into lessons, games, crafts and more.

Family Spring Fling!

Celebrate Good Times
Odyssey Play Place makes it easy to throw a memorable birthday bash for your little one.  A range of party packages are available, but all include help with set-up and clean-up, making it easy for you to enjoy the celebration too! Maybe you want to celebrate someone who’s not so little, but keep the kids entertained? You can host an adult party in the lounge and let the kids wander the free play area or splurge to have staff entertain the kids with some games.

Family Spring Fling!

We’re Ready
If you and your little ones are pumped to play, put on your socks (required to enter) and head to Palatine.  Odyssey is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., and hours vary on Saturday based on private parties. Be sure to check out their website for daily class offerings and learning themes.

Odyssey Play Place
Cost: $12 first child, $8 siblings & crawlers, $6-crawlers without paying sibling, free for adults and non-crawlers with paying sibling
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; hours vary Sat., closed Sun.
395 W. Northwest Highway
Palatine
630-999-6004
Online at: odysseyplayplace.com

Have you had a chance to explore Odyssey Play Place? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

— Lisa Snart

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X marks the spot at the Randolph Street Market – the largest urban antique market in the country, where the whole family can go on a treasure hunt. Whether your idea of a treasure is a one-of-a-kind antique, a classic record, a sweet treat or a fun way to pass an afternoon, the Randolph Street Market provides all of the above and more. Read on to learn about the many offerings of the Market and start to plan your family adventure today!

Randolph St. Market 2

Who would enjoy this treasure hunt?
The Randolph Street Market offers something for everyone, young and old. In addition to booths filled with antiques and indie crafts, there’s food, music and activities to keep guests busy.  The Market is even stroller friendly, but all the goodies make for some tight aisles so you might choose to leave the double-wide at home. Adults pay $10 at the gate to enter, less if tickets are purchased in advance.  Kids under 12 are free and student discounts are available, too.  If you’re bringing the whole crew, be sure to check out the family packages.

Randolph St. Kid Coloring

What can we do on this journey?
As you enter through the front gate, kids can pick up a treasure map and activity sheet.  With over 8 acres and 250 vendors, there’s plenty to browse through at Randolph Street Market and much treasure to be found.  It’s bigger than any store in Chicago! The lively atmosphere makes it fun for even the hardest to please shoppers.  Look through the stalls and find plenty of things to teach your kids . . . maybe you’ll see a camera that takes film or a set of Encyclopedias (the original Google).  After browsing and finishing the scavenger hunt, kids can turn it in at the Washington Street Gate to pick a prize from the treasure chest and receive a goody bag with bubbles, crayons and more.

Randolph St. Kids

Wander through the stalls and you’ll eventually stumble into the children’s area in Plumbers Hall.  Kids won’t want to leave until they’ve visited the balloon artist and face painting booths.

All of this treasure hunting will leave your stomach grumbling, so be sure to check out the Market Bar which offers goodies for breakfast and lunch in addition to boozy beverages for grown-ups.  Treat yourself to the Bloody Mary Bar for a drink and snack in one.  The Market is a great chance to try trendy food vendors, too.  Dinky Donuts, Taco-in-a-Bag and Dia de los Tamales have made recent appearances at Randolph Street Market. If you’ve got picky eaters, check out the website for an up-to-date vendor list prior to each event.

Randolph St. Hippy Toes

Where can I begin this adventure? 
All of these activities can be found in Beaux Arts Plumbers Hall at 1340 West Washington Street in Chicago.  There’s even more fun to be had May through September when an outdoor section is added to the market.  Don’t worry if you miss it though, the air conditioned and heated Plumbers Hall offers plenty of options year round.

When can I set sail?
If your boots are laced and your telescope is ready for this treasure hunt, you’ll be happy to know that the market happens one weekend a month and twice in November and is open from 10am-5pm. The upcoming Garden Party Market on May 28 and 29 is the largest market of the year.

Randolph St. Market 5

How did this all begin?
In 2003, planner extraordinaire Sally Schwartz was busy raising her 6 year-old daughter and establishing the Chicago Antique Market.  Sally’s expertise in marketing, planning and mothering has helped make the event a fun experience for all. Since then, the Chicago Antique Market has expanded to become the Randolph Street Market and now attracts over 70,000 treasure hunters a year.

2016 Market Dates
May 28-29
June 25-26
July 30-31
August 27-28
September 24-25
October 29-30
November 19-20
November 26-27
December 10-11

Special One-Time Activity for Kids
Plan to be at the Market May 29 (noon-3 p.m.) when The Kids’ Table will be making a special appearance. They’ll be hosting a complimentary recipe making activity for kids in the East lot by the Shade Shack/kids activity area. Taking groups of 6 at a time, they’ll instruct kids on how to put together a quick recipe they can eat immediately. Their focus will be on teaching kids that healthy can be delicious!

Randolph Street Market
Beaux Arts Plumbers Hall
1340 W. Washington St.
West Loop
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: $10/adult at the gate; $8/adult in advance; free for ages 12 & under
312-666-1200
Online at: Randolphstreetmarket.com

What treasures have you found while exploring Randolph Street Market?  Share your experiences in the Comments below.

— Lisa Snart

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Trade in the coloring books for bags of icing at Doodle’s Doughnuts, where you can decorate your own sweet treat. This shop might be the new kid on the block, but it’s already proving itself as creative, convenient and most importantly – delicious. Read on to learn why this Old Town neighborhood spot is worth a visit.

Doodles Donut 2

Let the Doodling Begin
The Doodle Doughnut, a Bismark doughnut with white icing that comes with a piping bag of colored icing, is a great way to start your trip to this shop. Hang out with the family in a fun atmosphere and grab a seat at the communal chalkboard table to continue the doodling while munching away on your sweet creation.

Doodles Donuts Chalkboard

Don’t Stop There
A doughnut canvas is one delicious treat, but Doodle’s offers much more. Classic doughnuts like an old fashioned or apple fritter are served up alongside specialties like pink lemonade and hot chocolate doughnuts. New options continue to be added to the menu and gluten-free varieties have made their debut. If you’re looking for something to go along with your sweets, Doodle’s offers three varieties of bacon. Order up the standard, candied and honey Sriracha bacon. Mouth watering yet? You can’t go wrong with your choice of doughnuts and bacon, but make it even better with a cup of Metropolis coffee.

Doodles Donuts

Keep the Fun Going
Unlike many doughnut shops in the Chicagoland area that close when doughnuts run out, Doodle’s will stay open past dinnertime. Take your kids for dessert and be greeted with a wide selection of doughnuts. By keeping the lights on until nine on weekdays and midnight on weekends, Doodle’s can satisfy your family’s sweet tooth whenever the doughnut craving strikes. Bring everyone along as the space offers second story loft seating if you’re shy about sitting at the communal chalk board. Keep your eyes peeled for a sidewalk café as the weather warms.

Doodles Donuts Owners

A Little Doodle’s History
Owner Dana Lanier grew up in California with the nickname Doodle. Since then, she has lived with her family in the Philadelphia and Chicago areas where she missed the “Mom and Pop” doughnut shops of her childhood. Dana took matters into her own hands and started making her own doughnuts. Lucky us! Now, residents of Old Town and beyond are able to enjoy her sweet creations.

Doodle’s Doughnuts
1419 N Wells St.
Old Town
312-631-3339
Online at: doodlesdoughnuts.com
Hours: Sun.-Thurs, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 7 a.m.-midnight

Have you had a chance to Doodle? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below.

— Lisa Snart

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Chicago is ready to flip the switch. You’ll hear oohs and aahs when streets, shopping centers and parks light up for the holidays — and you can be there when it happens. If you can’t make the kick-off ceremonies, don’t worry: these hotspots will stay brilliantly lit through the end of December. Click through our guide to the best and brightest.

BMO Bank 2015 Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

The big guy in red makes a special trip from the North Pole to ho-ho-ho his way down North Michigan Avenue during this annual event. And it's not just Santa your kids will fawn over -- Mickey and Minnie Mouse are there, too. They lead the jubilant motorcade, which runs from Oak Street to the Chicago River. As the procession moves along, more than one million tree lights are lit. Huge balloons, beloved holiday characters and a fireworks display are part of the fun. Stop by Lights Festival Lane for family friendly activities or encourage your family to get its groove on at the BMO Harris Bank Stage.

Nov. 21
Activities start at 11 a.m., parade kicks off at 5:30 p.m.
N. Michigan Ave., Oak St. to the Chicago River
Magnificent Mile
Online: themagnificentmile.com

Where will you go to see holiday lights this year? Let us know in the Comments section!

— Lisa Snart & Kelly Aiglon

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