Day Camps & Other Ideas for Staying Busy When School’s Not in Session

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Looks like holding our breath that Chicago Public Schools would return to in-person learning did the trick, a plan is in place to get kids back in seats. But, we still have scheduled no-school days coming up whether it be for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in-service days or parent-teacher conferences. We gathered creative ideas to keep kids entertained, moving and learning when they have days off. We’ll keep adding to the list as new options pop up, so bookmark this story and check back in.

Camps & Classes

photo: iStock

Stay Active at Home with Chicago Park District

The Chicago Park District is offering 50 different free at-home classes the week of Jan. 10. to keep kids moving and you can access their on-demand content any time. You'll find options for fitness, storytelling, arts & culture, activity sheets and even videos that teach sign language. 

Sign Kids Up for In-Person Cooking Camp

When you find yourself with random days off from school, The Kids' Table has you covered with full-day camps that offer the perfect mix of cooking, eating and play. Kids spend half their day in the kitchen chopping, grating and rolling their way to delicious dishes with the guidance of chef instructors. The rest of the day is reserved for a craft, a movie or some good old 'ole fashion play. Currently, camps are scheduled for Jan. 13, 14, 17 & 28, Feb. 21 & Apr. 8.

As a side note, they also offer one-hour live virtual cooking classes and on-demand instruction for kids up to age 14. 

Creative + Movement Day Camp at BASH xyz

Keep an eye on BASH xyz's Instagram and website for last-minute camp announcements that keep kids moving and exercising those creative juices. 

Make a Day of it Camp at Wishcraft

Wishcraft in Lakeview offers kids ages 5-12 a place to get creative with day-long camps. Class is 9 a.m.-3 p.m. with early drop-off options. They have a camp available on Jan. 28. Beware, they fill up fast!

Art Class with Mr. Dave Music

Mr. Dave Music is offering Art + Sound: Paint to the Music class for ages 3-6 on Wednesdays, 4 p.m.-4:35 p.m. This open-ended art experience with Noodle Art Studio utilizes paint in innovative ways to allow kids to interpret art in a way that feels authentic to them. For kids up to 5, he offers in-person classes all week long. 

Ballet & Music + Movement with Bubbles Academy

Bubbles Academy is offering two free virtual classes for Chicago kids. Virtual Bubble Ballet on Tuesdays in January, 9 a.m.-9:20 a.m., introduces kids ages 2-5 to the basics of ballet through thematic storytelling. They'll get both their bodies and imaginations moving. 

Virtual Music + Movement unites music lovers and those who like to move! Kids ages 5 & under can join in for a class for jammin', singing, dancing and instrumental fun on Fridays in January at 11 a.m.

Get Outside & Move

Take a Walk in Awe at Morton Arboretum

Five massive outdoor sculptures created exclusively for Morton Arboretum by artist Daniel Popper rise above the natural landscapes in the Human + Nature exhibition. The 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures are installed across the 1,700-acre site and lead guests to areas they may not otherwise explore. Using thought-provoking human forms paired with elements of nature, each piece will bring attention to the deep connections between humans and nature.

Bundle Up & Figure 8

Sock skating on a wooden floor is a blast, but there's nothing like feeling the cool breeze on your face as you glide across a real ice rink. Lace up for this essential winter activity. Chicago has rinks that are free, some that are new and many offer loads of other activities in the same location. See for yourself by reading Ice, Ice Baby: Chill Places to Ice Skate in Chicago.

photo: Maria Chambers

Take Ski or Snowboard Lessons

Get the kids outside for much-needed winter fun at Four Lakes Alpine Snowports in Lisle. From ski and snowboard private or semi-private lessons for beginners to a challenging terrain park for the most adventurous, Four Lakes is the close-by cure for your winter boredom.

Go on a Scavenger Hunt

Show your kids the coolness of their hometown with this scavenger hunt idea. It’ll take you to the tippy-top of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel and strolling the Chicago River to see the moveable bridges (or, view them from the warmth of your car). Best part? You can do all this in a totally safe, socially distanced way that’ll keep Covid-19 far, far away. You can download this scavenger hunt for kids here.

See Eagles at Starved Rock

How about a quick nature field trip? Starting in mid-January, thousands of eagles migrate to Starved Rock State Park and stay through March. They’re easy to spot as they soar through the sky or perch on the treetops. Bring binoculars!

Ice Bumper Cars at Gallagher Way

Take part in Winterland at Gallagher Way's newest attraction, ice bumper cars. Bump, slide and spin on The Rink, Jan. 3-Jan. 30. 

Bundle Up for a Wintry Hike

We’ll admit, a Chicago winter can be tough. But, a dose of fresh air, unforgettable scenery and a chance to spy on animals in their natural habitat is a guaranteed day of wintry family fun. There are beautiful trails all around the city that'll have you lacing up your boots, strapping an infant to your back and exploring. 

Online Resources

Connect with Chicago Children's Museum

Chicago Children's Museum created online resources to stay connected and support Chicago families. For creative ideas to keep the kids entertained and learning, visit their Recipes for Play at Home and Parenting Playbook pages. These online resources give at-home activities, video guides and well-curated content.

Tap Kohl Children's Museum of Play Ideas

Visit Kohl Children's Museum's Teaching Resources page which was created to support parents, caregivers and teachers in bringing interactive lessons to the home.

photo: Storytown Improv

Give the Kids a Good Laugh

Plan a virtual playdate for the kids with the help of Storytown Improv. While Storytown has halted their family-favorite in-person performances, they are using the same tools that have made their Saturday performances a success to host virtual laugh sessions. 

Get Help with Creativity for Indoor Activities

From crafting your own robots to writing stories, here are more than 100 activities and inside games for kids that’ll keep everyone busy.

Fun Indoor Spots

Museum of Illusions

MOI has over 80 mind-bending illusions and is designed in a way that encourages kids to have fun while learning the mechanics behind each and every illusion. They have a variety of art-focused brain teasers around the museum that offer kids a bit of a challenge, as well.

Skydeck Chicago

Located 103 stories atop world-famous Willis Tower, Skydeck Chicago is the perfect destination for a family field trip. They recently underwent an extensive redevelopment of the lower level, delivering a brand-new interactive museum that celebrates the unique personality, history, neighborhoods and sites of Chicago. 

In advance of visiting, set up a mini lesson plan and reference Skydeck’s extensive Teacher’s Guide. You'll find topics related to the history, design and construction of Willis Tower, environmental efforts at the building, and even lesson plans and worksheets for subjects including physics, social studies and middle school science. While visiting, participate in a Scavenger Hunt to keep the kids engaged and print Skydeck coloring sheets.

Indulge in Good Food & Drink

photo: Jo Jo's Shake Bar

Get a Sugar Fix at Jo Jo's Shake Bar

Jo Jo's Shake Bar's heated Winter Wonderland tent boasts a massive Christmas tree, oversized presents, private igloos and a red Ford pick-up truck, making it a perfect backdrop to snap a photo while you throw down one of the biggest, most-decorated milkshakes you've ever seen. While the Wonderland is only around until Jan. 17, their shake creations are available year-round. 

Hunt for Chicago’s Best Cup of Hot Cocoa

When Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose, it’s time to go sipping. Make a day off on a wintry Chicago day a little easier to swallow with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. If your kids love cocoa—or need a good introduction to it—check out local restaurants or cafes that make their own from scratch. 

Intro Your Kids to a Chicago Hot Dog

Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago, and if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon. We love the on-the-go ease (no silverware!) and colorful condiments (kids get a pass where the sacrilege of using ketchup is concerned). Use days off as an excuse to grab one at a legendary local hot dog spot and turn eating into an adventure. 

Employ Extra Hands

photo: Urban Sitter

Need Help with a Sitter?

Use our list of babysitting services to find childcare help if you need a bit of help balancing school closures and work commitments, or just an extra set of hands. 

Set Up Meal Deliveries

Check one thing off your to-do list by signing up for one of our favorite food delivery services

— Maria Chambers

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