Put on Your Smarty Pants! Where to Gear Up Kids’ Brains for Back-to-School

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Don’t look now, but the first day of school is right around the corner! While the hiatus from homework has been heavenly, we’ve found ways to make easing back into the learning mindset fun. Explore these local play spaces, culinary hot spots and museums that get the brains geared back up for school. Psst … you’ll learn about a secret program or two!


photo: Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium makes keeping the kids in the learning mindset easy with several on-going programs and shows. The museum is celebrating its 85th anniversary with Summer of Science, a program full of hands-on, minds-on activities that include learning about black holes, exploring a virtual model of the Universe, cooking up a comet and so much more.

If your little ones fancy themselves as explorers, the Planet Explorers exhibit consists of three different play areas that allow for back-yard stargazing and rocket, space station and research station exploration. Explorers are also needed for the Young Explorers Mondays series where kids between the ages of 2-6 can try stellar activities like flying a kite, reading stories under the stars and more.

Consider adding a sky show to your day by taking in One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure where audience members are taken on an exciting journey with Big Bird, Elmo and friends to learn about the Sun, stars and the Big Dipper.

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
Cost: General admission, $12/adults; $8/children; Basic Pass which allows for one show, $24.95/adults; $19.95/children
Hours: Daily, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Online: adlerplanetarium.org

C & A Robot Factory
LEGO enthusiasts of all ages can spend the day engaging their engineering brains doing everything from free-play with a wide variety of blocks, mini-figures and trains to using computers to design and build their own robot creation. Visitors can choose to purchase their creations or leave them behind for the next customer to enjoy.

326 Peterson Rd.
Cost: $10/child; free for ages 1 & under; prices vary for taking home built projects
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Online: carobotfactory.com


photo: Chicago Architecture Foundation

Chicago Architecture Foundation
Chicago Architecture Foundation’s mission is centered around celebrating and promoting Chicago as a center of architectural innovation and they provide families opportunities to come together to play, create and explore in the world of design. Spend time together listening to a story and creating an art project during the monthly Read and Build program for kids ages 3-5. Family members of all ages can be lead through a two-hour collaborative play session with a chance to get creative with hands-on activities that stretch the imagination and encourage exploration of new ideas and experimentation at CAStudio. All ages are also welcome every Sunday to LEGO Build where LEGOS are used to solve design problems that change monthly and fundamentals of creation are taught.

224 S. Michigan Ave.
The Loop
Cost: varies by program
Hours: Check the website for program times
Online: architecture.org

Wonder Works Children’s Museum
Unleash your imagination and experience creative fun at this 6,400 square-foot museum focused on art, performance, design, building and more. During the month of August, Wonder Works lets visitors get hands-on with science with Nature and Science at Wonder Works. This summer’s program will rotate four weekly themes: Sea Life, Let’s Do Geology, Animals in the Summer and Transportation Works. Meet live bugs and worms, experiment with three different ways to make bubble-powered volcanos, dig polished rocks from a play-dough quarry and sift shells from sand.

6445 W. North Ave.
Oak Park
Cost: Included in general admission; $6/person
Hours: Fridays in August from 10 a.m.-noon
Online: wonder-works.org



photo: The Field Museum

The Field Museum
Explore the wonders of The Field’s collections in a whole new way with their Meet a Scientist series. Field scientists will be on-hand discussing the highlights of their work and showing real artifacts and specimens from over 24 million objects not currently on display. Topics range from birds to insects, from mammals to plants, from pottery to spear points and more.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
Cost: Included in general admission; $18/adults; $13/children
Hours: Fridays in August; 10 a.m.-noon
Online: fieldmuseum.org

The Kids’ Table
Appeal to little foodies by signing them up for weekly Kids Can Cook classes at The Kids’ Table in either the Wicker Park or Lakeview locations. Classes are structured in four-week themed sessions with a different recipe each week – like peach stuffed french toast, cold asian noodle salad, breakfast pizza and fall veggie chili. Kids will take on new culinary adventures with each theme, exploring different flavors, cuisines and seasonal produce.

2337 W. North Ave.
Wicker Park
2864 N. Lincoln Ave.
Cost & hours vary
Online: kids-table.com

Where are you going to jump back into the school routine? Shout about it in the Comments!

— Maria Chambers

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