Party Time at the Skokie Exploritorium

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For the last two years, we have been invited to a birthday party at the Exploritorium in Skokie. It’s quite a drive for us, but we really can’t say no to an opportunity to hang out at the Exploritorium. We used to drive to Skokie frequently before my in-laws moved to Florida, but never have we stopped at the Exploritorium. Thank goodness for these birthday parties – it gives us a great reason to come out and play.

Exploritorium Tunnels

The Exploritorium is a large indoor playground that is part of the Skokie Park District.  There are multiple areas that are perfect for interactive play. You can play make-believe in a costumed dress-up area; run your fingers through a water play area; make music, climb a wall, play with trains, experience new heights in two-and-a half-story tubes and tunnels, and so much more. My son loves coming here – it’s just a bummer that we live so far and don’t make it out to Skokie more than once a year.

Exploritorium Slides

This place sort of reminds me of a mini children’s museum, complete with a water table, a train table, and a huge lite brite! It would be so easy to spend a few hours here – too bad the party time is only one hour.

Exploritorium Water Table

Exploritorium Water

Exploritorium Train Table

Exploritorium Gear Table

Exploritorium Lite Brite

When you book a party at the Exploratorium, you get one hour of play time, and another hour in the party room. You bring your own food and cake, which is really nice – but it doesn’t seem like you have a dedicated party helper. The play time alone makes it completely worth the drive to Skokie.

Open play hours are 9 am – 5pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday and 9am – 1pm on Saturday. They are closed on Thursday & Sunday. The cost for non-residents is $5 per person and they are located at 4701 Oakton Street in Skokie.

Brookfield Zoo Goes Blue for Autism Awareness

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2014, one in 68 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Although not replacing this official estimate, a new government survey of parents reported the number to be 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism, which indicates there may be more prevalence of autism in the United States as once thought to be.

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To bring awareness of one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, Brookfield Zoo is partnering with Autism Speaks for the annual Zoos Go Blue Campaign on Saturday, April 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To commemorate the day, the water in the zoo’s Roosevelt Fountain will be dyed blue and there will be blue flags decorating the park’s grounds.

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In light of research that has shown that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder, the animal care staff will be on hand to provide special Zoo Chats. These informal talks will allow families to enjoy up-close experiences with some of the animals. Also, joining in the activities will be representatives from Autism Speaks, who will have booths set up at both the zoo’s north and south gates distributing information and answering questions.

Throughout the day, there will be special activities for families who have children on the autism spectrum. Youngsters can participate in a craft activity at the Hamill Family Play Zoo. The zoo’s Carousel will feature a quiet hour from 11:00 a.m. to noon, which will allow families to ride the popular attraction without loud music. In addition, at 1:00 p.m., there will be a sensory-friendly Dolphins In Action presentation. And, there will be a designated area in the Riverside Room, located in the lower level of BZ Red Hots, where families can go for some quiet time.

The zoo also has several BZ Care Kits that can be checked out during a zoo visit. These kits include noise-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers, and safety alert badges and ID bracelets in case a child gets separated from his or her family.

How will you support Autism Awareness on April 2nd?

Save 60% Off ROBOTS-4-U Summer Camps

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Thinking about summer camp for the kiddos? Why not try something fun & educational? At ROBOTS-4-U summer camps, kids will experience S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) concepts while at camp! Kids will learn all about ROBOTICS, Dynamic Art, BATTLE ROBOTS and DRONES. Come see what it’s all about at ROBOTS 4 U Summer Camps – where fun, thinking & learning comes to life!

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Campers will have a BLAST, while learning and playing in a dynamic environment, learning about robotics and science, in an independent and exciting way!

Visit www.ROBOTS-4-U.com and www.dynamic-art-design.com to see dates and locations for these day camps. Check out these Battle Bots from Robots 4 U!

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Camp runs for 1 week (5 days) long
  • Days: Monday to Friday Times: 9:00-11:30a.m. and 12:30-3:00 p.m.
  • CAMPERS RATIO: 1 Instructor to 16 participants
  • Register early as camps do fill up quickly!
  • Each Camper Individually uses a ROBOTICS or DYNAMIC ART Kit. Robot kits do not go home with campers but are available for purchase!

ROBOTS-4-U Summer Camps are now enrolling and my readers can SAVE 60% Off with Code: TEX1660M15 at www.ROBOTS-4-U.com. But act now, this promotion expires 3/31!

For current Robots-4-U Camp Offers: http://www.usfamilyguide.com/coupons.php?bid=9123&dealid=315

 

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Fun and Learnin’ at the SciTech Hands On Museum

My son has – and probably always will – love science. And I’m not talking an it’s-cool-to-do-experiments kind of love, I’m talking more of an I’m-totally-obsessed-and-don’t-want-to-do-anything-else kind of love/obsession. I can almost guarantee (unless you’re kinda geeky too) that he can tell you more about certain scientific subjects than you have ever cared to know. I’m amazed by the kid every day.

So when I saw that there’s a museum in Illinois, located less than an hour from my house, called the SciTech Hands On Museum, I knew I totally had to take him. In fact, I’m surprised that I hadn’t taken him sooner. This place is totally up his alley.

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What I liked straight from the get-go, was the price. Admission is only $8 for anyone over 4. That’s a bargain for a museum in Illinois! Kids three and under are free.

The museum itself is a lot larger than I thought it was too. Two floors on the main levels, and then a smaller exhibit area in the basement. I thought it was going to be a small, local museum, but for the $8 you pay in admission, you get so much for your money.

With over 150 interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) exhibits, the SciTech Hands On Museum inspires education and imagination at every turn. One of the exhibits we spent the most time at was the KidSpace area.

SciTech KidSpace

Kids can explore their inner engineer and use their imaginations to build with huge foam blocks. A house? Warehouse? Super cool special agent spy headquarters? Sure! Whatever they want!

SciTech KidSpace Building

Another one of our favorite exhibits was the bubble play area. I mean, duh, right? What kid doesn’t like to surround themselves in a big ol’ bubble?

SciTech Bubble

There are exhibits at the SciTech Hands On Museum to satisfy any science explorer. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and GO!

The SciTech Hands On Museum is located at 18 West Benton Street in Aurora, IL. They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

SciTech Second Floor Exhibits

Exhibits on the second floor.

SciTech Hand Prints

Hand prints!

SciTech Motors

Cool Off at Magic Waters Waterpark this Summer!

We may not have warm weather for very long, but when it gets hot in Chicago, it gets HOT! Unbearably hot sometimes. So believe me when I say that one of the best ways to cool down in the Chicagoland area is hitting up a waterpark. My family loves Magic Waters Waterpark near Rockford, IL and we know you will too!

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Find your fun at Magic Waters Waterpark near Rockford, IL. Magic Waters features 10 attractions such as the Typhoon Terror, The Double Dare Drop Speed Slide or Tsunami Bay-Illinois’ largest wave pool.

magicwaters_01Experience the thrill of Splash Blaster Water Coaster Ride or just relax on the Splash Magic River.

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Don’t miss Tiki Island-a water paradise for kids. There’s fun for the entire family!

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So come on out to Magic Waters Waterpark this summer! What’s your favorite way to cool down in the summer?

An Enjoyable Afternoon at the Elgin Public Museum

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for fun, educational things to do with the kids during summer break. I mean, pools and amusement parks are great, but I also like to mix in my summer free time with a little learning too. If you’re in the Northwest Suburbs, a stop by the Elgin Public Museum. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

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We recently spent the day at this museum and my preschooler loved it. We spent a few hours at the museum and loved the surrounding park too. Here are a few reasons why we loved the Elgin Public Museum.

Kids’ Room

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On the first floor of the Elgin Public Museum is the Discovery Room, an educational playroom just for kids. The room features a puppet theater, puzzles, blocks, books, a microscope, musical instruments from around the world, and lots of hands on objects from furs and antlers to starfish and turtle shells. I wasn’t expecting this small museum to have so many educational activities for kids, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Elgin and Illinois History

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Even though it’s summertime, I love finding teachable moments when we visit new places. It’s really easy to do that at the Elgin Public Museum, learning about the Fox River ecosystem, and how plant and animal life has changed over the years. The museum collection includes raccoon, opossum, squirrel, skunk, muskrat, owl, fox, coyote and certain species of hawks. After your visit, you can head to a trail along the Fox River and see if you see any of these animals yourself!

Location

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The Elgin Public Museum is located within Lord’s Park – a 108-acre park that not only holds the museum, but is home to the Lord’s Park Zoo, the Lord’s Park Aquatic Center, a picturesque pavilion, two large playgrounds, tennis courts, and lots more. Pack a lunch and enjoy it under one of the park’s picnic shelters. You can totally make a day of your outing!

The Elgin Public Museum is located at 225 Grand Avenue (on the street that is just off of Grand Avenue at Lord’s Park) in Elgin, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from Noon to 4:00 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $2 for adults and $1 for kids aged 3-11 years old.

How do you pack learning into your summer?

Keepin’ it Old School at Medieval Times in Schaumburg

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to Medieval Times in order to facilitate this review. I was not asked to provide a particular point of view, and all opinions are 100% my own.

I have lived in the Chicago area my whole life and can honestly say that it’s been years since I’ve visited Medieval Times Chicago (actually located in Schaumburg, IL). My daughter, now a teenager, was probably no more than 5 or 6 years old the last time I was there so naturally, I wanted to take my 4-year-old to see the show too. And boy, I’m really glad I did!

Medieval Times_Castle Exterior

If you have never visited one of Medieval Times’ nine North American locations, you really have no idea what you’re missing. Medieval Times is a dinner and tournament show featuring a royal court, knights of the realm, jousting, and the crowning of a Queen of Love and Beauty taken straight from the audience. Definitely a sight to see!

My son couldn’t help but to ask to take a picture with the princess when we arrived. She was so sweet to oblige! Medieval Times_Princess

When you first enter the large arena, you are taken to your seats. Seats are color-coded based on the knight you’ll be supporting. We had the red and yellow knight.

Medieval Times_Arena

Before the jousting began, the crowd is treated with a showing of the horses’ skills and the Lord Chancellor introduces the crowd to the knights. The whole crowd is really into it and the arena will be very loud. (Please keep this in mind if bringing kids with special needs or sensory issues.) Then the jousting begins and the crowd cheers for their knight. We were in the lucky section because ours just so happened to win – hurray!

Medieval Times_Menu

While the jousting is going on, your food will be served. Just like in medieval times, silverware is not provided. I remembered this from my first visit years ago and brought some from home for my son because I knew he’d have a hard time eating without a fork and spoon. And the food is absolutely fantastic! Full bar service is available during the show, but be aware that the cost of any alcohol is not included in your ticket price and will be billed separately. Also, remember to bring some cash to tip your server!

My crew!

My crew!

Overall, we had a great time at Medieval Times, and I was happy to see that the attraction is still so popular. The place was almost packed on a Sunday afternoon!

Added bonus to head to Medieval Times, now through September 7, 2015, kids under 12 are FREE with the purchase of a full-priced adult admission. See website for full promotional details.

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Hamill Family Wild Encounters at Brookfield Zoo

A visit to Brookfield Zoo is a must if you are visiting the Chicago area, but this year there’s an added incentive to check out this world-class zoo – Hamill Family Wild Encounters! This new, permanent exhibit officially opened up last week, and it replaces the old children’s zoo that closed a few years ago to make way for this fabulous new experience.

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Christopher Family Plaza

The first thing you’ll see when you walk in the all-new Hamill Family Wild Encounters is the Christopher Family Plaza, the central focal point of the exhibit, which features three captivating whimsical kinesthetic sculptures. The one-of-a-kind moving pieces of art, which range from 10 to 14 feet high, are made of metal and brilliant shapes of glass that spin and rotate with the slightest breeze.

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The rest of the exhibit features up-close encounters and multisensory experiences, where guests of all ages will have the opportunity to interact with Brookfield Zoo’s animal ambassadors and, inspired to action, become active conservationists.

The Plaza is also a place where guests can gather to meet Brookfield Zoo’s animal ambassadors, where they introduce a variety of animals to the zoo’s guests. While we visited, we met a tamandua – a small anteater.

Wild Encounters_Animal Ambassadors

GOATS

The goat habitat features 25 to 30 Nigerian dwarf goats, and guests have the opportunity to get close with the goats by petting, feeding, and brushing them. Not to worry parents – there are plenty of hand sanitizing stations right outside the exhibit.

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LLAMAS and ALPACAS

The llamas and alpacas can not be pet, however, they interact with guests throughout the day during walks and grooming demonstrations. And they sit around being cute, of course.

Wild Encounters_Alpacas

BENNETT’S WALLABIES and EMUS

A walk-in wallaby yard houses more than 20 Bennett’s wallabies. Guests of all ages have the chance to connect with these Australian marsupials, along with emus, the second largest flightless bird in the world. It was interesting to see how fearless the wallabies were among the guests. Hopping throughout the enclosure, it was like we weren’t even there. My son loved it!

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RED PANDAS

The red panda habitat, although not one where you can interact with the animals, still gets you up-close to these gorgeous animals. The exhibit features two female pandas and a man-made bonsai tree, which measures 13 feet tall and 35 feet wide, has many nooks and crannies for animal care staff to place food items. Plus, they’re just really pretty to look at.

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PARAKEET AVIARY

This was, by far, our favorite part of the exhibit. My son could have spent hours here – and we nearly did! Featuring more than 700 parakeets, this is one of the largest indoor parakeet aviaries in North America. Seed sticks are available for purchase to allow guests opportunities to feed birds throughout the day. Best part of the day! A large area with hand wash stations and hand sanitizers are located at the exit.

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One of the things that really impressed me about the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit (aside from all the animal interactions, of course) was the number of educational opportunities throughout – giving parents the knowledge to teach their kids more about the animals they saw.

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Admission to Hamill Family Wild Encounters is $5 for adults and $3 for children 3-11 and seniors 65 and over. Children 2 and under are admitted free (Brookfield Zoo members pay half price).

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Free Fun at Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora, IL

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Running a little low on funds, but still want to have a great afternoon with the kids? Then look no further than Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora, IL. I spent an afternoon here with my son and we totally enjoyed ourselves. This zoo is no-frills, but a nearby playground and splash pad are sure to keep the kids entertained for hours – and you don’t have to spend a dime.

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The entrance to the zoo is pretty neat. There’s a board displaying the rules of the zoo, then a totally random, but still cute, painted dinosaur.

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Now, I’ll be the first to admit, that animal sightseeing outdoors was pretty difficult. There are some cages for birds like eagles, hawks, and owls; as well as wolves, goats and llamas, but we had trouble finding the outdoor animals. The elk, however, had a huge, gorgeous setting to call home and we were able to see them just fine chilling under the bridge.

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The large elk statue offers a great place for a photo op though!

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But by far, my son’s favorite exhibit at Phillips Park Zoo was the reptile house! It was very warm in there, but seeing the alligators, snakes and turtles so close was a real treat!

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Once we finished up at the reptile house, sadly we saw the exit – BUT there was a huge playground off in the distance. We high-tailed it over there!

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The playground was so fun and we spent a good chunk of time there. My son loved the giant pirate ship. SO many of the kids there were so into it. Thankfully, there was a large, shaded picnic area nearby for us to have our lunch on.

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As we were making our way back to the car, I noticed that we completely missed the visitor’s center on the way in with the giant mastodon statue in front. Another nice photo op spot, and the visitor’s center is full of information on the animals at the zoo, and lots of educational exhibits and displays. There are also restrooms, vending machines, and drinking fountains at the visitor’s center.

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There’s also a splash pad nearby, but we didn’t stop by on our last visit. Now that most pools and splash pads are open for the season, we’re going to have to make our way back here!

Tell me – what’s your favorite small zoo?

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Spring has Sprung! It’s the Perfect Time to Visit the Chicago Botanic Garden #ChicagoSpring

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I have been a life-long resident of the Chicago area, and can honestly say that my first visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden was two years ago – crazy right?!?! If you have ever been, you’ll know why waiting a lifetime to pay them a visit is just crazy talk. The most gorgeous plants, gardens, and flowers reside here and you’d be remiss not to get there as soon as you can.

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These were some of my favorite flowers there:

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But, aside from the gorgeous plants and flowers that you’d expect to see at a botanic garden, I was blown away at how kid-friendly the Chicago Botanic Garden was. The Enchanted Railroad Garden was a big hit for my entire family. My 4-year-old loved keeping an eye out for the train, while the adults enjoyed seeing so many miniature Chicago landmarks.

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We loved playing BINGO with the handout we picked up at the information desk. It was great to have my 4-year-old engaged throughout the day by looking for various items on the sheet.

But by far, our favorite part of the day was spent at the Children’s Growing Garden. There are so many activities that are explained at a child’s level, and my son did not want to leave. There was a kid’s treasure hunt, books, puzzles, toys, teaching kids about gardening and even spray bottles for the kids to water the plants themselves. Great fun and a valuable learning experience for kids.

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They also have a lot of classes and events geared towards kids and families. Check the schedule to see if there’s something that interests you. The Chicago Botanic Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road in Glencoe, IL. Admission is free, but there is a $25 parking fee per car.

Have you visited a local botanic garden lately?

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this post. This was simply a gorgeous family outing that I wanted to share.

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Now Open! Shedd Aquarium’s Amphibians Exhibit

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The Shedd Aquarium is one of my family’s favorite places to visit, and now we have another awesome reason to go: Amphibians! The new exhibit features more than 40 species of salamanders, frogs, newts and rarely seen worm-like caecilians that will be hopping and swimming at The Shedd. These animals can now be seen for a limited time at Shedd Aquarium’s new special exhibit, Amphibians.

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Custom-built and designed in–house by Shedd animal care staff and design experts, the Shedd Aquarium Amphibians exhibit guides guests through three rooms with immersive visual, audio and hands-on experiences that focus on three themes: amphibians’ changing bodies, how they evolved to survive, and how they are facing challenges in today’s changing world.

Blue Leg Mantella Frog, Mantella expectata

Access to Amphibians is included with the purchase of a Total Experience Pass (Adult $39.95; Child $30.95) or CityPASS. The exhibit is also available as an option with the purchase of a Shedd Pass Plus (Adult $35.95; Child $26.95) for an additional $5. Tickets are on sale now at SheddAquarium.org/Amphibians.

Amphibians will run for a limited time at Shedd through 2017.

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