Kid zone: Affordably exploring some favorite local parks and community centers with the kiddos this fall
Little Bear Park photo courtesy of ThinkConfluence.com
By Grace Rhee
There’s nothing like a crisp, fall morning to motivate me to make the most of my day. I want to find some new, engaging things to do with my toddler, but I’m also mindful of the fact that a solo mom outing with him and his three-month-old baby brother might make things a little unpredictable. The last thing I want is to find myself feeling too financially invested somewhere or too far from home to leave, when all we really need is to call it a day. If, like me, you want to venture outside of your typical spots without breaking the bank, check out some of my family’s new favorite places to play, explore and learn for free, or on the cheap.
Little Bear Garden Park in Glenview
The Little Bear Garden is an absolutely gorgeous nook of the sprawling Gallery Park. There is so much for kids to do here. A large circular walkway connects six different “gardens” for play: a very toddler friendly playground, splash zone, sand area, maze, a planter’s garden and, our personal favorite, the story walk. The story walk displays different pages of a book along a pathway so that you can walk from page to page. I love how accessible this is for both the older sibling invested in the story and the younger one who just needs to move. With everything this park has to offer, everyone is sure to find something to enjoy!
Location: 2001 Patriot Blvd. in Glenview
Cost of admission: free
In the “Animal Room” at the Wildwood Nature Center, we got to see real animals up close: snakes, prairie dogs, a snapping turtle and so much more. From a glance at the map, I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of some of the outdoor amenities.
Wildwood Nature Center in Park Ridge
We’ve taken some family photos on the beautiful nature path at the Wildwood Nature Center, but we hadn’t taken advantage of the indoor resources until recently. As soon as you walk into the main building, you’ll see the “Nature Nook” on your left — a classroom space filled with interactive activities based on a theme that changes each month. When we visited, the theme seemed to be “rocks.” There was a mini sandbox, an assortment of different kinds of rocks and crystals to explore, crafts and more. Aside from the themed hands-on activities, the room is filled with books and fun resources to learn more about nature.
Down the hall in the “Animal Room,” we got to see real animals up close: snakes, prairie dogs, a snapping turtle and so much more. From a glance at the Nature Center map, I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of some of the outdoor amenities. I’m thrilled that we have access to something like this right here in our own neighborhood and am looking forward to visiting again.
Location: 529 Forestview Ave. in Park Ridge
Cost of admission: free
Exploritorium in Skokie
The Exploritorium, located in the basement of the Oakton Community Center, is filled with all kinds of interactive activities for kids. There is a water station, a play gym, a magnet table, giant foam building blocks, a rock climbing wall and more. We found it to be a wonderful, budget-friendly alternative to some of the larger children’s museums. While there are many different sections that kids can explore, the overall space is arranged so that you have a visual of the whole room at all times, which is nice for keeping track of everyone if you are there with multiple kids.
Location: 4701 Oakton Street in Skokie
Cost of admission: $6 for non-residents, $5 for residents
While there are many different sections of The Exploritorium that kids can explore, the overall space is arranged so that you have a visual of the whole room at all times, which is nice for keeping track of everyone.
Cunliff Park in Glenview
Our friends had a birthday party at Cunliff Park over the summer, and everyone couldn’t stop talking about how great it was. Situated in a quiet part of the neighborhood, the park has a large parking lot and a covered seating area with picnic tables that keeps the play area far from the road. The giant sandbox was a huge hit, and the playground itself — part of the Glenview Park District — is fairly large with all kinds of unique equipment, including a roller slide and an adorable mock lemonade stand.
Location: 540 Echo Lane in Glenview
Cost of admission: free
Prospect Park in Park Ridge
Fondly called “pirate park” by some toddler friends of ours, this is a destination hangout spot that even attracts many of our friends who don’t live in Park Ridge. Everything from the “treasure hunt” (a cylinder of beads with shapes buried inside) to a bouncy “plank” is on theme. Next to the playground is the Prospect Park Splash Pad. It boasts a gleaming pirate ship water slide and fish that pour water over your head (though the alligator with water squirting out of its nostrils is my son’s personal favorite).
Location: 733 N. Prospect Ave. in Park Ridge
Cost of admission:
Playground – free
Splash pad – $4 residents/$7 for non-residents, kids under 1 are free.