School's out - or will be soon - for kids across the suburbs. That means moms and dads will be scrambling for fun family activities to fill the summer months.
We asked writers with kids of their own to suggest a few of their favorites. Here's what they had to say:
Randall Oaks Park and Barnyard Zoo
Good for: Kids 10 and younger
When my three kids - ages 2, 6 and 7 - want to interact with animals but I'm not up for dealing with the crowds, parking and admission fees at a large zoo, we head to Randall Oaks in West Dundee.
Owned and managed by the Dundee Township Park District, the park boasts 141 acres, two playgrounds, picnic areas, a disc golf course and a historic one-room schoolhouse, along with the farm and petting zoo.
Purchase a bag of feed for 75 cents and you'll be popular with the goats, chicken, sheep and geese. Visitors can see and pet rabbits, lambs, pigs, cows, ducks and more.
Short attention span? Animals freak the kids out? No worries, because the playgrounds - one for older children, one suited for small fry - are nearby. Picnic tables under a canopy of ancient oak trees provide a cool retreat on hot, sunny days.
To get more bang for your buck, plan your visit around one of the many educational programs the park district offers at the zoo.
What you need to know: Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Sept. 7 and weekends only Sept. 8 to Oct. 11. Randall Oaks Park and Barnyard Zoo is at 17N350 Randall Road just south of Binnie Road, about two miles north of I-90. Admission to the zoo is $3 for adults and $2.25 for children ($2.50 and $2 for park district residents). Call (847) 551-4310 or visit dtpd.org/pages/ro_park.html.
- Susan Klovstad
Kiddieland Amusement Park
Good for: Little ones ages 2 to about 10, though the park also has a retro/nostalgic appeal for older kids and parents.
Kiddieland - with its Little Dipper roller coaster and junior-sized Ferris wheel - was my kids' "starter" amusement park. Mine, too, and that's going waaay back.
If you've never taken your kids, this is the summer to make the trek out to Melrose Park, because Kiddieland, which opened in 1929, is closing at the end of the season.
There's no other park like it. Even toddlers will love the pint-size kiddie rides, designed for children under 54 inches. For bigger kids, there are "thrill" rides - like The Polyp, a name only a gastroenterologist could love - that'll get their hearts pumping, but don't require too much bravado. Parents will like the free soda stations throughout the park (all-you-can drink pop is included in the price of admission) and the compactness. You can pretty much cover the entire park in an afternoon.
My family's favorite is the Log Jammer flume ride, which plunges 35 feet into a splashdown. Not as exciting as anything at Six Flags, but the lines aren't as long, either. We're sad to see it go.
What you need to know: The park is open just on weekends now; full-time summer hours start June 9. Hours of operation vary; call (708) 343-8000 or visit www.kiddieland.com. Kiddieland is located at North and 1st Avenues in Melrose Park. Admission is $23 for ages 6 and up ($20 after 5 p.m.), $20 for ages 3-5 or over 60 ($17 after 5 p.m.) and free for kids younger than 2 with a paid adult. Kiddieland's last day is Sept. 27.
- Anna Madrzyk
Classics Cinema theaters and AMC Theaters
Good for: All ages
Both theater chains are offering $1 tickets to see G and PG-rated motion pictures on the big silver screen in stereo digital sound.
What you need to know: Classic Cinemas features the 10 a.m. Wednesday Morning Movie Series June 17 through Aug. 12 at 12 theaters. For titles and suburban locations, go to classiccinemas.com/specialevents/.
AMC offers its Summer MovieCamp June 17 through Aug. 5 every Wednesday at the Yorktown 17 in Lombard and the South Barrington 30. Benefits go to the Children's Charity and The Will Rogers Institute. For titles and times, go to amctheatres.com/smc.
- Dann Gire
Independence Grove Forest Preserve
Good for: All ages
There is something for everyone at this scenic, spacious preserve that surrounds a 115-acre lake reclaimed from a gravel quarry. Miles of trails for hiking and biking, prairies and quiet woodlands are part of the mix. My kids love the beach, which is clean and staffed with lifeguards. Locker rooms and showers are available.
A fun playground, different from the ones you see at the local park district, kept my kids entertained for a long time. There's comfortable seating within the play area so moms can talk while keeping an eye on the kids. A seasonal cafe features drinks, snacks and light meals.
Grassy areas are perfect if you want to bring a soccer ball, baseball glove or picnic lunch. And concerts take place at the pavilion throughout the summer. Fishing is also available as well as canoe and paddle boat rentals.
What you need to know: Open 6:30 a.m. to sunset at 16400 W. Buckley Road (Rte. 137), just north of Milwaukee Avenue near Libertyville. A word of warning: Route 137 is under construction, so avoid rush hour. Lake County residents park for free. Non-residents pay $5 to park Monday through Thursday and $10 Friday through Sunday. Swimming is $4 for Lake County residents and $7 for out-of-county visitors. (847) 968-3499 or lcfpd.org.
- Kim Mikus
Kohl Children's Museum of Greater Chicago
Good for: Children from birth to 8 years old - although older children (and parents) can get involved in the fun too
At the Kohl Children's Museum, youngsters don't hear the often-used parental warning, "Don't touch that!" Instead, they are encouraged to touch, step on, climb, inflate, push and explore nearly everything around them. And kids are having so much fun, they don't realize they are learning something in the process.
Whenever we walk through the museum's front door, my 7-year-old son heads straight to the Water Works room, where he plops a protective rubber smock over his chest and literally dives in to the mix of buttons, gears and conveyor belts. His favorite station involves making music by aiming water guns at noisy cowbells.
I must admit that my favorite spot is the museum's miniature Dominick's food store where kids become bakers, cashiers and shoppers. Watching my son "help" shoppers choose fresh (plastic) baked goods - by flinging the items over the counter into shopping carts - does my heart good.
At other Kohl's exhibits, kids become veterinarians by examining x-rays of animals' broken bones, or they can dance in front of a large video screen that mimics their every movement with psychedelic colors and patterns.
What you need to know: Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Aug. 31 (summer hours); 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Kohl Children's Museum is at 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview. Admission is $7,50 for adults and children above age 1. Children under 1 are free. Call (847) 832-6600 or visit kohlchildrensmuseum.org.
- Laura Stewart
Morton Arboretum Children's Garden
Good for: Toddlers to preteens
Even a light drizzle doesn't keep kids from sliding down tree roots, ambling over rocks and into tree houses and splashing in a stream. Arboretum staffers are stationed throughout the children's area with activities that help kids understand plants and the insects, birds and animals that share the habitat.
Also worth a visit are the 11 animal houses built to human scale. Kids can climb into a squirrel drey (really, that's what it's called), perch in a heron's nest or wander into a skunk den.
Wind down with a picnic lunch in the shade of the 500 acres of natural woods or on the sunny shore of Crabapple Lake.
What you need to know: Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; til 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. 4100 Route 53, Lisle. (630) 968-0074. Adults $11; kids 2-17 $8; on Wednesday admission drops to $7 for adults; $5 for kids; children under 2 always free. Call (630) 968-0074 or mortonarb.org.
- Deborah Pankey
Riding Metra (or the "L")
Good for: Ages 1-10
Public transportation is something we adults don't exactly consider "fun." But for a young kid? It is the bomb.
My 3-year-old son goes gaga just waiting on the Metra platform ("I think I see the train coming!"). Then, when the bells ring, the red lights flash and the gates descend, he can barely contain his excitement. If we can score a seat on the second level? Might as well be a Disney World ride.
Taking the train downtown provides the most post-ride activity options. But our family likes to ride to the Des Plaines stop, walk two blocks and go to lunch or dinner at the Choo Choo Restaurant.
Other suburban Metra stops are near parks (Arlington Park, too), restaurants or shopping.
The best part? Kids ride free on weekends.
What you need to know: Get schedules and other information at metrarail.com.
- Jamie Sotonoff
Spring Valley Nature Center, Schaumburg
Good for: All ages
I hadn't been to Spring Valley for a few years, since my kids started hitting their teens. But I stopped by recently with my 12-year-old to see what's being offered. The 135-acre center still provides a lovely place for a walk - somehow Schaumburg Road instantly seems miles away. Trails take you through a prairie and woods. Some are paved; others have wood chips, which might be difficult with strollers.
The visitors center has interactive displays and some live turtles. Then there's Volkening Heritage Farm, a working farm replicating the 1880s. Other highlights are guided night hikes, a hay harvesting event, campfires and a variety of classes and camps.
It's perfect for a family outing.
What you need to know: The nature center is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; the farm is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Spring Valley is on Schaumburg Road two blocks west of Meacham Road, Schaumburg. The nature center and farm are free, but special programs and events may have small fees.
- Colleen Thomas