Summer Fun in & around Chicago A to Z

I’m SO bored! No Mom ever wants to hear those words. Especially not in the summer.

Chicago after 14 years seemed like a big ole been there, done that. That’s when I started scouring online to find activities that appease the crowd. Faced with a full day and literally no clue where to begin, I remind you we live in a pretty great city.


A list so massive and so comprehensive you only need to bookmark it once and go through it!

Well, your wish is my command.

I happen to have amazing Mom Friends who actually do awesome activities with their kids. Whether you have a week to kill or all summer long to fill, we’ve got you covered.

Here is your go-to collection of summer fun in and around Chicago, tried and true by moms trying to keep em busy. We have gathered all these places together, links included, with an asterisk for the older set as those are often harder to please. A special thank you to Orah and Neeli for their amazing lists, advice and ideas. You guys are Super Moms with a  Capital “S”.

Please follow our adventures this summer break on #CampKutliroff on Facebook or feel free to visit our crafty page on Pinterest for inspired ideas for tweens and teens. Please also email me or message below to add to our list! Hoping to add reviews from our own parent-testers. So if you have anything to say about these off-the-beaten-path trips please message me and your review can be featured on the official Stretching My Limits Facebook Page!

May we all soak in the sun before school is on the horizon again!

*Adler Planetarium

*Air & Water Show

*Apollo Theatre/Emerald City Theatre

*Aqua Parks

*Architecture River Cruise

Art Institute – Stop in the gift shop first. Grab a postcard and find your art!

Atcher Island

Aurora Regional Fire Museum

*Beaches in and around Chicago

*Big Surf Wave Pool

Boat Tours – Wacky Pirate Cruise

*Bookstall at Chestnut Court – They often have children’s authors or events

*Botanic Gardens – Bring a picnic! Make it a scavenger hunt!

*Brunswick Bowling

*Bowling at Pinstripes

*Brookfield Zoo

*Bughouse Studio

Burpee Museum of Natural History

Busse Woods Forest Preserve

*Canon Tour in Cook County

Cantigny Park

Charles Dawes House Tour

Charnley Persky House Museum

*Chicago Bandits Game

Chicago Children Museum @ Navy Pier

Chicago Federal Reserve Money Museum & Tour

Chicago Fire Soccer

Chicago History Musem

*Chicago River Canoe & Kayak Rental

*Chicago’s Sightseeing Tour Hop on/ Hop off

Chicago Kohl Children’s Museum of Glenview

*Civil War Museum

Clarke/Glessner House Museum

Color Me Mine

Cosley Zoo

*County Line Orchard – Apple Picking


*Dave and Busters

*Dave’s Rock Shop

*Didier Farm

Dinosaur Discovery Museum

Discovery Center Museum

*Drive in Movie in Kenosha at Keno Drive-In 

Dupage Children’s Museum

*Eli’s Cheesecake Factory Tour

Elk grove park district pavilion community center

Elmhurst Historical Museum – Currently have a baseball exhibit

Emerald City Theatre

Emily Oaks Nature Center

*Enchanted Castle


Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana

*Fairs & Festivals in Chicago

Field Museum

Fishing and Fun at Northerly Island

*FREE Movies

*Frontier Day’s festival in Arlington Heights JULY ONLY!

*Fun Zones 

Garfield Park Conservatory

*Gilson Beach, Wilmette

*Glazed Expressions Pottery

Go Bananas

Goebbert’s Farm

*Haunted Trails

*Hidden Creek Aqua Park

*Hoosier Bat Company Tour ages 8 and up.

*Illinois Holocaust Museum

Illinois Railway museum in Union, IL

Independence Grove

Jane Addams Hull House Museum

Janesville, WI Newspaper Tour

JCC Garoon Science Garden

*Jelly Belly Center Warehouse Tour

John Deere Tour

John Hancock Observatory

Jump Zone

Kenosha Public Museum

Kiddie Kingdom

Kids Bowl Free

Konow’s Corn Maze

Lake County Discovery Museum

Lamb’s Farm

Legoland Discovery-Schaumburg

Libertyille Sports

Lincoln park conservatory and trains

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Square lanes

Little Bear Garden, Glenview

*Long Grove Confectionary Tour

*Marriot Lincolnshire Theater

Michaels Store Craft Events & Weekly Camps

*Millenium Park

Milwaukee Public Museum

*Mini Golf indoors, Glow in the dark at Hawthorne Mall, Vernon Hills

Morton Arboretum-Lisle

*Movies in the Park, Skokie

*Movies in the Park, Chicago

Mr. Singer’s Performances

*Museum of Science & Industry

*Mystic Waters

Naper Settlement, Naperville

Naperville River Walk

*Navy Pier

Nickel City

North Park Village Nature Center

North Point Lighthouse

*Oakton Water Playground

Old Town School of Folk Music – Kids Concerts & Classes

*Paper Source – Create a Summer Scrapbook!

Peggy Nothebart Nature Museum

*Peoples Choice Family Fun Center

Pirate’s Cove

Planet Esme

*Ravinia Family Concerts

Richardson Farm

River Trail Nature Center

Robert R. McCormick Museum, First Division Museum

Robot City Workshop

Roller Skating

Roosevelt Collection park & shopping outdoor seating area just south of the loop

Schaumburg Airport Tours

Sci-Tech Aurora

*Second City Improv

*Segway Tours

*Shakespeare Theater

*Shedd Aquarium

*Six Flaggs

*Skokie Lagoons

Sky Deck at Willis Tower

Splash County

*Splash Landings

*Sprecher Root Beer Tour (pm only)

*Strawberry Picking – Thompson Farms

*Strawberry Picking – Stade Farms

*Starved Rock

*Subaru of Indiana Auto Tours (10 and older)

Sunset Park

Surgical Museum

The Grove

*The Glen – Sprinkler Park, Shopping, Fun

*Tipsy Paint, Glenview

Treehouse Indoor Playground

*Vertical Endeavors

Volo Auto Museum

Visit a Farmer’s Market – Let the kids make dinner with their finds!

Wagner Farm

*Waterworks Schaumburg

*Wendella Boat Rides

Wheeling Aquatic Center

*White Sox Games

Wiggleworms in Millenium Park

Wild West Town

Wonder Works in Oak Park

*Xtreme Trampolines


*Denotes Teen/Tween Friendly 🙂

Where Is My Been There, Done That Mom?


One of the best and worst parts of being a young first time mom is the naiveté. Too stupid to realize just how silly you are to worry about every hiccup and diaper change, yet not experienced enough to feel good about the job you’re doing.

I always wished that there were another mom, a just-slightly-older but, not too old to be a fuddy-duddy, Mentor Mom that could share her tips of the trade before they actually happened to me. The Been There,  Done That Mom answering the ever-permeating question of my mothering life, “Is it normal [insert worry here]?”

At 21, I was the first of my friends to have a baby. Over the years, this has allowed me to be their Been There, Done That Mom, but I was not privy to have one.

Was it normal for baby to walk at 15 months? Was it weird if he didn’t like sports? Would he be okay as the youngest in school? After a clueless husband ‘shrug’ to my myriad of freak out questions, I realized that there really was no one for me to ask. So, I turned to my go-to for info, books.

The problem with trusting parenting books is that for every Ferber Method, there is an Attachment Parent and you really have to navigate an ever-contradicting world that you are simultaneously the worst and the best parent out there.

So, I navigated best I could through early toddler years, tween years, awkward adolescence trusting gut instinct, weighing popular opinion against tons of reading material. I hid my veggies in his eggs, like Seinfeld’s wife wrote. When his educational needs weren’t well addressed in school, I brought in Mel Levine’s book to back me up. While my friends were bleary eyed after night 3 of Ferber-izing, I was well-rested having Dr. Sears allow me to snuggle up with my baby in bed.

For every action, a reaction and a PhD-backed author to back me up.

But, as my son hit about 14, I realize that the parenting materials changed drastically. No longer were my books about ideas, self-actualization, promoting confidence – now, they were suddenly about Survival. The titles in these manuals were both laughable and scary:

Surviving the Teen Years

Leave Me Alone, But First Can You Drive Me & Cheryl To the Mall?

Why Do They Act That Way?

The Curse of the Good Girl.

So Sexy, So Soon

Boys Adrift

Of course, the teen years are hard, anyone knows that. But, I had a feeling that if I had a Been There, Done That Mom she would assure me that there has to be more to it than just Surviving and being “cursed”. I didn’t want them to be So Sexy, So Soon! I waited and hoped there would be more to it than a promised horrific nightmare from 14-18.

I spent a doozy of time living in fear of those years. But, I have learned that there is so much more to it than that. I have shared with my own friends, as their ‘Been There, Done That’ that teen years are difficult, yes, but also very happy and often easier years than raising a toddler. Conversations are deeper, more meaningful. Moments to see that what you’ve learned and put into practice is actually working and when it doesn’t work? Well, then moments happen that will challenge you in a way you’ve never been challenged before. Rewarding, fulfilling and yes, very survivable.

So, as I prep for teen #3 on my roster coming up to bat soon for the Teen Team, I realize that even though I never had the luxury of that Been There, Done That ‘fairy godmother’ Mom, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job with my repertoire of author-fairies and my husband and my techniques combined. At this point, I could write my own parenting book (and perhaps, when they all leave the roost I may just have the time to do that!) and could have saved many a Mother from the pit of parenting despair.

Have you become a Been There, Done That Mom or were you provided a mentor from Day One?

Child #4 Is Still Like New

I worried the same with each of my children.

Would I be able to love another child as much as I already loved my existing one? How could I muster the same excitement with their first words or their first steps? Was it possible to jump with joy at every milestone, for every child? 

The answer of course, yes. And yes, again. And yes, again.

It always surprises me how naturally that joy pops in with #4. I would have thought the joy would be less, or changed or by the fourth time – eh, whatever, nice job, been there, done that. But, with each individual child, no matter what they’ve done and how many ‘repeats’ I’ve seen it’s always as if I’m seeing it again for the first time.

Yesterday, amidst days of travel to family in both San Antonio and Memphis, we sat in the airport waiting for a much anticipated flight back home. We were exhausted having carried in six suitcases, five backpacks and multiple sweatshirts. We were defeated a little by the 40s awaiting us on the other end of our current 7o degrees sunshine-filled days, but happy to go home, none the less.

My youngest, #4, sat to my right happily munching on chips. I sat catching up on the world via Yahoo News. Suddenly, a gasp!

“Mommy! My tooth came out!”, #4 announced.

My heart jumped. I screamed a healthy loud, “Yay!” A little embarrassed by my excitement, a woman behind me started laughing at my exuberant grabbing of my daughter. My husband jolted out of his seat and my #2 and #3 joined in. I even saw my ‘too old for this’ #1 smile out of the corner, while hiding on his iPhone.

I carefully wrapped Tooth in a self-made envelope of grocery receipt garnered from the ever growing bottom-of-my-purse trash. We talked Fairies and presents and stopped blood flow. Pictures were instantly snapped and posted in texts to family and Facebookland. Pride was oozing out of all of us for this little milestone that showed our baby was no longer a baby, but a growing one-tooth-down and many to go Big Girl.

As the excitement of Tooth calmed in the air and the tired faces returned to their iPhones and chips, I placed the wrapped tooth in my wallet. My mind wandered back to small faces of each of my children with their wide mouthed grins, one space missing, center bottom. Each face traveled through like a spinning thumb pushing them to the right on my Photo Feed. I felt my heart full and my eyes filled just a bit at the thought of this being the last first tooth of my children.

I can’t believe I was ever that naive about a mother’s love for each of her babies. I laugh when I remember that feeling of doubt now, each first, each milestone, each little tooth – a constant reminder that instinctively as parents we know an awesome moment when we see one.

Passover Seder, Let’s Kick It Up a Notch!

When I was a kid, Passover meant going through the Haggadah line-by-line. Passover meant I was hungry for ‘real food’. Passover meant chocolate chip cookies that tasted like cardboard mixed with chips. Passover meant fighting over the ‘special knife’ and the ‘three pronged fork’ and counting down the pages till we could eat! And, when it came to Seder it never meant fun. It wasn’t anybody’s fault – it just was traditional and well, boring for us kids.

So, when I made my own first Seder with my children I decided it was high time to make Passover more interactive and exciting.

My first year, I bought The Box of Plagues. This amazing box of trinkets and toys to keep the little ones interested at Makkot time. My kids fought over who was in charge of each makkah and they were having, gasp! fun at the Seder! Throwing ping pong balls for hail and ‘killing’  my first-born with a fake sword.

With fun finally infused, I was ready for more.

So, we added in some re-enactments, some Seder Bingo, some skits, songs and silliness. My in-laws Moses and an Egpytian Server one year, my son creating character roles for us the next. Last year we incorporated marshmallow rewards for asking good questions to be saved and dipped at dessert into a candle-heated chocolate fondue pot.

This year, I have put together a list of new and fun ways to bump Passover up another notch. Some prep prior can go a long way to keeping the kids interested and interactive…Please feel free to add to this list and pass around to your friends!!

Place Cards




These are an adorable nod to the Paschal Lamb and would be a fun pre-Passover project. Each year we try to create a new placecard and we’re definitely going to try this one this year.

Serving Pieces With Meaning

Make serving pieces at your Seder completely personal with this super easy Sharpie idea. Decorate with family traditions, sayings or Passover related artwork. A great idea to keep them busy prior to the holiday.

Let Your Fingers Do The Talking


I just ordered these yesterday! I am very excited to pull them out during the 10 Makkot and surprise my kids. I am thinking these would be so awesome as a gift for a teen or tween also. Have to figure out how to hide my nails until Seder…

Tell The Story A Whole New Way


Acting out the story is always fun for the littler ones at the table. Here is a do-ahead project to create little ‘actors’. You could also incorporate Little People or lego characters just as easily.

Makkot Mmmm


Edible Makkot treats are always a fun way to keep the kids interested and offer a little snack before dinner comes. These are easy to find at any candy store and will make an adorable addition to your Seder.

Chametz Or Not?

Play a pre-Passover game and get little ones prepped and ready to go (or offer a mid-seder break with this game as well) and play Chametz or Not! Grab a few items from the play kitchen and put some real foods for Passover on the a tray. Offer up points for wiinners (or treats). Here’s a sample tray.

Make New Memories and Relive Old Ones

A great post Passover activity – when packing up the dishes have each member of the Seder write down a favorite memory or funny moment from Passover to be included with the packup. When you open your box next year you’ll have a great surprise waiting for you and years of memories to collect.

The 4 Questions in Other Cultures

Ma Nishtana in a whole new language. Yiddish? French? Spanish? Try and spice it up and think about Jewish celebrations in other cultures. Here’s a great video of Yiddish to get you started:

Budgeting For Passover

If this is your first year making Passover, I feel ya, so here’s a great post I read about making Passover on a Budget (which is REALLY hard, but doable).

However you make your Seder special, I would love to hear about it!! Please also visit my Pinterest Page for more Inspired Holiday ideas and please share your great ideas as well…

Why You Should Absolutely Apologize To Your Kids

Yesterday I said a lot of Nos. I was in a stinker mood dealing with a post-dentist tooth-ache, an over-tired 5 year old and then that damn thing that never leaves – dinner. I was angry that I gave in and just ordered a pizza, but, I accept my limitations.

My big kids piled in through the door one by one.

Mondays are usually our toughest day. My high schoolers get back to routine and the work is piled on, the social obligations pile up and they come home drained.  My middle schooler is usually wiped by 4 pm, still waking up from the weekend sleeps till 11.

But, this week Tuesday was our tough day. Everyone was moody. There were lots of requests –

Mom, can you get me mechanical pencils? I’m out and I hate yellow pencils.

Mom, I neeeeeeed you to find me a Summer activity.

Mom, do you mind if I go to so and sos this weekend.

Mom, did you wash that shirt yet? I neeeeeeeeed it.

Mommy, can I have ice cream cake for dessert?

Mom, can I have the car this weekend?

Mom, can you take me to that place on Sat night?

Mom, what do I do if so and so can’t go to the party?

I lost it. I just couldn’t answer another freakin’ question.

This week and next, my son finds out if he got into the colleges he wants. None of which are near home. So, that was already on my mind and making me overly-emotional.

Then, the tooth throbbed. Then, my head started pounding and I just could not take another question.

My mom instincts kicked in and made me run for my room. I shut the door and breathed to myself for a few. Hubby knew I was losing it, so I went to bed early.

When I woke up this morning a little more ‘gathered together’ I sent texts to me kids at school apologizing. Normally, I like to do these things in person but , under the circumstances urgency was in order. I was Mean Mom and I needed to own it.

When I shared with a friend my need to apologize she yelled at me.

Sara. You don’t have to apologize for having a bad day.

And, while she’s right – I don’t have to. I wanted to. It’s important to teach our kids that parents aren’t perfect. That sometimes we have a short-fuse, or say no because it’s easier than dealing with yes and all of the post-question, questions. That sometimes we have bad days or are mean for no reason other than we’re tired and cranky. We are after all, human (shh, don’t tell…)

When we apologize to our kids they learn a valuable lesson that I know I want to teach them.

They. Are. Worth. It. My kids have value. They deserve the best Mom I can be. And, they deserve to know the truth that I’m imperfect and that I own my cranky, so that they can learn to own theirs and hopefully respect me back.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Mom. Hopefully.

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