Build a traditional playground—the kind with slides and swings, and kids are sure to come. But who says you need all that rudimentary stuff for a good time? Chicagoland is loaded with all kinds of surprising places for wee ones to frolic.
Walk (and skip and run) among giants
Since 2006, the south end of Grant Park (at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road) has been home to Agora, a dramatic, contemporary sculpture by artist Magdalena Abakanowicz on permanent loan from the Polish Ministry of Culture. More than a hundred headless, armless figures—each nine feet tall and weighing 1,800 pounds—are clustered for park visitors to walk through. But often, you’ll find kids in the mix playing impromptu games of hide-and-seek among the frozen crowd of iron giants.
Grounds to play
At Chicago Athenaeum’s International Sculpture Park (101 Schaumburg Ct, Schaumburg; 847-895-4500), massive, colorful works from around the world are peppered over 20 acres of green space. Favorites among young art aficionados include Chairs by Greek artist Argyro Konstantinidou (perf for musical chairs) and Vinland by Jarle Rosseland of Norway (a mini Stonehenge of sorts made of 15 rocks arranged in the outline of a Viking ship). The free park is adjacent to a bike path, and open daily from sunrise to sunset.
At Cantigny Park’s First Division Museum Tank Park (1S151 Winfield Rd, Wheaton; 630-260-8185), kids are encouraged to touch and climb the 11 retired tanks (plus an armored personnel carrier and four artillery pieces) on display, which range in age from World War I to Desert Storm. (And they’re not just for wee ones—we’ve seen all ages scaling these monsters.) Save this trip for a cool day: When temperatures rise, the tanks can be too hot to touch. Summer hours are Tuesday–Sunday, 10am–5pm; parking ranges from $2–$5 per car.
Fountain of youth
A shiny new Red Line El stop isn’t the only thing the Lincoln Park Apple Store (801 W North Ave, 312-777-4200) brought to the Clybourn Corridor area—the adjacent pavilion and fountain outside is a magnet for families looking for a break from shopping. When the weather’s warm, kids run around the clean, minimalist space, splashing in the shallow fountains while grown-ups play with their new techy toys. Everyone wins!
Art History 101
The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art on the Northwestern University campus (40 Arts Circle Dr, Evanston; 847-491-4000) includes an outdoor sculpture garden that displays works by well-known artists such as Joan Miró and Henry Moore on the school’s well-manicured lawns. During the school year you’ll run into busy students crossing campus and classes being held outside, but in summer the area is quiet enough for kids to explore. Download a map to intersperse a little art education in their playtime. Admission is free and you don’t need to enter the museum to access the sculpture garden.