Now that American kids’ peak sugar bender, Halloween, is over, Chicago-area families can lighten the load after shoving landfills of candy corn and fun-size Snickers (and any other sucrose/chocolate combination) into their mouths. Why not temper the transition between fall and the deep freeze with some family activities that happen to be free, because you know the plastic will be smoking through the wallet in about a month.

(Photo Credit:

(Photo Credit:

Cantigny Park
1S151 Winfield Road
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 668-5161

You have to be sure there’s plenty of action for the kids as trees perform their colorful magic all around you, and Cantigny Park is a perfect place to develop a future leaf peeper or two. Among the many programs, free and fee-based, is the free Bird Walk taking place every second Saturday of the month. Explore the expansive grounds and keep your eyes peeled for different feathered friends (last fall, birders checked in 28 species). Beginning birders and kids who are at least 10 years old are welcome, and since there’s a limited number of binoculars to borrow, consider bringing your own. You can search for birds outdoors, then head inside for another free family program of themed crafting, also held on the second Saturday of the month.

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art
220 Cottage Hill
Elmhurst, IL 60126
(630) 833-1616

Kids, as well as prehistoric humans, love rocks. Kids collect them and our ancestors cut and polished them, making everything from tools and weapons to jewelry. Introduce the fam to Lapidary (cutting and polishing stone) on Free Fridays when the Lizzadro Museum’s displays of gemstones and earth science exhibits are open to explore. The gift shop offers cool treasures and nudge little Mason and Bella about the building itself — the idea was that it resemble a jewelry box.

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(Photo Credit:

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N Central Park Ave
Chicago, IL 60624
(312) 746-5100

One of the most spectacular conservatories in the United States, Garfield Park offers basketfuls of free family exploration, and the weather doesn’t affect the fun. There’s the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden and the new Play & Grow Garden offering kids the kind of play that their grandparents reveled in — constion with pebbles, making mud pies, trying to walk on stumps, banging on wood to make music. There are also special programs for families — Monday morning it’s Morning Glories interactive activities about nature that include digging in dirt, planting stuff, story time and more. Wild Wednesdays is more of the same and weekends families can explore anthropology, art, biology and history during the Fiddleheads program,

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Kidical Mass Bike Rides
Logan Square
South Loop
Edison Park
Chicago, IL

Just after Halloween and before the feed-a-thon otherwise called “the holidays” Kidical Mass is a welcome fall endeavor. It’s a national effort to prod parents to get their families to ride bicycles for transportation, exercise and togetherness. Organizers coordinate the two-to-four mile rides, ventured rain or shine, in various neighborhoods including Logan Square, Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, South Loop, Edison Park, Evanston and others. If none of those are convenient, you can organize a ride in your community by logging on the web site and starting your own local effort to get outdoors. Kidical Mass is an offshoot of Critical Mass, a worldwide movement to promote the use of bicycles as transportation while reclaiming the city in the name of people, not cars.

Museum Of Contemporary Art
220 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL. 60611
(312) 280-2660

It’s not as though the Museum of Contemporary Art even needs to offer family programs — every inch of the place is already a visual feast for the sometimes twisted and always receptive young mind. The ground-breaking institution signals a special welcome for families through “Family Days” — a free series of hands-on activities introducing modern art. Pencil in a trip downtown whenever the Saturday program is offered — generally you look at a public exhibition and join a creative afternoon workshop where you can concoct simple to complex artworks inspired by the exhibition. Some workshops are based in sound, video, stories or sculpture. It’s free for families with kidlets ages 12 and younger.

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Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at