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Best of Chicago 2011: For Kids

Our favorite parent-and-tot hangout, diaper service, toy store, zoo, and more

Little Beans Cafe
Little Beans Café
 

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« FOR KIDS

PARENT-AND-TOT HANGOUT LITTLE BEANS CAFÉ You might think opening a business this past January, during one of the longest cold spells on record, would be a bad way to start. Not so for Little Beans, a 6,200-square-foot coffeehouse and play space sandwiched between the desperate-parent juggernauts of Lincoln Park and Bucktown. Shannon Valko, a mother of two young children who owns the space with her brother, Rob Spengler, wanted to create something that appealed equally to parents and kids. Adults can take afternoon classes while Little Beans provides on-site baby-sitting for a small fee; kids can take yoga, music, and theatre lessons while parents drink coffee and zone out. Mommy death by cabin fever? Not a problem anymore. 1809 W. Webster Ave.; 773-251-1025, littlebeanscafe.com

SMALL ZOO COSLEY ZOO Packed into five cozy acres, this full-blown zoo houses 200 specimens of 70 species, including owls, deer, foxes, llamas, peacocks, turtles, and a draft horse. But the real draw is Cosley’s manageability: In just two hours, families can walk the entire grounds, have close-up encounters with animals, tackle a variety of hands-on activities, and browse the gift store. We recommend staying for at least one feeding of the native duck species and spending quality time with the real 1880 caboose. 1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton; 630-665-5534, cosleyzoo.org

DIAPER SERVICE BOTTOMS UP Cloth diapers are eco-friendly, hold newborns’ poop better, and lead to earlier potty training. They’re also a pain in the butt—unless someone else cleans them for you. Diaper service, a relic of the days before the modern washing machine, still exists, and it costs about the same as using disposables. Until a year ago, Bottoms Up was the only game in town. Clean Green Nappy, a competitor, was born this past August, with slightly lower prices and social-media-savvy marketing. We still give Bottoms Up the nod for its wider service area and years of experience. 201 N. Green Bay Rd., Waukegan; 847-336-0040, bottomsupdiapers.com

MOMMY HUB BUMP CLUB AND BEYOND Lindsay Spolan Pinchuk founded Bump Club Chicago, a social network for pregnant women, in March 2010. After delivering her daughter in October 2010, she cannily rechristened the group Bump Club and Beyond. The organization has attracted 4,000 members and hosts six to eight events every month, including the popular moms’ brunch, which has featured experts on health, sleep, nutrition, and baby gear. “No one cares if the baby cries during the speaker,” says the 31-year-old former ad sales rep. “And it’s good practice for when you go out to dinner with your family.” bumpclubandbeyond.com

Play toy storeNEW TOY STORE PLAY New in Logan Square, this happy and well-organized shop has been quickly embraced by neighborhood parents on the hunt for educational and imaginative toys. Stocked in equal measure with choices for boys and girls up to age 12, Play carries the usual wooden blocks and puzzles along with intriguing high-quality doodads such as the P’kolino robot puzzle ($20), Nuchi wooden railroad sets, and HappyLand play sets ($10–$70) in different themes. It also offers board games, craft and science kits, costumes and princess accessories, Ryan’s Room dollhouse and furniture sets, nostalgia items such as a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine and Mad Libs, stuffed animals, ride-on toys, kites, puppets, books, and eye-catching impulse buys. Don’t linger near the register unless you can resist the lure of bacon bandages and Japanese erasers. 3109 W. Logan Blvd.; 773-227-6504, playlogansquare.com

Hands-on Exhibits for Every Kind of Kid

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS HAMILL FAMILY PLAY ZOO AT BROOKFIELD ZOO Zookeeper training is no day at the park, but toddlers seem to love counting lemurs, sweeping the floor, and delivering meals to animals. The play zoo also has resident hedgehogs, salamanders, and a handful of creepy-crawlies. Admission: $13.50 for children over 12 and adults; $9.50 for children 3 to 11. The play zoo costs an extra $2.50 per child; $3.50 per adult. 8400 31st St., Brookfield; 708-688-8000, czs.org

FOR GIRLS BRUNK CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF IMMIGRATION AT THE SWEDISH AMERICAN MUSEUM Replicating a Swedish farmhouse (or stuga), an immigrant steamship, and, at the journey’s end, an American log cabin, this staid-looking exhibit is in fact enthralling. Girls especially seem drawn to the striped pinafores hanging from pegs near the entrance and will spend hours harvesting wooden vegetables and eggs, milking the fake cow, and hanging laundry on the line with old-fashioned clothespins. Admission: $10 for a family; $4 for adults; $3 for children, seniors, and students. 5211 N. Clark St.; 773-728-8111, swedishamericanmuseum.org

FOR BUDDING SCIENTISTS AIRWORKS AT DUPAGE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM Send scarfs and balls through the wall-mounted pneumatic tube system and watch them flow along. Older kids love to change the air direction using controllers. Bonus activity: toddling through the wind tunnel (goggles provided). Admission: $9.50, ages 1 to 59; $8.50 for seniors. 301 N. Washington St., Naperville; 630-637-8000, dupagechildrensmuseum.org

FOR BUDDING GENERAL CONTRACTORS HANDS ON HOUSE AT KOHL CHILDREN’S MUSEUM Kids can pretend to build and landscape a house, then paint, shingle the roof, and decorate with wallpaper. In the construction area, they can use pulleys, cranks, and chutes to move supplies and pick up rocks with a digger. Admission: $8.50, ages 1 to 54; $7.50 for seniors. 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview; 847-832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org

 

Photography: (Little Beans) Lisa Predko; Photo Assistant: Sarah Crump; (Play) Kim Thornton

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