[Cooking at The Kids' Table]

Cooking at The Kids' Table

[5 best classes for tots]

Best activities for kids in Chicago


The Kids’ Table

2337 W. North Ave., 773-235-2665

With more than 500 recipes that use healthful ingredients, this Bucktown cooking school for kids focuses on good nutrition. Take, for example, the recipe for It’s Easy Being Green dip: Greek yogurt with kale, Swiss chard, onion, and garlic. Salsa is made with butternut squash. “We don’t force anybody to eat anything,” says manager Angela Sanka. “But they have to take a bite and talk about what they like and don’t like.” Classes from $25


China Kids

800 W. Buena Ave., 773-525-6000

In 2004, China Kids started as a program for adults who wanted to learn Mandarin before traveling overseas to pick up adopted babies; these parents soon enrolled their kids. Today, about half of the 100 or so students–from 13-month-olds to teenagers–are learning Chinese purely as a second language. Using simple dialogue as a structural foundation, students build vocabulary and speaking mastery. 18-week semester from $715

Music for babies

Merry Music Makers

3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ste. 119, 773-929-4666

The philosophy here: Teachers teach families, not just the children. It works. Even the squirmiest two-year-old will join Mom as she taps out a rhythm. This research-based program also harnesses world music from South America, Africa, and Arabia. "We use rich music, because even if they don’t understand it now, they will eventually," says Mary Thilleman, who opened the center in 2002. 9-week sessions from $155


New Music School

310 S. Michigan Ave., 312-612-1969

Five years ago, Francisco Ybarra set out to offer the most rigorous music instruction for Chicagoland kids. Beginners start with the basics and move quickly to classical works. The enriched program also includes sight-reading and ear training, three recitals a year, competitions, concerts, and mentoring from Chicago Symphony Orchestra members, some of whom also teach.
Lessons average $35 for 30 minutes


Kids Science Labs

1500 N. Kingsbury St., 312-846-1426

Founded by two dads, Shegan Campbell and Keith Norsym, this new Lincoln Park activity center smartly embraces the hands-on teaching of science concepts–using a child’s natural curiosity to lead them to "Aha!" moments of experimentation. For instance, in Bowl Me Down, kids make balls of different sizes (mass) and roll them at different speeds (velocity) for, lo and behold, a lesson in momentum.

Best toy store

Oakridge Hobbies

7511 Lemont Rd., Darien, 630-435-5900

This family-owned local toy store has mostly flown under the radar for those living outside the western suburbs. But in 2011 the business moved to a more visible location in Darien, and its new incarnation is nothing short of kid heaven. Stocking the perfect mix of mainstream and offbeat toys, this play superstore also carries high-quality hobby supplies: model trains, dollhouses ready for decorating, and slot-racing cars. Oh, and a train chugs around a halo-like ceiling-mounted track.

Best resale toys

Hand Me Downs

614 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-475-0803

Resale is always hit-and-miss, but Hand Me Downs consistently has a great selection of toys. Kids cruise right past the clothing racks to shelves stocked with puzzles, board games, trains, classic toys, the ever-popular Fisher Price Little People sets (both vintage and modern), and ride-on toys. On a recent visit, we spotted a wooden airplane rocker for $100, but most items come in under $10.

[RobotCity Workshop]

Best party venue for boys

RobotCity Workshop

3226 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-281-1008

Suffering from Pump It Up fatigue? Next time, throw a robot-building party. This is the only store of its kind in Chicago, and the wildly popular workshops have become ground zero for boys from five to eight years old. Partygoers spend two hours playing with interactive robots, assembling snap circuits, and building a miniature automaton to take home. A party costs $40 per child and includes robot supplies, decorations, paper products, and goody bags.

Best party venue for girls

All About Dance

501 W. North Ave., Chicago, 773-572-8701

Tea and scones at a fancy hotel sounds like fun. But girls up to age ten really don’t have much to chitchat about, which is why throwing a choreographed dance party at All About Dance is a much better idea. The party warms up with glitter and light makeup (costumes optional) before the kids learn an easy routine set to the birthday girl’s favorite song. The choreography is basic, and the teachers dance with the children as they learn. “So they don’t feel nervous about being up there,” explains the owner, Jessica Goldman. Bonus: Parents, you can wait out the festivities in your own room–and are welcome to BYO. Two hours cost $625, including tables, chairs, and souvenir water bottles.

[Outside the Lines Design]

Best use of Kid Art

Outside the Lines Designs


Turn pintsize artistry into a family heirloom with the help of Wonder Lake–based textile artist Donna Brandt, a retired elementary school teacher. “My two daughters drew many pictures as they were growing up, and I used the appliqué and embroidery method to make a large quilt of my favorite pictures,” Brandt says. Now she has adapted the process to clothing with the help of technology and an embroidery sewing machine. Submit your kid’s work of art–the simpler the better–and let Brandt do her magic (custom onesies and T-shirts from $30).

[Buffalo Calf]

Best baby

Buffalo calf at the Brookfield Zoo

3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield, 708-485-0263

Photography: (Cooking) Anna Knott; (robot) courtesy of Toysmith; (kid art) John Firak; (buffalo) Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society