Before you read this post, I have an important question to ask you: How far will you drive to reach a fun, indoor play place?
A. No more than 15 miles.
B. An hour, give or take a few minutes.
C. On a bitterly cold, gray day in January, I'll drive to the ends of the earth -- if the spot is engaging, educational and guarantees that my child will be so worn out he'll sleep through the night.
If you answered "b" or "c," then by all means read on. Otherwise, make sure to check out the Go West Indoor Play Guide for options closer to home!
Name: Kohl Children's Museum
Location: 2100 Patriot Boulevard in Glenview. Phone: 847-832-6600.
Hours: On Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, on Tuesdays through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (Check website for longer summer hours.) If you're worried about the museum being crowded, here are the recommended best times for a quieter visit. It closes for all major holidays and for a "clean-up week" in September.
Amenities: The museum offers lockers that can be used for a quarter. There are two semi-private areas for nursing mothers. There are a number of restrooms, including two family restrooms with changing tables. Diapers can be purchased for $1. Strollers are allowed in the museum, but there is stroller parking, too. There are three soft play areas specifically for infants, located so that parents can keep an eye on babies as well as older children in nearby adjacent play areas.
Food: At the entrance to the museum is a Cosi Cafe featuring an expanded children's menu. Here's a link to the current menu; the kids' meals are $4.99 and come with a choice of chips, carrots or fruit cup; a choice of soda, juice or milk and a chocolate chip cookie. You are allowed to bring food from home to eat in the cafe, but you are asked not to bring in food from other restaurants.
Price: Adults and children are $9.50 each. Children under 1 are free. Grandparents and seniors are $8.50. (Note that many members of museums that belong to the Association of Children's Museums also get in free. For instance, the membership level we had at the DuPage Children's Museum granted us free admission to the Kohl Children's Museum. Again, check the website for exact details, but it's definitely worth considering a membership to an ACM participating institution.)
Good For: Infants through age 6 or 7. (Note that the museum says it is aimed at children from birth to age 8, but I though it would most appeal to kids a bit younger.) The museum also prides itself on beng enjoyable for all guests with any level of physical, visual, auditory and cognitive abililty. See the "accessibility" section for details, as well as a guide for parents developed with North Shore Pediatric Therapy that can help parents and children choose the exhibits they want to visit.
Our Experience: You probably guessed from my intro that the Kohl Children's Museum is far away from the far western suburbs. Very far away. Forty-three miles from my house in Geneva, involving two interstates and lots of surface streets.
But it turned out to be a perfect place in late August to meet an out-of-town friend who was staying with her family in the North Shore. And my daughter and I had so much fun that I'll likely plan a return trip this winter in the midst of a cold, gray stretch.
The Koh's Children's Museum was founded in 1985 in Wilmette, but in 2005 moved to a gorgeous new facility in Glenview in a development called "The Glen" on land that used to be occuped by the Naval Air Station Glenview. The buildling has 23,000 square feet of public space, along with a 2-acre outdoor exhibit space calledHabitat Park.
All of the play spaces are located on the main floor. There are 17 hands-on, interactive exhibits and we visited many, but not all, of them during a 2-hour visit. I remember that a staff member at the DuPage Children's Museum once told me that while that museum in Naperville leans more toward science, the Kohl Children's Museum leaned more toward imaginative play, and I definitely agree with that after visiting both.
For instance, in the "Main Street" exhibit, kids can take care of stuffed animals in the veterinarian's office; they can change the tires of a car in the automotive shop; they can help build and decorate a house; and they can fill sandwich orders in a miniature "Potbelly Sandwich Works" that looks earily like the real thing. My 3-year-old daughter had the best time in a grocery store (yep - it's branded, too, as a Dominick's) where the kids can stock the shelves, work the cashier or be a shopper. I think she would have been happy if we'd spent ourentire visit there, actually.
There are also displays devoted to music and nature, and there is an art studio, as well as the outdoor Habitat Park, which we didn't visit. And what children's museum would be complete without water play? The popular "Water Works" exhibit features balls, boats, fountains, etc. It also means you'll want to bring a 2nd set of clothes for your kids, just in case.
The Takeaway: I walked away from the Kohl Children's Museum very impressed - it's easy to see why Parents Magazine listed it among the "10 Best Children's Museums" in the country in 2011 and why it draws 350,000 visitors each year. We visited on a pleasant summer day, in the afternoon, and there weren't many visitors in the museum, but I'm sure that's a different story on rainy or cold mornings. And even during our visit, there was a line to enter the popular grocery store exhibit; only so many children are allowed in to "shop" at one time.
We ate a late lunch in the Cosi Cafe. I liked that the children's meals came with a variety of choices. And I was always a big fan of Cosi when I worked in downtown Chicago.
If it wasn't an hour's drive (at least) away, I think we'd visit there much more regularly. And I'm sure we will indeed return this winter. I'll make sure to try to visit during one of the "best times to visit" and plan to make a whole day of it. And my daughter better sleep great that night!