Staycation Take 2

Each year our vacation budget seems to shrink a little more and we need to get a little more creative with how we spend those hard earned dollars. Fortunately, living in the Chicago area you don’t need to go far to enjoy a lot of life and experience for not a lot of money.

My post last year summed up lots of unique spots to check out around the area and I don’t want to just duplicate that (but feel free to check it out here as much of that still applies), so this year we will look at different categories of attractions that even some Chicago residents might not think about while making the most of life in this great metroplis.

Because I’m a list maker and categorizer, we’ll break this down into Get Active; Grow ‘n’ Learn; and Give Back.

Get Active

Of course there are the obvious: parks, forest preserves, bike trails, swimming pools, and sports teams.  But here are a few places to definitely check out to add active fun to your staycation.

– Trampoline parks. A newer addition to the bouncy world of fun, these parks take trampolining out of the backyard and turn it into a group activity. Many include areas with trampolines made into activity specific areas like dodgeball, basketball, jumping into foam pits, just jumping and smaller tramps for little ones. This is not generally a cheap outing, but check for after hours and holiday specials throughout the summer. This is a great way to spend a rainy day when the kids are bouncing off the walls at home anyway.  Check out different centers (different owners, but similar facilities) in Buffalo Grove and Carol Stream, Niles, South Elgin, and Naperville (note that trampolines do bring an element of risk with them. Encourage kids to jump safely, watch the safety videos, and you should expect to sign a waiver in order for them to jump)

– Disc Golf. Not your mother’s frisbee game, and growing in popularity especially among older “kids.” This is a great activity for families with kids that are a bit older and ready to take on a challenge.  There are currently 163 courses in Illinois, although not all in the Chicago area. Perfect for those cooler days with friends or just family. Check out the Disc Golf Course list with links to locations and more details on some of the courses.

– Bowling. Not as heart pumping or muscle building as the others, but a fun afternoon of bowling keeps a wide range of ages happy and offers a great environment for active fun together. Brunswick offers free bowling to kids all summer long, one game per day per child. Of course you’ll have to rent shoes (unless you’re lucky enough to find them at garage sales or thrift stores), but still a nice deal. AMF also has bowling lanes in various cities. Many cities will have a local bowling alley, but another popular destination is Funway in Batavia which offers many activities from bowling to go carts to roller skating.

Grow ‘n’ Learn

The library deserves a section all its own because it is a huge doorway to tons of fun right in your backyard, most of it already paid for by your tax dollars, but I’ll highlight our favorites. Be sure to check out your own local library for programs, movies, outings, speakers, displays, and reading incentives to keep you learning all summer long.

Summer reading program (and winter one if they have it, too, but that is not coming soon). Get your kids reading and earn free family outings. From the summer reading program we earn at least 3-4 of our family staycation outings. Each year we get a pass to DuPage Children’s Museum, baseball tickets, Medieval Times passes, water park tickets, meal coupons, and many more exciting and free passes to keep our summer fun at an all time high.

Museum Adventure Pass. I mention this periodically, and it should not be overlooked. Each museum or location has a different deal that you activate through your library card. Stop in to see your librarian and with a few clicks she presents you with a pass for the Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden, Cantigny, Brookfield Zoo, or a variety of other places. We have used these a few times now and have really enjoyed each one.

Summer classes. Many colleges offer classes for various ages through the summer. Check out the closest one, and also take a look other places like Fermilab for keeping learning alive through this break in the traditional school year.

Donley’s Wild West Town. Part fun, part learning, Donley’s will teach you to use a slingshot, entertain you with a gun fight drama, take you on a pony ride, and let you pan for gold. Younguns won’t quickly forget all the fun and adventure as they travel back to a little less tame period of history.

Give Back

Hanging with friends, relaxing, and stimulating your intellect are all great parts of vacation, but you can also spend part of your staycation giving back to those less fortunate. We may worry about having enough money to make special memories with our kids this summer, but others worry about just having the necessities of life. Look for a way to lend a hand this summer.

Feed My Starving Children. We have enjoyed taking part in this program a few times now and cannot believe how quickly 2 hours flies by. Sign up for a 2 hour time slot of packing nutrient dense meals to ship to countries in need. By the end you are chanting, “Chicken, veggies, soy, rice,”  and in so doing are providing food for the hungry. My daughter enjoyed herself so much she wants to have her birthday party there this year. Kids 5 and over can attend with adult supervision. I loved watching my 6 year old scoop, weigh, and count, having fun in the process of making a difference. They have locations in Schaumburg and Aurora, so make sure to get a group together and find a couple hours to spare for this worthwhile cause.

Food bank. Meeting a need closer to home, area food banks are also always looking for volunteers. Northern Illinois Food Bank is one with multiple locations that are always seeking volunteers of a variety of ages.  Check out their page for other local food pantries that might be able to use your help as well.

– Check out other volunteer positions around the Chicago area at They have listings for forest preserves to museums and more.

This post may spark your thinking for some special ways to spend your staycation this year and may even begin a relationship that will open new opportunities and experiences for years to come. Vacations shouldn’t end with summer. Build some memories that will take you full force into the next school year and beyond. Hope some of these ideas will help your staycation stick with you a little longer.

New Co-op forming!

Received this info via email and hope it is helpful to some of you, and please forward it to friends and friends of friends that might be interested!

Are you a home school family looking for fun
physical education activities and co-op classes?

Beverly/Morgan Park Home School & Gym Group

We are a new local group that was created to provide opportunities for home schooling families to participate in sports, academics, creative co-op classes and other activities in a God-centered learning environment.

We will meet weekly on Tuesdays from approximately 8:45-12:15 at St. Paul’s Bible Church (located in Beverly, 1960 W. 94th St., between Damen and Winchester) starting in Fall 2012.

We are a co-operative group accommodating ages Nursery to 8th grade.  Therefore, one parent from each family will be expected to participate weekly with gym activities, co-op classes or in some other capacity.  There is a yearly fee per family.

Some of our Gym Activities:

·      Softball

·      Bowling

·      Soccer

·      Basketball

·      Floor Hockey

·      President’s Physical Fitness

Some of our Co-op Classes:

·      Geography Landforms

·      Cooking & Holiday Foods

·      Water and Air Rockets

·      Team building

·      Anatomy

Join us for an informational meeting Monday, June 4th, 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Bible Church to learn more!

Please RSVP to if you plan to come.  We want to ensure that we are prepared with the right amount of refreshments and copies.



Summer Sign Camps

Always Feel Connected’s Summer Camps!!!

Join us this summer for some exciting and fun summer camps!  At these camps you will be enriched in deaf culture and history while learning vocabulary, games and at least one song in sign language!  At the end of the week the kids will perform the song for their parents.  There are 2 different weeks to choose from.  Choose one week or both!  I hope to see you there!

Where:  737 Hamilton Way, Batavia

Time:     9:00am – 12:00pm

Age:      5 yrs – up

Cost:     $75 per child

A)   June 11th – June 15th

B)   July 9th – July 13th

If you are interested please call 630-479-9094 or email @ or register on line

Swap Shop May 19th

Hope you already have this on your calendar, but just in case the organizer, Nicole, asked me to send out one final reminder to come out and find some items for your family.

Even if you did not donate this year, please come and be blessed and see what it is all about. Next year you can jump in with both feet, but for now, come and enjoy the abundance just waiting for a good home.
Elburn Community
Center Gym,
525 N. Main Street,
Elburn, Illinois

Dates & Times:

Drop off – May 18
10 am – 7 pm

Swap – May 19
9 am – 3 pm

Open to ALL!!

What is a Swap Shop ?

Swap Shop is a chance for moms to swap out
things they no longer need for things they do.

If you wouldn’t be ashamed to give it to a friend,
then we’ll accept it.

All items not swapped will be donated to charity.

Nothing to swap? Please come anyway and
be blessed with God’s provision.

Who organizes the Swap Shop ?

This event is hosted by Authentic Moms, a local Christian mom’s group.
Our desire is to follow 1 John 3:16-18
– to love with actions & truth, not just words.

Do you have other questions? Contact –

Items we swap include:
– Baby items
– Gently used clothes & shoes
– Children’s Toys
– Furniture
– Books, Games & School Supplies
– Household & Kitchen Accessories

ALL Items are for SWAP, not SALE

1 John 3:16-18

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Book sale

Scholastic - Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life

While you will find lots of used curriculum sales in the area this time of year, you might also enjoy adding some new books to your shelves. The Scholastic Warehouse Sale is in full swing, but will be wrapping up soon. Depending on where you are your nearest one is closing the 17th or the 24th, so time is running out.

These sales offer you some great deals on those books that traditionally schooled kids get through those little book flyers that go home on a regular basis from the classroom teacher. In these warehouse sales you get to walk the aisles of their store room and find some great deals. If you are going, be sure to register online and print a coupon before heading out. They have lots of great deals to tuck away for birthday or Christmas gifts, or to simply breathe some new life into your homeschool bookshelf.

Check out all the details at the Scholastic website.

Product review: Spanish for You!


I can’t tell you how many foreign language products I have used temporarily over the years. A workbook here, an old cassette tape there, a full program, an online resource. I’ve tried a lot! Some highly recommended, some just cheap alternatives.

The reason I have tried so many is because I really want to learn Spanish and teach my kids to speak Spanish, but I can’t do it on my own. Foreign language is not a skill you can pick up casually. I need to have a curriculum to help me in this area. So, when Debbie Annett approached me about her brand new curriculum, still in the works at the time, I could not resist.

She comes with years of experience in Spanish and teaching in the homeschool community in particular. She has created her curriculum with homeschoolers specifically in mind. I find this a huge benefit as you are not trying to tailor a program geared toward a traditional classroom or the business traveler (the two main targets of language programs, it seems). She made this for you to use at home with your children, or possibly in a co-op setting.

Product: Spanish for You!

Details: (excerpts from their site) Spanish for You! is a flexible, unique self-study curriculum for grades 3 through 8 that establishes the foundations for learning Spanish with just a short lesson each day. The set includes the Spanish for You! Estaciones Book (teaching the seasons — another set teaching fiestas should be out summer of 2012), 24-27 Week Lesson Guides for grades 3-8 (PDF), Self-Checking Worksheets for grades 3-8 (PDF), and Audio Download of entire book (MP3 format)

Cost: $65 for the whole set

Some of what we liked:
The diversity of target ages. This is an all in one curriculum that someone with minimal Spanish knowledge could pick up and use with all of their school age kids. Even though the target range starts with 3rd grade, my 1st and 2nd graders were right in there picking up basic vocabulary as well. (I think 3rd grade is a good starting place, I just generally include all of my kids when teaching if possible).
Abundance of materials. Worksheets, audio files, teacher’s guide, lesson plans, activity ideas, visuals, pronunciation guides, etc. This program is well fleshed out with lots of built in resources. The lessons include pictures in the book, audio files to hear the vocabulary properly pronounced, worksheets for individuals to do on their own, activities to do together, and ideas for review and further teaching.
Lots of built in review. Without becoming redundant, the lessons review, reteach, and repeat the words the kids need to learn. They do not get bored since it is always presented in a new way and language study is such an interactive discipline that everyone stays involved and learning. The lessons are also on the shorter side so they won’t take up a lot of your day, but they will get the job done efficiently.
The audio is at a great pace for learning. It is not rushed through. The words are clear and  easy to understand. I do like my kids to hear a more conversational (fast!) pace as they get more comfortable, but for beginners this is a non-intimidating step into the language. Anyone can learn these words with Mrs. Annett’s gentle teaching.
Adaptable and reasonable time commitment. This program is a gentle introduction to Spanish for younger kids, and a more focused beginners’ course for older kids. While foreign language is better done frequently throughout each day (the lesson plans are mapped out for use 4 days each week), you could easily condense the lessons to 2 times each week, and then try to pepper it in throughout the day as well. You will find you are both quickly learning a new language.

Some considerations for potential buyers
While the curriculum is for multiple grades, it teaches the grades differently. So, beyond the first few days, you would likely go through the material more quickly and to greater depth and mastery with older kids, so you wouldn’t actually teach the class the same way to a 3rd grader and an 8th grader. Just take that into consideration when determining how much time is needed to teach each lesson. Review could still be done together, and kids of different ages could study together, but the teaching times would most likely be separate, or at least branch off after starting together.
Some of the audio, especially early on, seems to be a little light on the Spanish accent. I think especially of “calendario” and “martes” among others in the first lesson. Later lessons do not have this issue, but as students get used to pronouncing these foreign words, they might notice that some sounded a little American at first. This actually seems like another way to gently transition kids into the Spanish language.  You might want to be aware of it, and even point it out, but also be sure to encourage a stronger accent along with the audios as you and your students gain confidence in your new found language.
This curriculum is very user friendly and can be used by someone comfortable with Spanish or someone who really needs a solid Spanish teacher to rely on. You can do this! As a poster in my high school classroom said, “Stamp out foreign languages — learn one!” This program will start you on the road to doing just that.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me in exchange for my personal,  honest review.

Used Curriculum Sale

christian homeschool advocacy, resources, inspiration & support

CHARIS (formerly Kane County Christian Homeschoolers) is having their annual used curriculum sale this week.

I have been to their sale in the past and it is usually pretty well attended and has a decent variety of materials available for purchase. If you’re a used curriculum sale addict like me, you won’t miss it. 🙂

What: The Used Curriculum Sale

When: Friday, May 18 from 9-11:00 am

Where: Sugar Grove Community Center. 141 S. Main St. Sugar Grove.

Free Admission to a Public Garden

Found out about a great opportunity coming up this week from Kristi Boss of the Homeschool Resource Center (

Click on the Get Coupon button on their site and you can get a coupon for free admission to a number of public gardens. You do need to give your name, email, zip code, pick your garden, and indicate the number in your party. The coupon is good for 2 admissions, but the site says to print as many as you need for your group.

In Illinois, included in the list are:

  • Cantigny
  • Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Elmhurst College Arboretum
  • Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden
  • Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
  • Rockford Park District
  • The Morton Arboretum
  • University of Illinois Arboretum

More all across the country, so share with your in and out of state friends as well. 🙂

The weather here in Chicago is supposed to be gorgeous on Friday so grab the sunscreen and a picnic lunch, and enjoy a field trip!

Friday Field Trip — Graue Mill

A hidden jewel and an affordable outing.

Graue (Pronounced Gr-ow-ee) Mill will take you back to the days of kitchen bathtubs, homespun cloth, and mill ground grain.

Located along Salt Creek in Oak Brook, the mill first began turning in 1852 and for 70 years farmers were able to bring their grain to this custom mill to have their grain turned into flour or meal. Fred Graue would keep a portion as payment for his services, and you can still see how it all took place today.

On the main floor you will find a small gift shop and the main grinding area. They ground some corn into a coarse cornmeal for us to touch, and it is available for purchase as well.

My daughter got to participate in the process and enjoyed the hands-on experience of removing kernels from the cob the way they did it before combine harvesters came along.  She also tried her hand at hand grinding to help demonstrate how much easier the mill made the farmer’s job. The mill is run by electricity today, but it doesn’t detract from the authentic feel of the place and the understanding you take away with you of how a real water mill worked.

Other tasks that kids can observe and/or participate in include carding wool, playing checkers with corn cob pieces, making pretend pies with pieces of felt and puffy balls that look like cherries and blueberries as well as pretend apple wedges.  My toddler especially enjoyed those. Kids can dress up, try their hand at ironing (with a cold iron), watch the loom in action, and learn about life over a hundred years ago.

The museum portion is small, but well packed with artifacts and information that kept my kids’ interest. We have been to many similar demonstrations and they have all carded and spun wool before, but the one-on-one attention at Graue was a special experience anyway. If your kids haven’t done these activities before, this is a great personalized introduction to it.

In the basement  you will find the underworkings of the mill and a small area dedicated to the other function of the mill — as a stop on the underground railroad. Pictures and artifacts found there would be a great supplement to a study on this era as well.

Getting there: 3800 York Road Oak Brook, Illinois 60523. Just 18 miles from the heart of Chicago, the Mill is on York Road, 1/4 mile north of Ogden Avenue, at the junction of York and Spring Roads.

Cost: The mill is one of the sites available through the Museum Adventure Pass, so be sure to stop by your library for 2 adult and 2 kid passes before heading to the mill.

Children 4-12         $1.50
Children 3-under     Free

Adults                  $3.50
Seniors                 $3.00

When to go: It is good to call and make sure you are not arriving at the same time as a prescheduled field trip. While it can be fun to tag along, a larger group can pretty well fill the place and make it difficult for you to see much of anything. They will be happy to share their other field trip times with you. We arrived when they opened and had the place pretty much to ourselves until 11:30 when 150 kids arrived. However, they said they do sometimes have field trips scheduled for at or before their regular opening time, so it would be best to call first. Also, they said mornings tend to be better as the demonstrators aren’t always there all day, so be sure to ask about that when you call as well. Because we arrived just before a group we were able to enjoy the three docents on hand that day. They really added to our enjoyment of the visit.

Daily Tuesday – Sunday 10 AM to 4:30 PM
Closed Monday, Except for Holidays

Telephone: 630-655-2090 or 630-920-9720

Other tips: Parking is on the other side of York Road from the mill. You will turn South off of York, but then take the foot bridge under the road to get to the mill. It is a small, but tall building with four floors. The museum is not spacious and so is not stroller friendly. We just left ours outside during the hour and a half we were enjoying the displays and demonstrations. If you have extra time, enjoy the trails and head up to the nature center in Fullersburg Woods. Beautiful area and lots of wildlife to enjoy as well. Pack a picnic lunch if you would like and make a longer day of it.

We really enjoyed our outing to the mill, and it was a great meetup with my parents as well. I always enjoy mixed ages on a field trip as we all bring such a different perspective to historical observations. Definitely find a day on your calendar soon to enjoy the rich history of this quaint mill.

Special events coming in May:

Sunday, May 6, program begins at 1pm
Underground Railroad in DuPage County — Lesa Hipes
Learn how slaves made their way from Missouri to Graue Mill, then Chicago, and eventually Canada and freedom

Sunday, May20

Sheep Shearing and Spin-In Shearings begin at 1pm
Watch Harold Davis give a sheep a haircut. Talk with our volunteers about the old-time crafts of spinning and weaving. Try your hand at the drop spindle and find out the benefits of joining our team of dedicated volunteers.

Homeschool Trampoline Time!

From Epic Air:
We are pleased to announce that we will be offering a Home Schooling time block.  This will be on Wednesdays from 1:30pm – 3:00pm, beginning Wednesday, May 2nd.  The cost will be $8.00 per jumper.  Families larger than 4 kids, there will be a $2 discount for additional siblings (not cousins, or nieces or nephews or grandkids or friends…).  Each jumper must have a signed waiver by their parent or legal guardian.  No exceptions, just like in any other case.
Facility is only a few months old and looks amazing!
Address: 1675 North Lancaster Road, South Elgin, IL
Directions: WEST of McLean and EAST of Randall Road.
East on Stearns Road from Randall Road to first left, Umbdenstock.   From Umbdenstock, make 2nd right on Lancaster Road.  Please use Google Maps to find them.  Maquest does not have them located correctly.
More info or questions:

847.608.0600 office

“You Ready To Jump!?”

Dodgeball, Trampoline Arena, Foam Pit, Long Tracks, Basketball, Parties, Events