With our list of kidtastic things to do for $10 or less, your family can forget all about words like "economic downturn" and start saying these instead: Best. Summer. Ever.
FREE Chew on this
The Jelly Belly distribution center tour has the recipe for a perfect day: Eat free samples; take a half-hour tram tour of the plant; eat free samples; watch a video on how candy is made; load up on clearance-priced “Belly Flops” in the adjacent retail shop; put kids in the car for the hour-long drive back home. Okay, almost perfect. Open every day except holidays from 9am–4pm, no reservations needed. 10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie, WI (866-868-7522, jellybelly.com).
FREE Play with art in the park
If your kids think sliding down the Picasso is a blast, wait until they get a load of the 60 abstract sculptures along the two-mile Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park bike path. Don’t forget your camera—we smell a photo-op. Adjacent to McCormick Boulevard between Dempster and Touhy, Skokie (847-679-4265, sculpturepark.org).
FREE Bite back
Get the lowdown on venomous spiders and snakes at Willowbrook Wildlife Center (Aug 22, 10–11:30am) when the creature- curious can touch snakes (if you dare!) and go on a spider-collecting adventure. Register by phone after August 1. 525 S Park Blvd, Glen Ellyn (630-942-6200, dupageforest.com).
FREE Listen and learn
Get them to use that iPod for something more constructive than the Jonas Brothers. Download the Chicago Office of Tourism’s interactive MP3 audio tour (downloadchicagotours.com), designed to get kids to play games along the way to city landmarks. Older children might like the Millennium Park and history of Chicago blues tours, too. All are available in five languages.
Roll with it
Put the family on an assortment of wheels, from hybrid, mountain and cruiser bikes, to in-line skates and hand-cycles for a fast and fun ride about town. Rentals (from $6 an hour for a kids’ bike to $10 for skates) are available at Millennium Park, Navy Pier, North Avenue Beach, Foster Avenue Beach and the Riverwalk. (866-736-8224, bikeandroll.com/chicago).
FREE Doll yourselves up
Dollhouse fans go gaga for the amazing miniatures at Think Small by Rosebud, a Wrigleyville store and workshop filled with an elaborate collection of little houses and all the furnishings to fill them. Look around for free or, for an additional cost, the staff can provide assistance, ideas and supplies (and even set you up with some space) to make your own miniatures. Or show them pictures and blueprints of your dream house and let them do the creative work for you. Whether or not you’re buying, this place is worth a look. Closed Mon. 3209 N Clark St (773-477-1920, tinyurl.com/tocdolls).
Take them out to a ballgame
If Sox or Cubs tickets are out of your league, try the minors. For less than you’d pay for parking downtown (lawn seats are $8–$10), the Kane County Cougars offer kids a chance to get hosed off by Super Soakers, run the bases, watch fireworks and, often, take home a free souvenir, such as an Ozzie the Cougar bobblehead (Aug 29). The lawn at a Schaumburg Flyers game is even cheaper ($5–$6), and includes fireworks most Fridays and promotions including free post-game autographs on Sundays and $1 hot dogs on Mondays. Cougars: Elfstrom Stadium, 34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva (630-232-8811, kccougars.com). Flyers: Alexian Field, 1999 S Springinsguth Rd, Schaumburg (847-891-2255, flyersbaseball.com).