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A Chicago Saturday with the kids

Taking in the Notebaert Nature Museum, Llama Llama with the Emerald City Theatre and brunch at Ann Sather

By Laurie Nicholson

Original article appeared in The Real Chicago. To read more like it, visit

Like all parents, I want to offer my child educational experiences that will help her learn and grow, understanding facts and information about the world. So when I brought my preschooler to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, I was primed to help her engage in some enriching activities. Little did I know, I would be learning just as much as she did, and all in the context of playful and imaginative exhibits.  

This museum is a bit different from many other science/nature museums in that the curators seem to truly understand that children (and perhaps, adults) learn best through play.  

We imagined ourselves to be squirrels nestled into the trunk of a tree, where we stored away acorns for winter. We stepped on a squishy marsh and talked about different surfaces and environments. We played in a simulated bathroom with “bathroom smells” recreated. (This was more fun for my husband and daughter than me.)

The museum also offers multiple opportunities for hands-on interaction with all types of animals.
During our three-hour visit, we attended a lecture on baby bats, and even got to pet a few of them! We were also treated to the feeding of aquatic animals and reptiles.

But most spectacular of all was the Butterfly Haven. Having visited several sub-par butterfly houses in the past, we weren’t exactly getting our hopes up. However, we ended up being astounded by the Notebaert’s version. There were butterflies of every color, shape, and size. There were butterflies that looked like owls, butterflies that sat still and let us observe, and butterflies that fluttered around and seemed to be chasing us! This exhibit alone is reason enough to visit the museum.

And finally, my own little animal needed a snack as well, so we stopped by the colorfully-decorated food area, which was also set up to educate, with all kinds of interesting info and activities related to energy, food and recycling.  

We barely even scratched the surface of the museum’s offerings, as there were many more exhibits to see and explore (including the awesome water table, which would have dominated our entire afternoon had we noticed it earlier).  

The next stop on our Chicago visit was a trip to the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Avenue to see the Emerald City Theatre’s production of Llama Llama. We loved the Llama Llama books and were excited to see our little llama friend in action.

True to form, he whined, danced, wiggled and snuggled his momma. The actors did a great job of engaging the kids, and the 45-minute show was the perfect length for my squirmy little toddler.  

Finally, in our bid to address our hankering for something sweet, we brunched at Ann Sather. What does a three-year-old enjoy more than anything? A cinnamon roll that is as big as her head!

The family-friendly atmosphere in the restaurant was perfect for our crew, and the staff was super accommodating to our requests for extra milk, extra napkins, and yes (I’m not ashamed to admit it), a little extra icing to top off our cinnamon rolls. After that, we all needed a nap!

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is located at 2430 Cannon Drive, across Fullerton Avenue from the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Llama Llama runs through Jan. 5 with general public performances on holidays and weekends at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and student matinee performances on weekdays at 10:15 a.m. Visit for the complete show schedule.

Ann Sather has Chicago locations at 909 W. Belmont, 5207 N. Clark and 3415 N. Broadway.