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Free & Cheap Winter Break Activities In Chicago

by Kristin McCann

Winter Break at Chicago-area schools means it's time for a little family fun. Hopefully mom and dad can take the day off of work to get in on the festivities. And it doesn't have to be fancy: create a Wii or Xbox tournament for the neighborhood kids. Hang out at the local sledding hill or ice skating pond, if the weather cooperates. Another great tip is to check your local park district for programs on these holidays. Lots have scheduled field trips or workshops ranging from one hour to all day.

You could spend a small fortune going to a movie or sending the kids to day camp, but we've compiled a list of free, inexpensive and exciting activities to take you through the weekend. Be sure to double check the website for what's included. You may still need to pay for special activities or parking. So pack up the kids and pack a lunch and have a great winter break.

Ice Skating
(credit: ExploreChicago.org)

The rink, now in its eleventh season, draws more than 100,000 skaters annually and is free and open to the public. Skate rental is available for $10. The ice rink is located on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison streets.

F & P - 12.16.11 - Best Holiday Lights & Events - Zoo Lights
(credit: LincolnParkZoo.com)

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (gates open until 5 p.m.)

The zoo is always free, so just pay a few dollars to park or take public transportation. If you haven't seen the zoo or the animals in winter, it is a very different experience than summer. Bundle up and check it out.

Brookfield Lights 79
(credit:Steve Hardy/CBS Local)

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

One of the great things about the Brookfield Zoo is that there are so many indoor options – the Family Zoo, the Swamp, and the Gorilla House just to name a few. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are free in January and February.

Sundays through Thursdays 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is a permanent display of 150 stained glass windows housed in an 800-ft.-long series of galleries along the lower level terraces of Festival Hall. Admission is free.

Mon–Fri: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thu: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sat: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The newest exhibition, Limits of Photography, opened January 21. Admission is free.

DuSable Museum
(credit: DuSableMuseum.org)

Tuesday—Saturday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Sunday, Noon–5:00 p.m. (Closed Mondays)
Free on Sundays

The museum preserves and displays artifacts and objects that promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions, and experiences of African Americans.

Garfield Conservatory
(credit: garfieldconservatory.org)

Daily Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Wednesdays: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Despite severe damage from a hailstorm last year, the conservatory is open and free to the public. The conservatory encourages the community to explore the fundamental connection between plants and life.

Kristin McCann is a working mom with two young girls. She strives to have fun, quality time with her family and a fulfilling professional career – even though many believe the two to be mutually exclusive.

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