By Kristy Wilson
Whether you are new to the area or you have lived here for a while it doesn’t take long for you to get plugged into the kid/parenting community of chambanamoms.com. I have met people who follow chambanamoms who have lived in town for 30-plus years and others who moved to town last month who say, “I think that I saw something about that on the chambanamoms site.” So if you are reading this you may get the Weekend Planner email that is sent out on Thursdays, and read about the multitude of events that we promote. Some of the events are seasonal, some cost, and some only happen once. So we wanted to provide you with a list of FREE, not-so-obvious things to do in C-U.
Please note: This list is intended to highlight the not-so-obvious free activities. Many of us know about things like the indoor playgrounds at church, the mall play area, the vast array of parks, etc. for free activities. This list includes the things that are a bit more off the beaten path.
- Frisbee golf: Have you ever played this fantastic game that is a combination of golf and Frisbee? It was first introduced to me when I lived in Seattle more than 14 years ago. Back then there weren’t any courses here. However, over the years several have popped up, including at Dodds Park in Champaign and Lohmann Park in Urbana. The cost for this activity would be the investment of the discs. They can be purchased locally at MC Sporting Goods and Dick’s Sporting Goods, or online.
- Great Harvest Bread Company: Go to the Great Harvest website and click on “coloring sheet” at the top of the page. Print off the sheet for your little ones, have them follow the directions at the bottom of the coloring page and bring it in for a free cookie. Your child’s artwork will be put up on the wall for all to see!
- Kaufman Lake, Champaign: Take your little one fishing or walk the trail around the lake.
- Market Place Shopping Center: Free carousel rides the first Friday of the month.
- Prairie Farm, Champaign: This is a seasonal activity (typically running from Memorial Day to early August), but it offers kids an opportunity to see a working farm on a small scale. Also, in years past there has been a “Story Time on the Farm” event that is free to the public and offers kids an opportunity to hear stories about their favorite animals while spending time with them. Visit Prairie Farm’s website as we get closer to Memorial Day to find out more information about scheduling and free events.
- Schnucks in Savoy: Free cookie decorating on Saturdays.
- University of Illinois: Beyond a walk through the quad on a beautiful fall day to see the changing leaves, there are various activities that happen on campus that are free for families. A few include:
Spurlock Museum: This museum features five different galleries of exhibits representing people and cultures from around the world. (Free, but there is a suggested $3 donation.)
Krannert Art Museum: Walk through the galleries and take in the sights of the permanent collection as well as the rotating collections, then stop in the Palette Café for a treat.
Japan House: It is open to the public for tea ceremonies (these are not free, but are offered at a price of $8/person or $6 for U of I students/members) and on Thursdays tours are offered. Check the chambanamoms calendar for events.
Arboretum and Botanical Gardens: This is a great place to go on nature walks. Granted, your kiddos can’t pick the flowers like some would on a traditional nature walk. However, if your kids are a little older you might create a short list of popular flowers with pictures and see how many of them you can spot. Kind of a nature walk meets “I Spy.”
- The Virginia Theatre: While there are many wonderful shows that take place throughout the year at the Virginia for a cost, did you know that you can take a free tour on Wednesdays at 10 a.m.? You must call ahead to schedule the tour.
- William Staerkel Planetarium: OK, so this one is not quite free, but it is only $1 per person, so almost free right? The planetarium offers talks on varying subjects that are part of their “World of Science” talks. The topics vary and seem most appropriate for older children. They are done for this year, but file away for next fall.
- Champaign County Historical Museum: Located in the old “Cattle Bank” building across from the Champaign Police Department, this museum offers an opportunity to learn about the history of Champaign County. Currently the museum is closed and undergoing a major overhaul and fundraising drive. However, it’s projected re-opening will be some time in Spring 2017. For more information and to watch for its reopening visit the website.What other not-so-obvious ways to have freebie fun in the Champaign-Urbana area would you add?
Kristy Wilson considers herself a “townie” having lived in the community for more than 26 years. She grew up in Unit 4 schools and attended the University of Illinois. Kristy is passionate about her professional work as a social worker. In her spare time she enjoys food! In particular she loves to try new recipes and sample new dishes at local eateries.