Morton Arboretum leaves your children entertained, tricks them into learning 

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the parenting column

The Morton Arboretum is sneaky. While kids are exploring the tree house, building rock and stick dams in the creek or running through mazes, they are also gaining an under-the-radar educational experience. Established in 1922 and open every day of the year, the Morton Arboretum collects and studies trees, shrubs and other plants (190,000 specimens) from around the globe. Children will undoubtedly learn and develop a passion for nature, and adults will get the cherry-on-top when the kids all fall asleep on the ride home.

"My favorite part is that there is something for everyone. Everything we have here is very educational but kids don't realize it," said Hannah Rennard, manager of curriculum and instruction. "When they are at the flowers, they are actually learning about how insects pollinate flowers. The idea is for the parents to interact with the children and help teach them that. I like that the kids see it as play but they are learning something at the same time."

The arboretum is 1,700 acres; it includes 16 miles of trails, 500 acres of plant collections and specialty gardens and 900 acres of woodlands, prairies, meadows, lakes and streams. Families are able to take part in the great outdoors as well as contribute to a non-profit science, research and conservation organization that plants and protects trees for a healthier world.

"Mom and dad can get ideas about gardening while the kids are playing," Rennard said.

The highlight of the arboretum for parents with children under 10 years old is the award winning, five-acre interactive Children's Garden and hedge maze, a nature-lover's paradise. Ten themed gardens - bursting with interactive and learning-based play - will engage your kids as they observe various ecosystems from around the world. Kids will spot birds, turtles, frogs, squirrels, chipmunks and dragonflies in the Adventure Woods and the Backyard Discovery Gardens. They can put their bare feet in the stream and feel the smooth rocks; they can climb up rope bridges and pretend to be pirates in the tree houses-all they need is an imagination and a sense of adventure.

"One thing that is kind of interesting is that you see lots of moms, dads and grandparents here everyday so it's a multigenerational kind of experience," said Mary Beth Sammons, public relations manager. "It's [the Children's Garden] all fenced in so you don't have to worry about your child getting lost and it caters to children of various ages."

Not only are children safe and secure within the boundaries of the Children's Garden, extraordinarily friendly and knowledgeable volunteers and staff mill about the area, welcoming conversation and offering guidance.

Fresh air, sunshine, inspiration and exercise are all brilliant reasons to take a trip to the arboretum. Spend the day appreciating nature while supporting an organization that is doing good things for our environment and for our kids. Visit for more information.