3 Ways to Celebrate Back to School in Chicago

Some children are extremely excited to head back to school. Others? Eh, not so much. I have one of each in my family. My daughter was thrilled that she “might even get homework this year” *squeal*. My son needs to be dragged out of bed and has pretty severe anxiety about the whole deal. One thing you can do to make the transition more positive is turning it into a celebration of all things that are GOOD about back to school (and yes, even the most grumpy kiddo can be coaxed into finding something). Here are 3 ways to celebrate back to school in Chicago!

WNDR Museum

Do you remember those optical illusions that you saw as a kid? You know the ones- they usually combined some type of geometric patterns that popped out as you stared, or an image appeared to be either like a face or a candlestick depending upon how you looked at it? Well, the WNDR Museum in Chicago’s West Loop has that same “wow” factor…just times a million.

It is definitely more than an instagramable hot spot for millennials (although you will see plenty of attempts at capturing the perfect TikTok). My children were indeed steeped in wonder at many of the installations- from a “melting” digital photo of our family to the ability to create their own auditory composition, dozens of interactive exhibits provided plenty of entertainment.

One of the most awe-inspiring illusions is the Ames room, where the you truly cannot believe your eyes when you view from the exterior. The play between height, distance and perspective is incredible, and can lend itself to multiple discussions on tangible and intangible viewpoints. This is one way to celebrate back to school while keeping the focus on dealing with different perspectives.

In addition to all of the optical eye candy, the WNDR Museum also shows children that it is totally ok to experiment and test things out. They watched adults make silly faces, do dance moves, and play around with light and sound. I think my favorite installation was the very last, and it was the one we spent the most time in, The Wisdom Project. The question was asked, “What do you know for sure?” Seeing my children’s answers was worth the price of admission alone.

To visit the WNDR Museum, head to their website to purchase timed tickets.

TIP: It becomes VERY crowded on the weekends. I highly recommend going during the week, word is that Monday afternoons/early evenings are least crowded.

JoJo’s Shake Bar

This upscale shake-focused restaurant has a revolving theme that is maxed out on a regular basis. By this, I mean that they GO. ALL. OUT. with the theme. My children and I have been there for Halloween and holiday and both were absolutely spectacular. The current theme is Wild Wild West- hay bales, cowboy hats, and plenty of western-style photo opps.

And yes, you DO need to get a shake while you are there. You might wonder why the shakes cost $14 when Shake Shack slings theirs for under $6. JoJos is first and foremost an experience, you are paying for the location, the decor, the entertainment (and yes, there is a $10 table reservation fee in addition to your bill, in addition to the 18% service charge, sticker shock is real). Each shake comes with unique themed edible decorations, and they are GIANT. I don’t order my own, I have my kids each get whatever they want and then I finish what they don’t drink.

Also, we don’t eat a full meal there. We usually eat lunch at home, then drive downtown for dessert mid-afternoon. Or I just order an appetizer and we all split it, because shakes are incredibly filling. Some people like the tea room for their kids, I like JoJos. Grab a reservation on their site, don’t wing it and hope for a table. What better way to celebrate back to school than with a massive milkshake?

TIP: If you dress in Western gear during this theme, you get 1/2 off your table fee. Plus, it’s fun 😉

Skydeck Chicago and The Ledge

Time to play tourist! Skydeck Chicago unveiled a redevelopment this past spring, adding an interactive experience for guests to truly dive into more of what Chicago is truly about. It showcases history including the Chicago Fire, culture (Second City stage opp!), iconic food like the deep dish and Chicago hot dog, and much more.

After learning about the city, it is time to head up to the 103rd floor to see it. The views are absolutely unparalleled- on a clear day, you can see up to 50 miles and 4 states. In response to the forehead smears left from people trying to smash their faces into the glass for a better view, Skydeck responded by building The Ledge. A glass box was designed to hang out over the side of the building 103 stories above the street. This box took one year to design and 6 months to build, ensuring the safety and optimum visibility.

You can also grab some iconic Chicago bites at Catalog at Willis Tower after your trip. I highly recommend Do Rite Donuts and Chicken with a cup of Dark Matter Coffee in the cooler months. Timed tickets for Skydeck are available on their website.

TIP: The best time to go is right after opening or just after sunset. If you want to view the sunset, plan on getting there about 45 minutes prior to the sunset time.

Cheers to exploring your city and celebrate back to school!

Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to WNDR Museum. All opinions are honest and my own as always.