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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 01:29 pm

A season for family fun

A central Illinois guide to enriching activities for parents and children

The Peoples of the Past exhibit at the recently reopened Illinois State Museum
PHOTO BY DOUG CARR COURTESY ILLINOIS STATE MUSEUM

 

Now that Halloween has come and gone, and with it the busy season of apple-picking, visits to pumpkin patches and trick-or-treat events, what is there for a Springfield family to do for fun on the weekends? Lots, as it turns out. From museums to zoos to holiday happenings, there are plenty of places to discover family fun in the late fall within driving distance of Springfield.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month in November, consider a trip to a museum to learn more about the native peoples of Illinois. The Illinois State Museum is a great place to start; its Peoples of the Past exhibition provides an introduction to the people and artifacts of Illinois’ native heritage. For more in-depth information, take a trip to Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown. Exhibits and artifacts explore 10,000 years of Native American history, from the time the first humans arrived in this region after the last ice age to the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century. And just an hour and a half from Springfield is a prehistoric Native American site which has been described as the Eighth Wonder of the World, with significance that rivals that of the pyramids in Egypt: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Cahokia was a prehistoric urban center that was, in its time, the most sophisticated civilization north of Mexico. Today visitors can learn about the lives of its inhabitants through a world-class visitors center and guided and self-guided tours of the earthen mounds left behind by prehistoric inhabitants.

The Air Combat Museum
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE
November is also Aviation History Month, so what better time to explore the history of flight with a trip to an aviation museum? Springfield boasts its own Air Combat Museum at 835 S. Airport Road. Visitors can get an up-close look at 14 examples of combat aircraft, as well as tanks, military memorabilia and a modified drone which children can climb in. Fans of the Disney movie Planes will enjoy seeing a real-life version of Skipper the Corsair. About an hour away in Bloomington, the family-friendly Prairie Aviation Museum is located on the grounds of the Central Illinois Regional Airport. It features 11 examples of civilian and military aircraft, including three helicopters, as well as rotating exhibits and displays.

Families whose tastes run more to maritime than aviation history should be sure to check out the blockbuster Titanic exhibition at Peoria’s Riverfront Museum, opening Nov. 12. “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” features artifacts recovered from the debris field of the sunken ship, as well as re-creations of the ship’s interior and an interactive iceberg. On Nov. 19, the museum will host a Titanic Family Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors will have the chance to learn about icebergs and salt water, build a boat and create a craft to take home.

Central Illinois’ many zoos offer families the chance to take a walk on the wild side while getting into the holiday spirit in November and December. Wildlife Prairie Park outside Peoria is hosting a Thanksgiving Day Feast, serving traditional fare such as turkey, mashed potatoes and apple pie. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, families are invited to the park for the Wildlife Waddle, including guided hikes and animal programs. On Dec. 3, the Peoria Zoo will host Critter Christmas. After breakfast and crafts with Santa, kids will watch as the zoo animals get special gifts to enjoy. Over in Bloomington, Miller Park Zoo will host Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 10; visitors will have the chance to meet Santa Claus and the zoo’s reindeer.

Lucia Nights at Bishop Hill State Historic Site
PHOTO COURTESY BISHOP HILL STATE HISTORIC SITE, ILLINOIS HISTORIC PRESERVATION AGENCY

The approaching holiday season also offers several opportunities for families to step back in time and experience holiday traditions of the past by visiting historic sites. The Bishop Hill State Historic Site north of Galesburg will host Lucia Nights on Dec. 9 and 10. Guests may stroll luminary-lined streets as holiday music fills the air and young girls dressed as St. Lucia offer sweet treats. In Springfield, the Lincoln Home, Iles House and historic Edwards Place will be open the afternoon of Dec. 10 for a holiday open house. Visitors will see these homes decorated for the holiday, visit with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and have the chance to do craft activities at each site. In Lerna, near Mattoon, the Lincoln Log Cabin (home of Abraham Lincoln’s father) will host an Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie on Dec. 10. Hot wassail and cookies will be served in the Visitors Center, and Christmas stories will be shared in the log cabin as the smell of baking gingerbread fills the air. Also on that day, Bloomington will host its popular annual “Christmas at the Mansions” event. A shuttle bus will take ticketed guests between the David Davis Mansion, Ewing Manor and a “mystery house,” all decked out for the holidays and brimming with traditions of the past.

Before planning your trip, be sure to visit each location’s website for hours of operation, ticket prices and driving directions.

Erika Holst is a writer and mother of a four-year-old boy.

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