When I was a kid growing up in the Chicago area, my mother often took advantage of the free local attractions to keep us entertained throughout the summer. One of my absolute favorites was (and still is) the Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs.
Last Wednesday was the perfect day for such a trip since the weather was just right at a sunny 72 degrees. The kids and I donned our gym shoes and headed out the door. I forgot how close the Little Red Schoolhouse is to our home in Orland Park.
When I was younger, the only building on the site was the actual little red schoolhouse. Last year a new visitor’s center was built and it is a large, modern structure that houses live animal exhibits, a children’s activity room and the turtle pond.
Sure, I am nostalgic for the old schoolhouse, but upon entering the new one I am grateful for the larger spaces and updated exhibits. One of the first things you see is a life-size wigwam. The kids always seem to enjoy this part of the exhibit.
My kids were inspired by the wigwam and built a pillow and blanket version in the boy’s room when we went home.
One awesome advantage of the new facility is the view of Long John Slough offered from the vantage point.
The turtle pond is amazing and comes equipped with glass panels that are the perfect height for the kids to have a front row seat to the underwater activity in the pond.
The visitor center is great, but the real reason for my visits to Little Red Schoolhouse is to walk the nature trails. There are two trail choices. They have names, but I will always refer to them as the “long trail” and the “short trail”. The long trail is actually called the Black Oak Trail and measures 1 and 2/3 miles long. I would suggest sticking to the short trail if you are using a stroller or have toddler aged children.
On this particular day, things seemed peaceful and serene. I don’t know if I will attribute it to the weather, the scenery or the fact that my children actually got along. Maybe it was a combination of the three. I couldn’t help but smile listening to my kids have actual meaningful conversations about nature and other things. My eldest son tried his best to explain to my youngest the process of photosynthesis. He listened for a minute then replied with “Yeah, um, wanna race?”
If you have never been to the Little Red Schoolhouse nature center, give it a try. If it has been a while since you have been back, discover it once again.
Do they still display the two headed turtle?
No … I remember that from when I was young and we used to go. When I took my kids I thought it would be there but alas.