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Suburban Chicago: DuPage County’s Best Kept Secrets for Students

Suburban Chicago: DuPage County’s Best Kept Secrets for Students

I recently had the opportunity to visit DuPage County, Illinois and almost everywhere we went, I thought to myself, “This place would be great for a field trip.” See an Underground Railroad site; learn history about President Lincoln and the military; and explore earth sciences by getting close to nature. As a former education major, I tend to keep an eye out for any educational opportunities. Here’s what I discovered in DuPage County that I’m sure your students will not only learn from, but also have fun doing.

Cantigny Park

Freedom Room in Robert McCormick Museum. Credit: Brent Edwards

Freedom Room in Robert McCormick Museum. Credit: Brent Edwards

Wheaton

History, Environmental Science

Cantigny Park was my personal favorite part of the trip. History truly comes to life on a tour of the McCormick Museum or in the First Division Museum. You can top off your trip with some environmental science and horticulture in the park’s gardens or Education Center.

The McCormick Museum, built in 1896, is a historic house interpreting the life and legacy of Colonel Robert R. McCormick and his family, revealing the public and private sides of one of America’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families. I learned how Colonel McCormick, longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, traveled from his estate to the Tribune Tower in Chicago via airplane to avoid car traffic. I also learned about the McCormick family’s relationship with President Lincoln. The tour guide impressed me with her knowledge of the estate, and answered every question we had (trust me, we asked a lot). Your students will love journeying through the giant mansion and, though I won’t spoil the surprise, the grand finale of the tour.

The mansion is just one part of the 500-acre former estate. At the First Division Museum, you students can climb on tanks and learn about the U.S. Army’s “Big Red One,” the famed 1st Infantry Division. Exhibits are interactive and provide insight on America’s past and present military. My trip leader compared this museum to a “Disney ride,” and what young student wouldn’t love that?

If you’re visiting on a nice day, you might want to see the gardens that cover 30 acres. While you’re outside, enjoy lunch in the spacious picnic area. Also on the property is the Education Center, a prairie-style building that offers more than 300 children’s programs, youth group activities, fitness classes, horticulture workshops and art classes.

Sheldon Peck Homestead

Tour guide showing the historic Sheldon Peck Homestead museum.

Tour guide showing the historic Sheldon Peck Homestead museum.

Lombard

History, Art

A visit to Sheldon Peck Homestead tells the story of famous folk artist Sheldon Peck, a portrait painter and radical abolitionist whose house is listed on the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The house—built in 1839 and family-owned since before it became a museum in the 1990s—features exhibits on anti-slavery, Peck family history, a gallery of his paintings and an heirloom garden.

Some interesting things I learned included why Peck didn’t sign his paintings, the importance of books in his paintings, and how he transported slaves to freedom in his wagon’s secret compartment; bring your students to find out the answers! Students can even dress in 19th century costumes and pretend they are 19th century pupils, complete with a desk and chalkboard. In fact, the house was the first school for boys and girls in Lombard.

Peck’s beliefs on anti-slavery, gender equality and public education were way ahead of his time, and a student trip to Sheldon Peck Homestead is sure to teach your students the importance of pioneers such as Peck.

Lilacia Park

Lilacia Park resized for web

Lombard

Botany, History

While you’re in Lombard, head over to Lilacia Park to enjoy lunch, run around the park and see beautiful flowers. This 8.5-acre public park features picnic tables, statues, a fountain, more than 700 lilacs and 25,000 tulips. You can even book a heritage tour where your group will learn how a colonel and his wife’s generosity created this grand space.

Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

Castle Lizzadro 18k gold sculpture featuring windows of cut diamonds on a base of mineral specimens.

Castle Lizzadro 18k gold sculpture featuring windows of cut diamonds on a base of mineral specimens.

Elmhurst

Culture, Earth Science

If you aren’t familiar with lapidary, it is the art of cutting and polishing stone. The museum is packed with stunning pieces worth millions, but don’t let this intimidate you if you have rowdy students. The museum staff helps ensure safety for both students and the artifacts.

The upper level of the museum displays a large selection of Chinese jade and hard stone carvings from around the world. Your students will view carvings made out of Chinese jade, ivory, coral, pearl and amber.

On the lower level, the Rock & Mineral Experience showcases earth science and lapidary materials where students can explore fossils, meteorites, mineral specimens and micromounts. While in the lower level, your group will see a video explaining lapidary history, significant pieces in the museum and how they are made.

Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum Backyard Discovery Gardens resized for web

Lisle

Environmental Science, Biology, Botany, Recycling

We are all aware of the push for students and future generations to be more environmentally-friendly, and a trip to the Morton Arboretum is an ideal way to get students out of the classroom to have fun and learn outdoors. With 1,700 acres, an educational center, more than 20 guided and self-guided tours and programs for grades PreK-12, you will find some activity that fits into your academic schedule.

Morton Arboretum is open year-round and offers full- or half-day experiences. I enjoyed the narrated tram ride of the entire arboretum and, although I may be too old for this, the children’s garden. The garden was packed with interactive activities, playgrounds and even a tadpole pool that you can wade into. Other activities at the Arboretum include guided adventures, guided labs or create-your-own self-guided adventures. Staff can provide you with suggested itineraries, learning tools and a variety of excursions to choose from.

Morton Arboretum’s iOS app allows you to see a map of the entire Arboretum and get information about exhibits, classes and tours. You can unlock achievements by completing tours, and all maps on the app show your exact location within the arboretum at any time.

Avoid the hectic city and the frantic attempts to keep tabs on everyone at a heavily-populated typical field trip destination. In DuPage County, you can find high-quality educational opportunities for a cheaper cost in a more intimate environment. Contact the DuPage CVB to get more information on the area, what to see and when to visit.

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