How hard is it to raise kids in Chicago?
December 30, 2016 12:38 PM   Subscribe

We're not parents... yet. We were raised in the suburbs and now own a condo in Rogers Park. How hard is it, really, to raise a city kid in Chicago?

People say the schools are bad in Chicago. How bad are they? How hard is it to navigate the CPS system?
Are daycare, preschool, and summer camps really overcrowded?
How do you find enough things to do indoors, in winter?
How do you deal with an apartment that has little storage and no backyard?
Are there enough activities for kids?
Are there enough mommy/daddy groups? How do you find them? (Facebook seems to be coming up empty.)
What other challenges should I be planning ahead for?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Human Relations (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We're raising two kids in the city (now 7 and 10) and it's been great. I'll go through your questions:

1. My kids are both in CPS. It's been great. The individual schools in CPS have a giant variance - some are excellent, some are terrible. You should find out what your neighborhood school is and find out if it is good. If you need other options, you will want to study up on the selective enrollment schools and the magnet/lottery schools. Selective enrollment elementary can be difficult to get into, but this depends somewhat on your "tier," which is basically the socioeconomic background of your neighborhood. There are magnet/lottery options also that depend on luck and not a test. If you can't stand the uncertainty of the selective enrollment/magnet process and your neighborhood program is not great, I would seriously consider trying to move before your child is 5. If you give yourself a few years to relocate into a good neighborhood program, it could be very valuable. You don't want to start thinking about this when the kid is 4.

2. I don't think overcrowding is an issue with camps and preschools and such. There are tons of options. Some of the cheapest options (like the Park District camps) get oversubscribed quickly, I think, but there are just so many places that I think most people are able to find something.

3. Winter = museums, library, sledding, parks, Lincoln Park zoo (which is free), etc. Your local library is really important because they will have activities (like story time) and also free passes to the museums that you can "check out" like a book. You can also find discounted and free ways to see the museums, such as the Family Days that a lot of museums have (the MCA has great Family Days). Also, some banks (like BOA) sponsor free days if you have an account with them. There are so many free or discounted type days at the museums, it's great. And a little kid can go back to the same museum 3-4 times over the winter and enjoy it each time.

4. We have no backyard. Parks, parks, parks. We use every Park District facility within a few miles of our house. You're not too far from Indian Boundary park - we would bring a picnic and let our kids run around for 2-3 hours on that awesome playground.

5. Check out the Old Town School of music in Lincoln Square. They run a music class for tots called "Wiggleworms" that was like the entry point into the mom/dad scene for just about everyone we know. We made mom/dad friends from Wiggleworms that we still know.
posted by Mid at 1:27 PM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

A quick note from another urban area, we've had friends enjoy urban living and skip the PS question by connecting with moderately-priced private schools (Catholic) one family went PS until HS. All kids graduated from college.
posted by childofTethys at 3:32 PM on December 30, 2016

One of my best friends is raising a kid in the city, with another on the way. Max is probably the busiest kid I know. He's always doing something fun. He's not old enough for school yet, but his dad (my buddy) is a CPS third grade teacher. The schools are not great, but they vary. Some are better than others.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:06 PM on December 30, 2016

I was really committed to both the idea of raising my kids in the city and to a public school education. When my daughter tested into the gifted program and was placed in one of the more highly regarded schools, I thought we were set. I was wrong. Six years later, we finally threw in the towel re CPS and moved to Oak Park (which is actually closer to the loop than Rogers Park). This was 2001, but as I understand things, serious issues remain.

If you decide to use CPS, be vigilant from the beginning and be prepared to move if you run into problems (e.g., bad teacher and/or principal) because you can burn through years trying to fix issues.
posted by she's not there at 12:00 AM on December 31, 2016

One of the things I miss most about Rogers Park is the happy babies. You'll be fine! Your baby will be a sophisticated city kid with skills! A friend who is raising her kids in Chicago brought them to visit me. Those tiny girls DOMINATED the crowd while going against traffic inside the San Diego Zoo. Their mother and I were dying laughing.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 2:10 PM on December 31, 2016

We are in Rogers Park and have two kids, one in CPS and one in preschool. We love it here and are committed for the long haul. It can be/feel pricey at times and sometimes (visiting my sister and her kid in the suburbs) I wonder if they are missing out not having the Big Yard and the Lots of Kids nearby, but I usually come back to thinking that we are absolutely in the right place.

Answers to questions I have answers too!

1. The schools are mixed bag. Our neighborhood school is on the rise, but it isn't super duper so we did the lottery. We love the school we got into, but we visited about 10 or so as we were making our decision and every single one of them we came out thinking "we could totally see our kid here" Other friends chose/got into different schools and love the ones they are in. That being said, there are constant funding issues that are a total drag. You an MeMail me if you want more details / stories / etc.

2. There's lots of options for daycare and preschool. Depending on your financial situation I feel like you'd find lots of options. We haven't done summer camp as our family situation allows us just to keep the kids at home. I've not known anyone who couldn't find something that they liked. Park district programs can go VERY quickly.

3. We have one kid who likes being indoors a lot and one who likes to go outside NO MATTER WHAT, so winter activities for us also involve going to the park as the one just doesn't get cold (apparently). We got memberships at the Science and Industry Museum and Chicago Children's Museum. We found ourselves choosing those two because they had free parking so you could do an outing to Navy Pier or MSI for "free" and just let them run around in large indoor spaces. I hear the Art Institute also has great kids stuff (go figure).

4. Parks parks parks, as Mid says. There are four parks within easy walking distance of us. Plus the lake. There's also the free Park District pools, forest preserves, Maggie Daley park, museums, etc. Tons to do. Kids also love things that we find mundane (which is one of the swell things about kids). Both of ours love getting on the EL and just traveling around looking out the window and talking about where we are. Finally don't discount that you'll find yourself (and your kids) just wanting to spend time at home and playing with them.

5. Yes. See above! :-D

6. We are terrible at mommy/daddy groups so I can't entirely answer that. There had been a geek parents group on meet up that we found a couple of folks. Most of the others have come from parents from preeschool/elementary school. Finding kids at Wiggleworms or other activities seems like it also be viable.

7. Maybe I'm myopic, but I really don't see any extra challenges in raising kids in the city, other than I think it is more expensive..but then what isn't?.... I suppose the "these schools aren't ideal" might be one, but I guess I don't see that as any guarantee in any school district. Where I grew up I had ONE school to choose from. It was that or nothing. It was OK but nothing special. One of the massive benefits (to me) in Chicago IS that you CAN (with some effort) find a school you and your family fit into.

Like I said, feel free to memail me or such if you want to know more.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 2:53 PM on December 31, 2016

I grew up in Rogers Park (left for college 20 years ago). My knowledge about a lot of things is out of date, but those lakefront parks are glorious in all seasons, and Warren Park was great for sledding. The park district (Loyola Park) had plenty of activities for us. Our apartment building had a postage stamp sized backyard, but we turned it into a full sized baseball/kickball diamond anyway. We didn't know backyards came any bigger! And the storage locker in the basement was more than our family needed.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:18 PM on December 31, 2016

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