[We're gearing up for our updated list of Best Cities for Homeschool Families this fall, so we thought it would be fun to publish the three best of 2014 on the blog—number two on the list is the homeschool friendly city of Chicago.]
“Chicago is the pulse of America,” Sarah Bernhardt famously said, and you can feel the rhythm of the city pumping in your blood as soon as you set foot on the sidewalk.
Chicago feels like a city you’ve imagined, with dramatic architecture mixed in with old-fashioned buildings, crowds of people who smile when they pass you on the street, and the kind of energy that you only get in a center of culture and enterprise.
And for homeschoolers, the magic of this Midwest city is delightfully accessible. The Museum of Science and Industry lets homeschoolers explore its galleries for free every weekday. Homeschool parents can get free admission at the Art Institute of Chicago every time they visit. If you call the Chicago Zoological Society, you can set up a free visit to see the animals. On the University of Chicago campus, you can pick up cheap tickets for cutting-edge art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatrical productions. And you can score day-of tickets to plays and musicals on Chicago’s theater row for as little as $5 per person.
In every season, you’ll find street festivals and block parties going on around the city—the Printers Row Literary Festival is a must for book-lovers, and the golumpkis at the Taste of Polonia festival may just make your kids appreciate cabbage. You can browse for hours in the stacks at the enormous, three-story used bookstore Myopic Books in Wicker Park, or find the next great indie comic or chapbook at hipster hangout Quimby’s. Pick up a slice of Chicago-style pizza and take a Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour. In late spring and early fall, you can have the sprawling beach of Lake Michigan almost completely to yourselves, and there’s plenty of room to play outside in Chicago Athenaeum’s International Sculpture Park (no admission charge) and the Adams Playground Park. The point is, you can have a ton of fun in Chicago without making a dent in your budget.
In fact, Chicago may be the most budget-friendly big city in the United States. In neighborhoods like Edgewater, the median selling price for condominiums is just $150,000—and you’re right by the Red Line for easy access to public transportation. Expect to pay a little more for groceries here than the national average, but less than you’d pay in a city like New York or Los Angeles. Costs for gas and utilities here are right around the national average. Chicago’s a sprawling city, but you can get by with a single car if you get comfortable with the public transportation system and live within walking distance of a transit stop.
Homeschool Requirements: None. If you’re withdrawing your child from school, the state recommends notifying the school, but you don’t have to file any paperwork, meet any attendance requirements, or participate in any standardized testing.
Community: The Chicago Homeschool Co-op meets on Wednesdays and is a great place to find out about other Chicagoland homeschool resources from other group members.
Books: Quimby’s is the coolest bookstore in town—and the place to find small-press zines, chapbooks, and comics.
Resources: Admission is free on weekdays for homeschool families at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Zoological Society; explore the galaxy at the Adler Planetarium; play outside at the Garfield Park Conservancy; build sandcastles at Foster Avenue Beach; get inspired at the Printers Row Literary Festival
Number of Museums: 74, including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Mitchell Museum of the American indian, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Number of Libraries: 80, with a calendar of regular activities including arts and crafts workshops, gaming sessions, and author events
Median home price: $270,900
Population: 2.71 million
This was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of HSL. Information was correct at time of publication but may have changed since then.