4 Awesome After-School Programs for Creative Kids

Sports often seem to dominate the conversation when it comes to extracurricular activities for kids. But, what about the kids who want to exercise their creative and cognitive muscles? Turns out, there are some really cool after-school opportunities for school-aged children to build, dream, express – and do. Here are a few of our favorites on the North Shore.

FlavorPot, Glenview

Kids learn by doing, and a great way to instill healthy eating habits is to teach kids to cook. FlavorPot, located in The Glen Town Center, offers both classes and one-night cooking events for kids to help promote healthy living through creative recipes. FlavorPot offers individual classes or a monthly series from 4-5 p.m. for after-school or from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. There is also Kids Night Out from 6-8:30 p.m. on Saturdays, where kids create themed menus.

For example, in December, Kids Night Out themes include “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with a build-your-own butternut squash mac and cheese bar, chewy ginger molasses cookies with cream cheese frosting, and “Festival of Lights” with build-your-own brisket tacos, potato latkes and dreidel cookies. Kids Night Out fees are $28 for a single class or $75 for a monthly series.

“Research has shown that cooking programs have a positive influence on child’s food preferences – including higher vegetable consumption and a willingness to try new foods,” says Caroline Margolis, a registered dietician and culinary program manager at FlavorPot. “We make sure we cook balanced and nutrient-rich meals, using quality ingredients, whole grains and many fruits and vegetables.”

Margolis adds that FlavorPot is a nut-free facility and is happy to custom design a class for children or adults. “We also put on great birthday parties and other private events. Have a class idea? We are easy to work with!” she says.

Hackstudio, Evanston

Housed in what was formerly a furniture store, with sky-high ceilings and vast amounts of bright, open space in which to work, Evanston’s Hackstudio is the ultimate place for kids to create something that’s truly their own.

Activities at Hackstudio start with each kid’s individual interests – with no limits, according to Lisa Degliatoni, director of engagement. If students are committed to doing what it takes to get something done, they’ll get the opportunity to run their ideas up against reality, and get the space, time, structure and support to take any project from ideation to completion, she says.

Co-founder and CEO Mike Meiners says the inspiration for Hackstudio comes from his own experience of being a kid who had unique ideas about the world and feeling frustrated that the culture around him seemed to say, “Those things are cute, Mike, but if you know what’s good for you you’ll put those things aside and concentrate on what’s important.”

“After my kids started struggling with the same cultural forces, we declared ‘project time’ in our house to create that kind of space for them,” Meiners says. “What began as an interesting idea to help my own kids became a hobby around designing better learning experiences, then an obsession, then a company.”

A unique aspect of Hackstudio is that making mistakes is not only anticipated, but embraced, and the supportive environment of peers helps turn roadblocks into triumphs.

“Because the work is real, not pre-packaged or pre-solved, a kid who struggles with perfectionism, for instance, may arrive at a moment that challenges her desire to never stumble,” says Co-founder and COO Randy Blaugh. “A shy kid may come to [the] surprising realization that making his idea work is going require his leadership.”

During the beta phase for Hackstudio last winter, a group of middle school and high school students had the opportunity to test-drive the concept. The result was an impressive range of completed passion projects, ranging from the structural to the philanthropic. Projects included a tutoring program for families affected by cancer, a gender-neutral clothing line with a commerce website, a bat house to attract backyard bats, and custom sneakers to help market a middle school online shoe business.

Hackstudio offers four two-hour sessions daily Monday through Friday, with start times at 4, 5, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. The rate for Hackstudio is $32.50 per hour, or $260 per month. Students come at the same time every week for two hours for an entire quarter.

The Wishcraft Workshop, Chicago 

For young artists, thinkers and entrepreneurs, the Wishcraft Workshop has classes and workshops throughout the week and weekend, including weekend night “sleep-unders” from 6:30-9 p.m. (perfect timing for parents’ date nights!). The quarterly Young Entrepreneurs Society program is an opportunity for budding business people to learn from the experts. Morning programming is designed for ages 1-5, and afternoon classes for school-age children blend sewing, art, science, math and more.

“Our focus on self-awareness builds confidence and respect, develops self-regulation and self-advocacy and strengthens conflict-resolution and communication skills,” says Candice Blansett-Cummins, chief experience officer for Wishcraft Workshop. “Students learn technique and about the arts while practicing problem-solving, critical-thinking and other important life skills, applying literacy, math, science, technology and engineering to the creative activities they enjoy, full ‘STEAM’ ahead.”

Classes starting Nov. 2 include Chem Gems (the science of art featuring projects made with chemical reactions) and Math by Design (applying math to the design of machine-sewing projects). During the weekdays and weekends, families can participate in “crafternoons” together or as a drop-off activity (4-6 p.m. on weekdays, 1-3 p.m. most Saturdays). Drop-in fee is $95 for five visits or $25 for a single visit. Class and workshop fees vary.


Growth Spurts, Wilmette

Growth Spurts is an indoor play space and family café for children from birth to age 5 that offers drop-in playtime in addition to special drop-in classes. “We strive to offer an enrichment class every day,” says owner Emily Williams. “From the opportunity to meet a Minion, Ariel or Batman at our Character Day on Wednesdays, to dancing it out in our music class on Fridays mornings, there is always something special happening at Growth Spurts.”

Exploration opportunities at Growth Spurts include a Kids Crooked House, wooden toys and instruments, a desk stocked with stationery, pens, pencils, stamps, stickers and tape, a toddler gym, a CedarWorks playset and a train table.

Growth Spurts is offering a special drop-in cooking class from Nov. 23 through Dec. 21 on Mondays from 4-5 p.m. WOW Kitchen will be doing a five-week holiday cooking class with chef Jennifer Kihm, who will teach kids how to make a Thanksgiving potato veggie dip, ramen noodle soup, chocolate caramel Matzo crunch, vegetable macaroni and cheese and mini gingerbread houses. The class is for children ages 3-6, and the drop-in rate is $20 for one child, $10 for an additional sibling. The full session is $120 for one child, $50 additional sibling.

“I believe that listening to your customers is one of the most important things a business owner can do,” adds Williams. “Through social media, I regularly poll our families on the kinds of classes and events they would like to see offered in our space.”

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