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Easter-themed event at Cheney Mansion offered slower pace, smaller crowd for kids – Chicago Tribune

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The Park District of Oak Park and West Suburban Special Recreation Association hosted their “Sensory Sensitive Treats with the Bunny” event on Saturday at the Cheney Mansion in Oak Park.

Attendees had the opportunity to take a photo with the Easter bunny, eat snacks and make crafts provided by WSSRA – which consisted of coloring, stickers, scratch art drawings, and more.

Easter-themed event at Cheney Mansion offered slower pace, smaller crowd for kids – Chicago Tribune

Kaitlin Mikrut/Pioneer Press

Mike and Katie Fay help their children, Keira and Patrick, with crafts March 23, 2024 at the “Sensory Sensitive Treats with the Bunny” event at the Cheney Mansion in Oak Park. (Kaitlin Mikrut/Pioneer Press)

Easter-themed event at Cheney Mansion offered slower pace, smaller crowd for kids – Chicago Tribune
Diana Vargas, left, and daughter, Zara, color in Easter egg art March 23, 2024 at the “Sensory Sensitive Treats with the Bunny” event at the Cheney Mansion in Oak Park. (Kaitlin Mikrut/Pioneer Press)

“One of our missions is to be inclusive, so we feel like this is a nice opportunity for parents with kids that maybe can’t be in a big egg hunt, bunny event with lots of families, or lots of kids and noise, to kind of come into a space that’s a little more appropriate for them. They can still have all of those same things that everybody is having and enjoying with the bunny and stuff,” said Susan Crane, the historic properties and special events manager for the Park District of Oak Park.

About 20 kids and adults were in attendance at the first of the two Saturday morning events.

“We intentionally have a smaller number that come so it’s not too overwhelming for kids, and then our easter bunny is here. He goes around and greets them, and then we have an area set up in the back so they can take photos with the Easter bunny,” said Crane.

It was the first time Diana Vargas and her daughter, Zara, had attended the annual event.

“I did a lot of research. I wanted to find something sensory friendly for her, and I was online, and I saw that Oak Park wasn’t that far from us because we’re not residents here. I was really excited about this event,” said Vargas.

Together, the mother and daughter colored in Easter-themed drawings.

“I was just really hoping she would be a little bit more hands-on versus being the outcast and hiding. She usually does get very overwhelmed with normal events where it can get very loud. It’s really nice right now that it’s calm and it’s not too overwhelming for her,” Vargas said about her young daughter.

Oak Park residents Mike and Katie Fay, and their children, Keira and Patrick, were drawn by the event’s offerings.

“I like that it’s an opportunity to meet the Easter bunny, it’s local and this venue is really cool. I always like coming here. It’s really enjoyable, it’s pretty lowkey, and they have space for us to hangout while we wait and activities to keep everyone busy,” said Katie Fay.

It was the family’s third time attending.

“It gives the kids a unique perspective as opposed to just seeing the Easter bunny on a cartoon or somewhere. They’re thrilled when they come here,” said Mike Fay.

This was the Park District’s fourth year partnering with WSSRA, an association that provides year-round recreation services and opportunities for children and adults with disabilities.

“We’re based out of Franklin Park, but we service areas such as Melrose Park, Oak Park, Berwyn, Franklin Park and North Riverside. We combine with their park districts to make more inclusive opportunities for adults and little kids, just so they have more opportunities to be a part of the community,” said Lindsey Kiska, who works part-time with WSSRA and is a full-time K-2 instructional teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park. “It’s just fun activities that they can have at their disposal. The numbers are less and we’re more sensory friendly.”

The activities and materials are included with the kids’ needs in mind.  Kiska said stickers were used, for example, because they are easy to remove and may be less frustrating for some children.

“We have a felt reef here so they can feel where they’re supposed to do their coloring. We have scratch art eggs over here that reveals a color so that’s more pleasing to the eye. We have an opportunity for building so they can be more creative with their hands. Just offering opportunities for more inclusive activities of small group settings is probably the biggest figment we strive for because, in large numbers, it’s really hard,” said Kiska.

Crane said the Park District is happy to be able to offer the event and looks to expand such programming. She also spoke highly of the “long-standing” partnership with WSSRA.

“They’re always willing to come and help us with this so we really appreciate that,” said Crane.

Kaitlin Mikrut is a freelancer.



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