Learning Matters 2018

This summer Family Matters once again offered the Learning Matters summer program for area youth entering grades 2-6. The program included hands-on classes around a variety of engaging topics, educational field trips (including an overnight camping trip), one-to-one literacy tutoring sessions, and many leadership development activities.


Youth signed up for week-long morning and afternoon classes, all of which involved project-based experiential problem solving.

In Cupcake Wars, small groups adapted a basic cupcake recipe and decorated the cupcakes to represent countries in the World Cup. The groups then competed in the “World Cupcake Challenge.” In Mad Scientists, youth created a parachute to drop an egg safely to the ground from the 2nd floor fire escape. In Creative Expression, individuals used art materials to create a visual depiction of themselves. In The Building Challenge, popsicle sticks and hot glue were utilized to create a bridge that supported as much weight as possible.

Cupcake Wars

Youth also solved mysteries, created new crayons from crayon scraps, made every kind of slime imaginable, and created cheer routines and dance moves. They learned about animal species, native Illinois plants, and the properties of human blood and how it travels through the body.

During the über-popular Best Lemonade Stand Ever, groups of three devised, prepared, and implemented business plans that included what to sell, where to sell, how to price, and how to advertise their products. Several youth focused their efforts and their wits on creating plans and then rallying the rest of their groups to execute them. They problem-solved along the way; when the first location seemed to be a dud, one group leader started giving out lemonade free of charge, which actually enticed some people to pay. Another leader started walking the area with a sign and became a barker, calling out, “Lemonade — get your nice cold lemonade!” They encouraged their team members when they got distracted, saying, “Hey, you gotta come back over here and help. You want us to make money, right?”

When it was time to divide up the proceeds, each of the 13 team members had earned $4.50. There were happy faces all around!

The Best Ever Lemonade Stand

Underlying all of the fun, the new experiences, and the learning were opportunities to work together to accomplish tasks, to build friendships, to gain and sustain academically, to care for each other, and to build confidence in one’s own abilities to think and create and solve.

Field Trips

Many field trips were incorporated into morning and afternoon classes. Tea Time culminated in a Beach Tea Party (requested by the four girls in the class). The group prepared chai tea in a thermos, packed a bag with tea cups and treats, and then dined at the beach front. Before dipping their feet into the water, the group shared what they appreciated about one another.

Beach Tea Party

The highlight of Animals & Conservation was visiting Not Just Thee Fish Bowl, a pet store in Evanston full of exotic and diverse animals. The youth in the class saw numerous species and loved petting rabbits, guinea pigs, snakes, ferrets, birds, a tortoise, and the store cat, which one of the youth insisted on naming “Steve.” It was exciting to see the children interact with the animals with such curiosity and interest that time stood still.

Visit to Not Just Thee Fish Bowl

Other groups visited Emily Oaks Nature Preserve, The Skokie Sculpture Walk, Patisserie Coralie, and Calvary Cemetery.

The overnight camping trip at the Little House of Glencoe near the Skokie Lagoons was a favorite for everyone. Just thirty minutes from Rogers Park, the campground seemed like a different world. The children ran out of the cars and into the cabin and grounds shrieking: “This place is great!” “How long do we get to stay?” “All of this is ours?”

Tents were pitched, a campfire was lit, meals were made together as a group, trails were hiked, boundless games were played, a hammock and tree swing were set up, crafts were created, and so much fun was had! For a number of youth, this was their first experience “camping,” or it was a first experience in a different way; two students made and tasted s’mores for the first time. It was a wondrous two days, full of fun, creativity, and deepening relationships.  

Little House of Glencoe Camping Trip

Literacy Work

Every student in Learning Matters participated in Power Hour – an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week dedicated to reading and literacy activities (and a little math). Additionally, the students were encouraged to participate in the Reading Challenge: to read 500 minutes — 100 minutes per week for each of the five weeks of Learning Matters. Students could count the time they read during Power Hour and also read at home to reach that goal.

Each child was encouraged further to partner with a parent, older sibling or another adult family member and read together during these summer weeks.

Power Hour Reading Buddies

Until Next Summer …

It is such an affirmation to witness the joy and enthusiasm for the learning environment and student camaraderie at Learning Matters each summer.


Learning Matters 2017

The 21 youth involved in Family Matters’ summer program, Learning Matters, packed learning and summer fun into their four weeks here. Participants chose classes to participate in each week. Here are some of the highlights:

Sew What?

The youth in this class learned how to hand sew, use a sewing machine, and measure fabric for a desired outcome. By the end of this week, they made a fleece blanket and a bean bag (with fabric they tie-dyed earlier in the week) for Family Matters’ Peace Room and Library. They also made and took home their own personal pillows, head bands, and phone cases.

Thank you to volunteer Moriah Turner for sharing your talents!

Snuggling with finished sewing projects

Cardboard Creations

The idea for this class came from a former student who loves creating things out of cardboard. On the first afternoon, the children were presented with a challenge to see what they could do with the cardboard. They watched Cain’s Arcade about a little boy who was bored one summer and created a whole arcade of games out of cardboard. They were mesmerized by the video. It was suggested that they make either a game or a fort with the cardboard and they were off!

First they submitted a design and then they started gathering their materials. The only struggle was getting the group to stop working at the end of the class! The next day they were asking to work on forts during lunch and the normally full to capacity computer lab had one person in it.

Forts included features like skylights (or turrets, as the case may be), telescopes that could double as ammunition launchers, mailboxes, swinging doors, and flags. There were also several arcade games created involving tossing balls at targets and through slots. Each group offered a video tour of their creations and then had a blast destroying the forts which were too big to travel home.

It was reassuring to see the creative and inventive spirits rise to the challenge and the pure joy the participants exhibited in the process of completing their creations.

Change Agents

In this class, discussions centered around what it means to be an agent of change and change agents that youth know or have learned about. On the first day, participants “transformed” into change agents with the goal of beautifying Family Matters’ neighborhood. This proved to be an exhausting, yet exhilarating task, especially since it was the day after the July 4th holiday. Julissa thought she picked up “hundreds of fireworks!”

Youth returned to Family Matters to discuss the experience and decide on their activity for day two – writing letters to advocate for a cause. They learned about advocacy and the youth provided examples of activities that qualify. Rogelio “Junior” told the group about Malala Yousafzai and Cesar Chavez. Junior was well informed and added valuable information to enhance the class experience. The youth decided to write letters to President Donald Trump, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the Chicago Public Schools Nutrition Services, and took their task very seriously.

Joselin asked how to spell “separate” so that she could write a letter to President Trump about his policies separating families. Julissa noted that this was the first time she had ever written a letter. Intern (and former Learning Matters student), Amy, wrote two full pages to CPS to advocate for healthier school lunches. This was truly a fulfilling class and a great taste of what we can do to work toward dismantling systemic oppression!

Learning Matters 2013

Learning Matters 2013 Is Underway

Family Matters youth are engaged in another summer of hands-on learning through our Learning Matters annual Summer School.  This summer, youth selected the courses they were most interested in taking from our Learning Matters 2013 Class Catalog, and we are in the midst of our first session of classes, which include Cooking Around the World, Yoga & Conditioning, DIY Divas, Peace Art, Soccer, Super Snackers, and Building Challenge.

Here are a few pictures of some of our experiences this week. Enjoy!
Cooking Around the World youth participated in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, including roasting coffee  beans.


Ready for the coffee ceremony, which includes coffee and popcorn, to begin.
Rolling injera, traditional Ethipioan flat bread.
It tasted delicious with the homemade red lentil dish we prepared together!



Building Challenge participants were tasked with the challenge to build a working roller coaster.
Brains at work: How can we build the roller coaster so the marble can go from start to finish?


Musical Matters

One of the highlights of Learning Matters Summer School 2012 was Musical Matters– a daily music class facilitated by Valerie Guerra, musician and Schweitzer Fellow through the University of Chicago School of Social Work Administration.

On December 5, 2012, Valerie, Teen Boys program participant Chijoke McClain, and nine Musical Matters participants reunited at Family Matters for a special afternoon: a trip downtown to See Music Recording Studio to record the two songs they chose to learn this summer — Wavin’ Flag by K’Naan and Waka Waka by Shakira.

While the majority of Musical Matters participants are also part of Family Matters school-year initiatives, it was the first time they had been together as a cohesive group since August.  As students walked in the door to Family Matters, arriving after lunch due to an early dismissal day on the CPS calendar, they bent down to untie shoes and boots and hang up heavy winter jackets instead of slipping off sandals and wiping off beads of perspiration, as they did every day this summer.  As each new arrival opened the door, the entryway filled with squeals of delight as participants hugged and high-fived friends they made this summer.

When everyone had arrived, we walked to the Red Line and set off for the studio. At See Music, composer and musician Jon Guerra gave a tour of the studio, while discussing how music is recorded, both for albums and commercials.  Then everyone filed into the recording room and practiced keeping hands and feet completely still so the recording would not pick up extra noises. Rehearsal began!

The energy level rose higher and higher as Chijoke beat the drum and participants started singing. Everyone was transported back to the summer as they sang out with all their hearts.  When the recording was finished, shouts and cheers rang through the room, expressing pride and joy in their accomplishment. Enjoy listening to the final product!

Musical Matters cover of Waka Waka, by Shakira
Musical Matters cover of Wavin’ Flag, by K’Naan

Soap Making Mission

Soap making takes a long time. It would usually take 5 to 6 weeks to make soap. During my first mission this summer, my group made soap. Each of us made 2 bars of soap. One bar of soap was made from aloe and one was made from goat’s milk. We melted a bar of soap that was already made and put in additives. When it was ready we put the soap into molds to give it new shape. Then we put it in the freezer to make the soap harden faster. We left it until the next day. Then we wrapped the soap in paper and tied it with string for our presentation. Soap making is fun and interesting.

Here is a list of additives we used :

lavender oil

lemon grass

sweet orange oil

lavender leaves

grapefruit oil



Rising 7th Grader

Construction Mission

My mission from July 9th to July 13th was very fun. We built a stool and we fixed the Family Matters bench. We made the stool for the library at Family Matters, because the shelves are too tall for some kids. We used a table saw, a hammer, a nailgun, and a lot more tools. We sanded and added polyurethane to the bench outside on the back patio to protect it from the weather.
Rising 7th Grader

Learning Matters

This summer, Family Matters is running Learning Matters, a seven-week summer program for students going into 4th-8th grades. During our first week of Learning Matters, we spent three days camping at Where Pigs Fly Farm in Williamsport, Indiana.  For the remaining six weeks of the program, students have been engaged in daily music, reading, spelling, and math activities in the morning. In the afternoons, students become “secret agents” and are sent on top secret missions, in which their task is to learn as much as they can about a topic from an expert in the field. Each week, our secret agents are sent on new missions, and every Friday, they give a short presentation to the other groups on what they accomplished and experienced. In the coming weeks, please stay tuned for blog posts from students in Learning Matters: Mission Possible 2012!