What is that strange yellow orb in the sky? And what is that odd tingling sensation on your skin? In other parts of the world, it's called the sun. In Chicago, it's called salvation. Spring is here, and with it, there's a ton of things to do with kids. So we've compiled 101 of them for your warm-weather enjoyment.
101. Climb the treehouses at Morton Arboretum
With roles in everything from the Magic Tree House series to the Swiss Family Robinson, tree houses have always intrigued kids. At Morton Arboretum's Tree House Tales, they'll explore six different tree houses and hear tales of varied arboreals' life stories, all while playing and learning. Through November. 4100 Illinois Rt 53, Lisle (630-968-0074, mortonarb.org). Admission $12, seniors $11, kids ages 2–17 $9 (discounts on Wednesdays), kids 2 and under free.
100. Harness the Windy City breeze at the Chicago Kids and Kites Festival
Get high on kites when you attend this rite of spring. Have your face painted, peer upward at stilt performers, ogle professional kite fliers or buck up and help kids make their own with free kite kits. Don't miss the "big kite drop," when sweet treats literally fall from the sky. 10am–4pm May 3. Montrose Harbor, 4400 N Lake Shore Dr (773-467-1428, chicagokite.com). Free.
99. Witness amazing acrobatic feats at CircEsteem's Spring Circus
Watch kids from all over Chicago perform circus acts inlcuding acrobatics, silks, clowning at CircEAU, nonprofit CircEsteem's annual spring circus. Noon April 5; 3pm April 6; noon April 12; 3pm April 13. Alternatives, 4730 N Sheridan Rd (312-731-4242, circesteem.org). $15-$35.
98. Indulge in the first fresh crops of spring at Green City Market
The kid-friendliest farmers' market in town kicks off its outdoor season May 4 through October 26. Its Club Sprouts program gives kids a chance to sample different market foods and particpate in cooking classes. 7am–1pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Lincoln Park between Clark St and Stockton Drive (around 1790 N Clark St, greencitymarket.org). Free.
97. Relive the 50s at Cascade Drive-in Movie Theater
Roll the windows down and enjoy your movie in '50s alfresco style at this midcentury, West Suburban drive-in movie theater. Pets are welcome, and so are kids, of course, making the movie spot's "Bargain Sundays" deal of $15 per carload a real steal for larger families. 1100 E North Ave, West Chicago
(630-231-3150, cascadedrivein.com). Fri–Sun; $10, kids 5–11 $5, kids under 5 free.
96. Let your kindie rockers cut loose at Beat Kitchen's Concerts for Kids series
The respectable rock club delivers something for wee music fans, too. Top names in Chicago's rockin' kids' music entertain little scenesters select Sunday mornings all winter, with acts that include the likes of Little Miss Ann, Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans, the Boogers and Mr. Singer & The Sharp Cookies. Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont Ave (773-281-4444, beatkitchen.com). $6.
95. Join the Storybook Mom to curl up with a good book
Our favorite storyteller around, Nili Yellin—a.k.a. the Storybook Mom—reads aloud to kids at free storytelling events all over the Chicago area each week. Our fave, though, is Friday mornings at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, when our kids can sit enthralled with Nili while we grab a cafe au lait and peruse the well-curated staff picks at this charming store. Fridays 11am. 4736 N Lincoln Ave (773-293-2665, thestorybookmom.com); Free.
94. Solve a mystery with Nancy Drew Girl Detective
The classic mysteries of Nancy Drew come to life on stage. Help Nancy unravel the case, find hidden jewels and escape a mysterious ghost in this fun whodunit. March 7–16, Fridays 7:30pm; Saturdays 11am & 4pm; Sundays 2:30pm. Theater of Western Springs, 4384 Hampton Ave (708-246-4043, theatrewesternsprings.com). $6–$12.
93. Hit Lake Shore Dive on two wheels during Bike the Drive
No matter how many car trips you’ve made over its eight lanes of traffic, you haven’t experienced the beauty of Lake Shore Drive—with the scenic cityscape on one side and the sparkling lake on the other—until you’ve seen it from the slow, leisurely vantage point of a bike seat. A post-ride festival in Butler Field includes entertainment and giveaways. See bikethedrive.org for sign-up details. 5:30–10:15am May 25, Lake Shore Drive from Bryn Mawr Avenue to 57th Street (bikethedrive.org). $15–$100.
92. Get juiced for the Juicebox Series
The Chicago Cultural Center presents Juicebox, a free series of performances that will get your kid's creative juices flowing. Mutu Dance Theater, pianist Joann Cho, the Hinda Hoffman and Mike Allemana Quartet, and The Regulators are just a few of the performers scheduled for the events that are held every other Friday through May 2. Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St, 312-744-6630, cityofchicago.org).
91. Knees up at the Chicago Memorial Day Parade
Honor all men and women who've defended our country year in and year out at the 2013 Chicago Memorial Day Parade—an annual celebration that traces back to—wait for it—1870. Join the fun and be a part of one of the largest Memorial Day Parades in the nation. The wreath laying ceremony begins at 11am on May 24, and the parade starts at noon. State St from Lake St to Van Buren St. (cityofchicago.org). Free.
90. Feed your young culture vultures at Stages, Sights & Sounds
The Chicago Humanities Festival's annual springtime family fest brings six companies from around the globe to Chicago stages to perform a mix of original stage shows geared to older kids and inventive retellings of classics for the younger set, including Hansel & Gretel and Sleeping Beauty. May 5–24. Various venues (312-494-9509, chicagohumanities.org).
89. Show off your moves at Baby Loves Disco
Arguably the coolest all-ages dance party around, Baby Loves Disco makes a monthly stop at Lincoln Hall to help tots and their parents get down with a live DJ playing classic disco, bubble machine, snacks, and a chill-out area with books and games. 1:30–4pm March 9, April 27. Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln Ave (773-525-2501, lincolnhallchicago.com). $15, $55 for a family four-pack. Non-walkers free.
88. Move to the mariachi beat on Cinco de Mayo
Celebrate Mexican culture on the fifth of May with this vibrant parade—commemorating a 19th-century victory over French invaders—that kicks off in Pilsen at noon and proceeds west into Little Village. The drummers and mariachi bands alone are worth the trip. The parade route runs along Cermak Ave from Wood St to Kedzie Ave. Free.
87. Follow da bunny at the Easter Egg-stravaganza
The big bunny will be in good company at this Easter celebration held on the South Lawn. The morning starts with meeting the Easter Bunny and, weather permitting, free rides on the carousel and train. Then, the big event: an egg hunt, followed by a crafting session. April 19 at 8:30am, lpzoo.org.
86. See basketball stars in the making at the McDonald's All-American Games
Michael Jordan, LeBron James and D-Rose all played in this legendary exhibition of high-school All-Americans. And it's the perfect opportunity for kids to snag autographs from the next generation of potential NBA and WNBA greats.April 2, 6pm. United Center, 1901 W Madison St (312-455-4500, unitedcenter.com). $10–$135.
85. Indulge in delectable treats at the Long Grove Chocolate Fest
This annual Long Grove fest brings in 30-plus bands on four stages, beer and brats galore, wine pairings and, for kids, pony rides, kiddie rides, workshops and kid-friendly entertainment. But let's face it: Your family came for the chocolate, which will be on or in everything from fresh strawberries to crunchy popcorn and chocolate cake. May 2–4. Downtown streets of Long Grove (847-634-0888, visitlonggrove.com).
84. Don your capes and costumes at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo
Anime addicts, comic-book fans and video-game junkies, rejoice: The granddaddy of comic expos is back. Whether you’re the ringleader or your kids are dragging you, a slew of authors, celebs, costume contests and screenings are coming. Kids are also free on Kids' Day, or Sunday. Go to C2E2.com for a full schedule. April 25–27. McCormick Place, 2301 S Lake Shore Dr (c2e2.com). $5–$60.
83. Live the Swede life at Andersonville Midsommar Fest
Get a taste of Swedish culture at Andersonville's 49th Annual Midsommarfest with three days of food, music, dancing and entertainment of all sorts. June 6–8. Kick off June 6 at 5pm at Clark Street between Balmoral and Catalpa Avenues. Check the site in May for full schedule. $5–$10 suggested donation. Kids under 12 and seniors over 65 free.
82. Sing along (but not too loud) at The Sound of Music
The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music is playing a four-week engagement at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The award-winning Jenn Gambatese will star as Maria in this adored family story. April 25–May 18. Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606 (312-332-2244,lyricopera.org). $22–$119.
81. Go draw-crazy at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Family Day Draw
Not a trained artist? No need to worry. The free-form activities of this drawing/crafts extravaganza at the Museum of Contemporary Art let kids and adults unleash their inner artists as they explore unconventional drawing methods and forms of visual expression. 11am–3pm March 8. 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660, mcachicago.org). Free for families with children 12 and under.
80. Watch animals devour their food at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's Live Animal Feedings
Did you know Chicago used to be one of the most famous marshes in the world? Check out the Mysteries of the Marsh exhibit, where you can catch live feedings of the museum's water snakes, frogs, fish and turtles throughout the morning and afternoon. Every Thursday. 2430 N Cannon Dr (773-755-5100, naturemuseum.org); free with admission.
79. Celebrate the sounds and moves of a new culture at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Global Dance Party
Every Friday night, the "Global Dance Party" series offers quick instruction (at 8:30pm) and a dance-along concert (at 9pm) in Szold Hall with live performances from Chicago's most worldly bands. 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org); $10.
78. Become a green crusader at Green Metropolis Fair
Learn about gardening, sustainable living and local food markets while members of Green Parent Network help you separate green facts from consumer fiction. 10am–5pm April 27. Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N Knox Ave (greenmetropolisfair.com). Free.
77. Get creative with The Art Institute's family classes
At the Art Institute of Chicago, children under 14-years-old are free! This makes it that much easier for a family looking to explore their artistic skill. The Institute provides studios and labs that are thematically linked to with the museum’s collections and special exhibits. After attending a workshop, you could be comparable to the greats. Check the website for specific workshops and times (312 857-7161, artic.edu).
76. Go Ahead, Touch a Truck at the Kohl Children's Museum
The Kohl Children's Museum presents a fest where kids can get up close and personal with fire engines, construction trucks and other supersized vehicles. Warning: This will only heighten your child's obsession with huge vehicles and the toys that mimic them. May 4, 11am–2pm. Fields Chrysler Jeep Dodge, 670 W Frontage Rd, Northfield (847- 832-6600; kohlchildrensmuseum.org). $30–$50.
75. Celebrate Easter with Cosley Zoo's Great Egg Scramble
Join the community in this eggs-traordinarily festive event. With your basket and a few friends, participate in an Easter Egg Hunt before taking part in other activities throughout the morning. Kids work with same-aged groups to meet new people and compete against peers. Dress for the weather! 9:30am on April 12. Cosley Zoo, 1356 N Gary Ave, Wheaton (630-665-5534, cosleyzoo.org). $12–$15.
74. Mix folktales with flutes at Once Upon a Symphony
At this Chicago Symphony Orchestra event for preschoolers, the musicians reinterpret a long-time favorite for kids, The Three Little Pigs. Will the piggies survive the big wolf's hunger? Find out each Saturday March 22–April 26, 10am and 11:45am. Symphony Center, 220 S Michigan Ave (312-294-3000, cso.org). $10–$20.
73. Make some magic at Chicagoland Games Dice Dojo's Friday night Magic Kids League
Fans of the collectible card game meet at this Edgewater store every Friday evening and are broken up into two groups, an adult league and one for kids ages 8–15, to play six-week–long tournaments. Prizes are awarded based on leader board positioning and demonstrations of sportsmanship, as judged by the staff. No experience necessary. Fri 6:30–9pm. 5550 N Broadway (773-728-3656; chicagolandgames.com). $10.
72. Get your arghs out at Pirate's Cove Theme Park
Get a jump on summer fun at the pre-season public hours at this cute-as-can-be theme park geared for wee mateys. Regular park hours start June 2. 10am–4pm May 24, noon–4pm May 25, 10am–4pm May 31, noon–4pm June 1. 901 Leicester Rd, Elk Grove Village (847-439-2683 elkgroveparks.org). $11 per child (residents $9), adults free.
71. Relive history during the Naper Settlement's Civil War Days
Rebels and Yanks get together to relive the days when there was a Union and the Confederacy instead of one nice united U.S. of A. The settlement transforms its entire village into a Civil War–era battleground, filled with reenactors, famous generals and even Abraham Lincoln. At 2:30pm each day, plug your ears and open your eyes—a full battle is staged using cannons and artillery. Naper Settlement, 523 S Webster St, Naperville (630-420-6010, napersettlement.org). $15, kids $10, kids under 4 free.
70. Forward, march at the WOOGMS Memorial Day Parade
One of the city's best DIY events, the Wellington Oakdale Old Glory Marching Societ—better known as WOOGMS—holds its annual Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 27. The family-run event in Lakeview has a guiding credo: Everyone marches, no one watches. Come join the fun when it kicks off at 11am from Pine Grove and Wellington Streets. Free.
69. Break out your doe eyes on Animal Day at Angelic Organics
Bring the whole family to Angelic Organics farm for a day of hands-on animal experiences. Kids get to help the crew milk goats, feed the horses and gather eggs, in addition to learning about composting and soil production. (Warning: worm boxes!) Relax afterward with a sack-lunch picnic and goat's-milk ice cream you made yourselves. Advance registration requested. 10am–3pm May 10, 24, and June 28. Angelic Organics, 1547 Rockton Rd, Caledonia (815-389-8455, learngrowconnect.com). $20.
68. Use a coaster at Six Flags' opening day
Six Flags Great America, Chicagoland's premier amusement park, opens for the season May 3. With 16 family rides, 15 thrill rides, and 12 kids rides, the whole fam can enjoy themselves. There's games and (somewhat pricy) food and characters everywhere. Plus, you've got to check out their newest attraction, Goliath, the world's fastest wooden roller coaster. 1 Great America Pkwy, Gurnee (847-249-1776, sixflags.com/greatamerica). $44.99–$64.99.
67. Or, get your hopes up at the Cubs' home opener
You can't help but be hopeful at the start of the Major League Baseball Season, when every team's got a clean slate. Sport Cubbie blue at Wrigley Field when the season starts there on April 5 (vs Phillies). And of course, catch the Sox on the South Side as well. Go to cubs.com and whitesox.com for tickets and complete season schedules.
66. Take in global customs at the 2014 Skokie Festival of Cultures
Each spring since 1991, Skokie has gone global for a weekend. Along with checking out dances, music and foods from around the world, kids can learn and try games played by their overseas kin. May 17, 18. Oakton Park, 4800 W Oakton St, Skokie (847-674-1500, skokieculturefest.org). Free.
65. Toboggan down a 33-foot drop at Soldier Field
Get in your licks this winter by tackling the 220-foot slope of this hill–built as part of the landscaping plan during the stadium redesign. The park district makes snow if there's a short supply of the natural stuff. The hill is unsupervised; only plastic sleds allowed. Through March. 1410 S Museum Campus Dr (312-235-7000, soldierfield.net). Free.
64. Get a thoughtful look at history at the Illinois Holocaust Museum's Miller Youth exhibition
This 2,800-square-foot exhibit, aimed at kids ages 8–12, is a bright, colorful space designed to look like a municipal park that teaches kids the impact of personal action and inaction in the world. Video footage of survivors' stories provides a less-graphic, age-appropriate telling of the Holocaust. 9603 Wood Dr, Skokie (847-967-4800; ilholocaustmuseum.org). $12, seniors and students $8, kids ages 5–11 $6, under 5 free.
63. Do the twist with Smarty Pants at D'Agastino's
Chicago's ultimate balloon twister, Smarty Pants, performs his creative magic at the Lakeview outpost (1351 W Addison St, 773-477-1822) of this fam-friendly Italian restaurant on Tuesday nights and the Park Ridge location (742 W Higgins Rd, Park Ridge; 847-518-8700) on Thursday nights. (Balloons are free, but tips are appreciated and well-deserved given Mr. Pants' elaborate work.) For more info, go to dagdelivers.com.
62. Discover a baby mammoth during Titans of the Ice Age 3-D at Field Museum
Check out this peculiar but fun hybrid of documentary footage and CGI imagery of prehistoric days in this 20-minute 3-D movie from Evanston-based Giant Screen Films. The story kicks off with real footage of a mummified baby mammoth found in Siberia in 2007 before launching into depictions of mammoth clans, saber-toothed cats, atavistic sloths and early-human ancestors. 1400 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-9410, fieldmuseum.org). Check website for screening times. $25, students and seniors $20, kids ages 3–11 $18.
61. Begin a trip abroad with Australian Wildlife at the Brookfield Zoo
A world resembling that of "down-under" features boas, emus, kangaroos, spot wombats and more to roam this natural, outdoor habitat. The area is used by scientists to restore ecosystems, nurture these diverse species, and educate interested humans of all ages. Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd, Brookfield (708-688-8000, brookfieldzoo.org). Included with general admission.
60. Descend into the depths at MSI
The 252-foot-long U-505, a German sub that became a hard-won "trophy" of the U.S. Navy during WWII (the only sub captured intact), has lived in Chicago for decades, most of the time just outside MSI. But since the vessel was brought indoors last decade, it anchors a very cool exhibit about maritime life and warfare. The highlight is the special tour (which requires an additional $8 ticket for adults, $6 for kids—worth the extra dough). A tour guide explains day-to-day life for the sailors, then narrates a pulse-quickening story about the sub stalking its prey in the waters of the Atlantic until Americans captured it. Ongoing at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Drive (773-684-1414, msichicago.org).
59. Twist 'n' shout with the stars at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago's FamilyDance series
Pro tip: The Dance Center's matinees for families are a blast. Arrive at 2:15pm for an interactive demonstration with the weekend's mainstage company then catch an age-appropriate, hour-long version of the show at 3pm. April 5. Columbia College Dance Center, 1306 S Michigan Ave (312-369-8330, colum.edu/dance_center); $15, kids under 12 free.
58. Play in groups during Friday Family Nights
Bring the family out to make use of the YMCA's pool, courts and Adventure Center every Friday. Nonmembers are welcome, too. Visit ymcachicago.org for locations.
57. Get your caboose to the Chicago History Museum for "Railroaders"
Railroads once spanned the country, swirling amid mountains, across rivers and into the sunset. Discover Jack and Pablo Delano's photos documenting the iron beasts that once ruled the country. Meet the men and women of the yard, climb aboard a caboose, and help the yard workers get the train ready to leave. Opens April 5. 1601 N Clark St (312-642-4600, chicagohistory.org). $14, kids 12 and under free.
56. Enjoy the newest kid-centric show from Adventure Stage Chicago: Spark
The story of Pandora is reimagined in this adaptation of the classic Greek myth. Pandora lives in a secluded community called Sanctuary, designed to protect the residents from the outside violence of the world. The Outliers, who live above Sanctuary, are considered common enemies of the community. When Pandora meets two young Outliers, she begins to question if her home is really for protection or a prison of seclusion. Will she choose the world she has always known or the one that is calling to her? April 5–May 8. 1012 N Noble St (773-342-4141, adventurestage.org). $25, kids $15.
55. Rent cross-country skis and ski across the county
Every area of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is available for cross country skiing (besides golf courses and nature centers), so what are you waiting for? Grab your beanie and head down to Camp Sagawau, where you can rent skis from 9am–2pm, or sign up for lessons and tours in its Nordic Ski Program. 12545 W 111th St (630-257-2045, fpdcc.com); $12 (plus $100 deposit) for ski rentals.
54. Brim with wonder at the Adler Planetarium
Get up close and personal with the marvels of outer space at the Adler's Cosmic Wonders. Held in the high-tech Grainger Theatre, the show lets viewers encounter the wondrous Crab Nebula, Orion the Hunter and a variety of active star formations. You can even take a peak at a Hubble Extreme Deep Field image that contains more than 5,500 galaxies. Through April 1. 1300 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-7827, adlerplanetarium.org); $28, kids $22.
53. Snooze with the animals during Sleep Under the Skyscrapers at Lincoln Park Zoo
Adventurous crews with kids ages 5 and up sleep with the wild things at Lincoln Park Zoo. The evening is filled with animal visits, talks with animal ambassadors, a pizza dinner, movie, nighttime snack and breakfast the next day. Multiple dates, call the zoo for reservations. 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000, lpzoo.org); $70.
52. See Olympic skaters in person
If your kids were as rapt with attention watching figure skating during the Sochi Winter Olympics as we were, they'll love this year's Stars on Ice, a touring show that will include gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott. May 3, 7:30pm. Allstate Arena (starsonice.com). Check website for details.
51. Get down and dirty at Kilbourn Park during the Seed Starting Workshop
There's enough dirt and compost to go around, thanks to the folks at Kilbourn Park. See vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a brand new way because you put the work in yourself. Master Gardener and health enthusiast Nancy Benjamin leads this series in the Park Greenhouse. March 15, 10am–noon. Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, 3501 N Kilbourn Ave (773-685-3351, chicagoparkdistrict.com). Free.
50. Set your fun meters for high during the interactive show from Super Stolie!
The native Chicagoan's album Press Play was a major hit, prompting kids to high-kick to its upbeat tunes. Her live shows, too, are marked by tons of lively, interactive movement—and some fun lessons on spelling, animals, numbers and more. She is also available for private parties and occasions. May 4 at noon. Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont Ave (773-281-4444, beatkitchen.com). $6.
49. Smash into buildings at the children's play area at Gurnee Mills
This new kids' space inside Illinois's largest shopping center includes cushy-soft replicas of local landmarks, such as a ten-foot-tall Willis Tower and a 15-foot-long Navy Pier. 6170 W Grand Ave, Gurnee (847-263-7500, simon.com/mall/gurnee-mills). Free.
48. Build a fort at the Chicago Children's Museum
Every kid loves making forts! CCM's new "Forts" exhibit allows children, their friends and family to get together to expand on the structure's normal bounds and create the best fort imaginable. The museum provides props like tables, headboards, costumes, games, and other things to set up the ideal adventure for a little one. Chicago Children's Museum, Navy Pier, 700 E Grand Ave (312-527-1000, chicagochildrensmuseum.org).
47. Solve a mystery at Isabelle's Scavenger Hunt
Little history buffs ages 8 and up can take off on a scavenger hunt around the store and learn about American Girl's newest Girl of the Year, Isabelle. Bonus: Free American Girl posters are handed out post-hunt. March 4, 11, 18, 25; April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29. 11am–1pm. American Girl Place, Water Tower Place, 835 N Michigan Ave (877-247-5223, americangirl.com/stores). Free.
46. Discover a musical talent at Old Town School of Folk Music
The Old Town School of Folk Music offers a wide range of various music, dance, theater and art classes. Sessions include lessons in piano, banjo, fiddle, guitar, percussion, voice and ukulele, among others. 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org). Prices vary.
45. Get swept away by Disney
"Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" at MSI is perfect for all Disney fans, featuring more than 300 pieces promising to bring back childhood memories from Disney classics such as Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and Pirates of the Carribean. Through May 4. Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr (773-684-1414, msichicago.org). $24; seniors $23; children $17.
44. Wiggle like a worm at an Old Town School of Folk Music class
Put your dancing shoes on and shimmy on over to the Old Town School of Folk Music, where Wiggleworms music classes include a variety of instruction on singing, dancing and musical instruments. Your tiny tots might learn a song on the guitar or dance as instructors play banjos and Autoharps. Through April 27. 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org). Prices vary.
43. Marvel at the miniature train landscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Aside from the beautiful aesthetic surroundings, the Chicago Botanic Gardens offer nature-themed story time (with activities). Can't get enough? The family can visit the Railroad Garden, where a model railroad spans across 17 tracks with trains that travel more than 22,000 miles each season. Check website for official dates. Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake-Cook Rd, Glencoe (847-835-5440, chicagobotanic.org).
42. Get dizzy with Cirque Shanghai
This year's circus celebrates the year of the dragon with acobatic routines and death-defying stunts. Watch for the return of "Imperial Thunder"—the Chinese motorcycle group will ride five at a time inside a steel sphere. March 15–25, May 21–Sept 1. Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave (navypier.com). $13–$28.75.
41. Get up close and personal with the jellies
Dark, eerie corridors surrounded by luminescent jellyfish make this a surreal exhibit to explore while learning about efforts to preserve the animals. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S Lake Shore Dr (312-939-2438, sheddaquarium.org).
40. Travel to another world at the Adler Planetarium's "Planet Explorers"
Different exploration stations bring kids from their backyards to the stars to an alien planet. Permanent at Adler, this 8,000-square-foot exhibit launches kids into space and teaches them about both stellar and earthly survival methods. Adler Planetarium, 1300 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-7827, adlerplanetarium.org). Free with admission. For kids ages 3–8.
39. Run wild at Wrigley Field
As if spending a Sunday at Wrigley Field wasn’t great enough—the first 1,000 kids under 15 get to run the bases at the legendary ballpark. Sit back and watch your child’s dream become a reality. Who knows? Maybe it won’t be the last time your little one takes a victory lap around the pads. Family Sundays at Wrigley Field, 1060 W Addison St (773-525-1638, chicagocubs.com).
38. Rediscover the world's most fun-yet-educational songs with Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Remember "Conjunction Junction" and "Interjection!"? Now a new generation of grade-schoolers can soak up the catchy, educational songs at this onstage adaptation of the Emmy Award–winning cartoons. Mar 18, 20 at 10am. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie (312-335-0440, northshorecenter.org). $8.
37. Bring the zoo to you
At the Nature Museum's newest event, Flying Fox Animal Show, kids can see some of the world's friendliest and cutest animals, including fruit bats and other mammals, up close. March 27 at 11:30am. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N Cannon Dr (773-755-5100, naturemuseum.org). Free with admission.
36. Release the butterflies!
Butterflies are released every day at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum at 2pm. Come enjoy the fluttering beauties with your kids! Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N Cannon Dr (773-755-5100, naturemuseum.org) Free with admission.
35. Welcome avian friends back at North Park Village Nature Center
Take in spring tweets and bird songs on a stroll through the nature center's woods. An Audubon Society guide leads the walk and talks about the birds and their habitats. 5801 N Pulaski Rd (312-744-5472, chicagoparkdistrict.com). Check website for dates; free.
34. Have a soup-er time at Hideout
The Hideout goes all-ages every Wednesday for Soup and Bread, a fun and fund-raising, soup-slurping get-together. Every week, a different group of local notables—from chefs and musicans to writers and artists—cooks up and donates pots of hot soup. Guests are encouraged to show their gratitude by dropping a few bucks in the collection bucket to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Every Wednesday until April 23, 5:30-8pm. Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia Ave (773-227-4433, hideoutchicago.com).
33. Learn healthy habits at Día del Niño Family Festival
After a kickoff walk from the National Museum of Mexican Art (meet at 10am), enjoy games, live performances, prizes, arts and crafts, and free health screenings inside the UIC Pavilion to celebrate kids and healthy habits. May 31, 11am–3pm. UIC Pavilion, 525 S Racine Ave (312-738-1503, nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org). Free.
32. Unleash your inner Aquaman at Kohl Children's Museum "Water Works"
It's all about H2O at this Kohl Children's Museum exhibit. Children study the science behind water and learn its uses through hands-on activities like playing music by shooting water instruments and constructing a boat that glides across a track of water. Ongoing. 2100 Patriot Blvd, Glenview (847-832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org); free with admission.
31. Unravel the secrets of the Robie House during the Wright 3 Mystery Tour
Inspired by Blue Balliet's book The Wright 3, this Robie House tour incorporates characters from the story. Kids under 10 must be accompanied by a parent. Saturdays. Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Ave (312-994-4000, gowright.org). $15, kids $12.
30. Yuk it up at That's Weird, Grandma
Monday nights at the Neo-Futurist Theater are reserved for kids, thanks to this series of short plays written by Chicago Public School students and performed with wonderfully ridiculous abandon by the Barrel of Monkeys theater troupe. Sundays at 2pm until March 30; Monday nights at 8pm begninning March 3. Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N Ashland Ave (312-409-1954, barrelofmonkeys.org) $12, kids $6.
29. Find your way through the Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure at Lincoln Park Zoo
Not only does Lincoln Park Zoo have more than 1,000 animals, but it also has a children's zoo catered to the little ones in your life. The highlight? An ubermodern 21st-century jungle gym, dubbed the Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure, with 36 curvy wooden platforms for curious explorers. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000, lpzoog.org). Free.
28. Light up the sky with fireworks at Navy Pier
Wednesday and Saturday evenings [Boom!] from May 24 through [Boom!] Labor Day, look to the skies for signs of [Boom!] summer in the form of brightly colored [Boom!] explosions. 9:30pm. Navy Pier, 600 Grand Ave (312-595-7437, navypier.com).
27. Reap the benefits of eco-friendly tips at Party for the Planet at Cosley Zoo
More than 100 zoos and aquariums, including Cosley, dish out Earth Day cake in honor of our green planet. Families get sustainability tips from conservation orgs and renewable energy businesses during the largest combined geo-centric celebration in North America. And did we mention there'd be cake? April 26, 10-2pm. Cosley Zoo, 1356 N Gary Ave, Wheaton (630-665-5534, cosleyzoo.org). Free with museum admission.
26. Get swinging with Tennis Explorers at Midtown Athletic Club
Show your preschoolers some love (literally) and sign them up for these ten-week tennis lessons for three- to four-year-olds. You don't even need to buy a racquet; it comes with your fee for the 45-minute classes. April 8–June 16. 2020 W Fullerton Ave (773-235-2300, midtown.com). $225, members $190.
25. Get back to nature with the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
Kids ages 3-5 can participate in a nature-themed story, nature walk and a craft. Every other Wednesday. 9800 South 104th Ave (708-839-6897, fpdcc.com). Registration is required.
24. Return to Neverland with Peter and the Starcatcher
See Neverland as you have never seen it before in this five-time Tony Award–winning play. A sprinkle of fairy dust and happy thoughts are all this prequel needs to take flight. April 2-14. Bank of America Theatre, 18 W Monroe St (312-977-1710, chicago-theater.com). $38-$400.
23. Induce vertigo at The Ledge at Willis Tower Skydeck
See Chicago like you've never seen it before: 103 floors up on a glass ledge overlooking the city. The four skydecks at Willis Tower—or, as longtime locals still like to call it, "Sears Tower"—will make your head spin as you inch out over the few inches of glass separating you from a 1,353-foot drop. Year-round. 233 S Wacker Dr (312-875-9447, theskydeck.com). $19, kids 3–11 $12.
22. Get moving at the American Spanish Dance and Music Festival
Closing out Ensemble Español's 38th festival of Spanish music and dance is its roof-raising weekend of performances, a highlight of which is spotting up-and-coming young talents. June 20–22. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie (847-679-9501, northshorecenter.org). $21–$46.
21. Get prehistoric with "Dozin' with the Dinos"
Sue is having a sleepover! Enjoy a night of guided tours, family workshops and games before spending the night at the museum. Sleep with the Egyptians, doze with the animals and snuggle with Sue herself. Check website for dates. 1400 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-9410, fieldmuseum.org). $63, premium package $75.
20. Huff and puff with the big, bad wolf
Emerald City Theatre’s production of The Three Little Pigs hits all the right notes—when the mama pig decides it's time to leave, her three little pigs must find their own way. Help the pigs watch out for wolves as they try to make it through the big, bad world. Through May 17. Apollo Theater (2540 N Lincoln Ave, 773-935-6100, emeraldcitytheatre.com).
19. Take the top off (or just roll down the windows) to grab a bite at Superdawg
There's no better way to celebrate the first warm days of springtime in Chicago than with a visit to the iconic Northwest Side drive-in restaurant. Order a dawg or a Whoopercheesie (cheeseburger) and soak in the views of the rooftop Maurie and Florie hot dog statues while the warm rays shine. 6363 N Milwaukee Ave (773-763-0660, superdawg.com).
18. Join the bash at the Cinco de Mayo Piñata Party
The question everyone wants to know: How many scratches does it take to get to the center of stuffed giraffe? Animals like piñatas, too. So much so, in fact, that the zoo enlists participants of this special fiesta to build treat-filled stand-ins for meerkats, mongooses and tigers, all for their tearing pleasure. May 4. $13, members $10, kids 2 and under free. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000, lpzoo.org).
17. Sense Chicago at the Chicago History Museum
Feast your eyes, your ears, and your nose on the various Chicago experiences. Hear the Great Chicago Fire, catch a fly ball at Comiskey Park, be a Chicago hot dog, and learn the city smells (the good ones) through the Smell Map. 1601 N Clark St (312-642-4600, chicagohistory.org); $14, seniors and students $12, free for kids 12 and under and CHM members.
16. Get colored!
Inspired by the Indian Festival of Colors, also known as Holi, Wheaton's Fun Run 2014...In Color features colorful powder being thrown at every mile marker and a party to finish off the day. Preregistration is necessary but all ages are welcome. White or light-colored clothing is encouraged. April 5, 8am. Downtown Wheaton, Wheaton (wheatonparkdistrict.com). $20 teams/groups, $25 individuals.
15. Share a spa day at Rock Candy Salon & Spa
This Lincoln Square Salon caters to wee ones who need some spiffing up, but they offer services for grown-ups, too. For some joint me time, try the Mommy & Me mani/pedi ($65), which gets you both some side-by-side pampering. This is not just for girls: Rock Candy's mani-guy gives little boys a soak in "green slime" before cleaning up their nails. 4141 N Lincoln Ave (773-883-3000, rockcandysalonandspa.com).
14. Say konichiwa to "Japan and Nature: Spirit of the Seasons" at Kohl Children's Museum
Explore Japanese traditions throughout the four seasons. In spring, kids practice calligraphy through writing nature kanji and make Teru Teru Bozu dolls that look like ghosts to ward off rain. Summer means catching hidden insects and fish, which are then released back into the lake. Through July 14. 2100 Patriot Blvd, Glenview (847-832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org).
13. Hit the beach—finally!
Can you hear that? It's faint but it's clear: It's the sound of kids laughing as the waves crash at the city's beaches. Dust off the pail and shovel: Beaches officially open for the summer Memorial Day weekend. chicagoparkdistrict.com.
12. Go to the city's best museums for free
Nearly every city museum offers free days, but who can keep track of all them? We can! We've compiled this handy list of every free day for every museum. You're welcome.
11. Pedal past the greenery of Busse Woods Trail
Pack a picnic and set your brood loose on this trail, which runs 11.2 miles through the meadows and forests surrounding Busse Lake. As part of Ned Brown Preserve, a 3,700-acre forest preserve, the trail gives kids a chance to spot elk, fish for pike or take a rest while watching the sailboats flit by. Access the park at Higgins Rd and Arlington Heights Rd, Elk Grove Village (800-870-3666, fpdcc.com).
10. See The Little Prince at Lookingglass Theatre
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story follows an Aviator who meets (hallucinates?) a Little Prince after crashing his plane in the desert, undergoing a spiritual awakening when he hears the details of the boy’s journey. Ideal for older kids, the show ends March 16. Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N Michigan Ave (312-337-0665, lookingglasstheatre.org). $45–$75.
9. See a sketch by Cornservatory
Located in Lincoln Square, Conservatory has become well known for its hilarious sketch comedies. Beware, most are not suitable for ears under 13, but there are kids editions during the summers. Check the website for updates. 4210 N Lincoln Ave (773-650-1331, cornservatory.org).
8. Stroll(er) on down to Babies In Nature
The Heller Nature Center is home to a 97-acre preserve with oak-hickory forests and natural wetlands. At "Babies In Nature," you certainly don't have to walk the entire preserve, however, it's a great opportunity to roam nature with your youngest (six months–three years). A naturalist will serve as your guide as you become one with Mother Nature. March 25, 10-10:45am, 1-1:45pm. Heller Nature Center, 2821 Ridge Rd, Highland Park (847-433-6901, pdhp.org). $6 per adult and child, $3 per additional family member.
7. Get your fill at Ribfest
This fest started as a neighborhood block party more than a decade ago and now hosts indie bands and a rib cook-off. And, of course, there's always the kids' square to get summer started right. June 6–8. 4050 N Lincoln Ave (ribfest-chicago.com).
6. Make new friends at Lake View Play Group
Parents and caregivers with kids from newborn to four years old can partake in music, movement and art activities plus free play during these morning meet-ups in Lake View Presbyterian's Nursery (there is no religious component). Check website for details. Lake View Presbyterian Church, 716 W Addison St (773-281-2655, lakeviewpresbyterian.org). $7 for one child, $10 for two children, $15 for three.
5. Enter your favorite fairy tales with Into the Woods
Characters from several fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & The Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, are thrown together to achieve their various dreams in this epic tale. Through March 30. Mercury Theater, 3745 N Southport Ave (773-325-1700, mercurytheaterchicago.com). $25–$59.
4. Let your kids become master chefs at Bella Cuisine Cooking Club
It might be easy to leave kids with a box of Hot Pockets to snack on, but this class gives them the skills to make something much healthier, and tastier, too. Kids ages six–17 can sign up to learn about proper food handling, food prep, cooking techniques and nutrition so they can cook their own low-fat, healthy, delicious meals from scratch. Students also tend the school's community gardens and then harvest ingredients for class. At the end of each session, they work together to cook a meal for parents, caregivers and staffers. Dates TBD. Francis D. Hayes Park, 2936 W 85th St (bella-cuisine.com). $15.
3. Find your prince with Sleeping Beauty
The classic tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, evil witch captures girl, and boy defeats dragon to rescue girl comes to the stage this spring. April 23–June 7. Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace (630-530-0111, drurylaneoakbrook.com). $15; with Saturday breakfast buffet (dine with some of the characters!) $25–$30.
2. Step into the Maker movement at Chicago Children's Museum
Most of the time, children are told to stay away from sharp tools (duh!). But at the Tinkering Lab, kids are encouraged to pick up a saw or hammer or drill and create something. This DIY workshop is inspired by the Maker movement, a craft culture that is based in innovative creation. Chicago Children's Museum, Navy Pier, 700 E Grand Ave (312-527-1000, chicagochildrensmuseum.org). Free with admission ($12, seniors $11, kids under 1 and members free; Thu Kraft Free Family Night 5–8pm free for all).
1. Think outside the box with Chicago Children's Theatre’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle’s most treasured story follows a young and hungry caterpillar as he eats his way through different foods until his eventual metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly. April 25–June 1, The Ruth Page Center for Arts, 1016 N Dearborn St (773-227-0180, chicagochildrenstheatre.org). $28–$38.