101 things for families to do in Chicago | Winter

It may be cold outside, but there are still lots of fun things for kids to do in Chicago.

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  • You know how it is: For most of the year, you can't find holes in your calendar where there isn't something you're planning to do, want to do, or sad you can't do because you're doing a hundred other things. Then comes the winter, and the cold and snow and ice, and with them bored and restless kids. Little known scientific fact: Once you have a family, cabin fever sets in at approximately a gajillion times faster than when you were single. But behold! There is so much to do during the winter, at least 101 very-fun things to do, and they are all collected here. And we've included in this list a wide variety of activities, from fun ways to hit the outdoors to awesome ways to stay dry, warm and entertained.

  • 101.Explore an indoor winterwonderland at Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest
    Stay toasty as you take a walk-and a climb on the Matterhorn Climb and Slide and a ride on the Reindeer Express Train Ride-in Navy Pier's elaborate annual holiday wonder world. A 50-foot indoor Ferris wheel, bounce houses, an ice trail ropes course and other wintry recreations are also in the frost-free mix.Nov 30-Jan 6. Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave (312-595-7437,winterwonderfest.com). Admission free, attraction wristband $15-$20.

  • Photograph: Morton Arboretum

    100.Snowshoe the powdered trails at Morton Arboretum
    You can�t walk on water, but you and the fam can traipse across the snow�s surface with the help of some snowshoes at this 1,700-acre west suburban arboretum. Rentals are available at the visitors center; once you�ve got those tennis rackets strapped up, head out on the kid-friendly Conifer Collection trail where benches, restrooms and warming stations make this an enjoyable, whine-free outing for all. 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle (630-968-0074, mortonarb.org). Admission $12, seniors $11 youth ages 2-17 $9 (discounts on Wednesdays). Snowshoe rental $10-$12, kids $8-$10, for two-hour rental; $14-$16 all-day rental, kids $12-$14.

  • 99.Take a ride through the city on the Holiday Lights Tour
    Hop aboard this two-hour tour of the city's holiday lights and other seasonal attractions for a great way to see all the major downtown holiday attractions without having to deal with traffic and parking. Tour-goers will get a look at the Magnificent Mile, Macy�s holiday windows, Navy Pier�s Winter WonderFest, the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, Lincoln Park�s ZooLights and more. Advance tickets required. Through Dec 31. 875 N. Michigan Ave (773-648-5000, chicagotrolley.com). $26, kids 3-11 $19.

  • 98.Fill up on Peanuts at "Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit"
    Charlie, Lucy, Snoopy and the gang are making themselves at home at the MSI this winter. The lovable characters whom cartoonist Charles Schulz spent 50 years researching, writing and drawing eventually netted more than 355 million readers. This exhibit features art, artifacts and memorabilia on tour for the first time from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. Through Feb 18. Museum of Science and Industry. 5700 S Lake Shore Dr (773-684-1414, msichicago.org). $20, seniors $19, kids ages 3-11 $13 (includes general admission).

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum

    97.Play in the "snow" mitten-free at "Snow Much Fun"
    Here's the best of both worlds: The Chicago Children's Museum's annual exhibition includes a chance for families to build a �snow� fort, throw �snowballs,� dress up a snowman and skate on a newly expanded indoor �ice� rink-without the gloves and other gear. Through Jan 8. Navy Pier, 700 E Grand Ave (312-527-1000,chicagochildrensmuseum.org). Free with general admission ($12, seniors $11).

  • Photograph: Gretchen Kelley

    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.Jump around at Sky High Sports
    Grown-ups take over the main trampoline court five times a week at this kid-centric sports and party chain to work off up to 1,000 calories bouncing around like no one�s business. Instructors lead you through choreographed sets of jumping jacks, leap frogs and other moves. During evening classes, your kids can play on the other tramps while you bust a move. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6, 7pm; Saturdays at 9am. 6424 Howard St, Niles (847-801-5867, skyhighsports.com) or 2244 Corporate Ln, Naperville (630-717-5867). $8.

  • Christopher Schneberger

    93.Get crafty at Lillstreet Art Center's Side-by-Side Family Drop-In Days
    Adults and kids ages 2 and up can work together to make masterpieces from clay at teacher-led drop-in classes Saturday mornings in December. Reservations suggested. 4401 N Ravenswood Ave (773-769-4226, lillstreet.com). 10-11am on Dec 1, 8, 15, 22, 29. $10 per person.

  • Photograph: Brittany App

    92.Pick your jaw up off the floor at the Peking Acrobats
    Check out the Peking Acrobats as they take on breathtaking feats of gymnastics and contortionism. You can expect gravity-defying balancing acts, jaw-dropping juggling stunts and much more when they perform at the Center Theatre in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. January 29-31. 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie (847-673-6300, northshorecenter.org) $9.

  • 91.Sip some coffee while your kid acts caffeinated at Pickle's Playroom
    Remember when you used to be able to have coffee with your friends? Now you can do it again at Pickle's Playroom, where an indoor play area separate from the coffee house awaits the most rambunctious of kids. Aside from the caf� and the play area, there's also a kids' salon, so you can seriously multitask. Ongoing. 3652 N Lincoln Ave (773-293-7747,picklesplayroom.com); $12 open play, $9 for siblings.

  • 90.Build a masterpiece like Frank Lloyd Wright during LEGO Architects at the Robie House
    On third Saturdays (in a masterfully designed residence, conveniently), kids ages 6 and up can take their building ideas from floor plan to LEGO model, and have fun learning about scale, proportion and construction.Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Ave(312-994-4000,gowright.org); $5 per child.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Garfield Park Conservatory

    89.Find the term "morning glory" unironic at the Garfield Park Conservatory
    Every Monday, the GP staff plans an activity for families and school groups to drop in, for free, and try. But what makes Morning Glories such a great event is that there's much more going on: One staff member may organize an art project, while another holds a storytime, and still another offers something else. Mondays at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N Central Park Ave (312-746-5100, garfieldconservatory.org). 10am, free.

  • 88.Unplug at Pizza & Play Fridays at the Game Room
    Let the kids go retro by dropping them off at this twice-monthly dinner and "non-screen" game night while you get some me time. Dec 7, 21,5:30-8pm. Ages 4 and up. 4727 N Clark St (773-456-3896, sharp-as-a-tack.com/ya.html). $20, advance $15.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Adler Planetarium

    87.Scan the night sky at "Season of Wonder"
    n what sounds to us like an evolution of the Adler's old "Star of Wonder" show, this new seasonal offering uses simulations to peer up at projections of the winter night sky, examining not just the fabled Star of Bethlehem but other phenomena and solstice-timed observances in other cultures. Through January 6. 1300 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-7827, adlerplanetarium.org). Included in Holiday Universe Pass and Welcome to Universe Pass.

  • 86.Eat too much candy during Hansel and Gretel at the Lyric Opera
    Once upon a time, Hansel and Gretel went into the woods to find some food for dinner.... We all know the rest. The Brothers Grimm fairy tale comes to life at the Lyric Opera with an evil witch and a food fight of epic proportions that is sure to keep children entertained. 20 N Wacker Dr (312-332-2244, lyricopera.org); $20-$50.

  • 85.Get bendy during family yoga at Bloom Yoga Studio
    The whole gang can learn stress-free yoga poses and breathing techniques together on the fourth Saturday every month with instructor Mira Binzen. Grandparents, aunts and uncles welcome too; no dogs allowed, though (unless they're downward-facing). Ages 5 and up. Call ahead to register. 4663 N Rockwell St (773-463-9642 bloomyogastudio.com). $20 per pair, $8 each additional person.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum

    84.Think inside the box at "Unboxed: Adventures in Cardboard"
    The cardboard box might be one of the simplest, most versatile toys out there. The Children's Museum's exhibit on the impromptu play stuff acts as a "playground for the mind," with elaborate sets that kids can play on, artwork on display, hands-on activities and more. Through Feb 24. 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).

  • Photograph: Max Herman

    83.Strap on your skates at Wrigley Field
    The parking lot at Clark and Waveland adjacent to the Friendly Confines gets transformed into a full-size skating rink each winter. Purchase admission tickets on site for morning, afternoon or evening sessions. (Call ahead to make sure the rink is open, as it won't be if temps rise too high.) 2-8pm Mon-Thu, 2-10pm Fri, noon-10pm Sat, noon-8pm Sun. Nov 23-Mar 3. 1060 W Addison St (773-525-1638, chicagocubs.com); $5-$10, kids $3-$6, season passes $60.

  • Clayton Hauck

    82.Find kid-friendly laughs at the Improv Extravaganza Explosion
    Those folks over at Second City are wise; by shining the spotlight on the little ones at this interactive family-friendly show, they're guaranteeing new generations of improv fans and conservatory students. You'll notice the kids at this ebullient outing are loving every minute of it. Nov 24-Jan 19. 230 W North Ave (312-662-4562, upcomedycub.com); $11.

  • 81.Draw cartoons and go doodle-crazy at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Doodleganza
    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 Stan Lee with help from pros like Paul Nudd, Kelly Kazinski and Scott Reeder. The first Tuesday of every month, 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660, mcachicago.org).

  • 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.

  • Mike Walker

    78.Discover downtown surprises at Winter Wonderloop
    The streets of Chicago are being taken over by "Random Acts of Holidays:" surprise street performances, food and drink giveaways, pop-up photo booths, carolers and bands, and prize giveaways. Vendors include the Goodman Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Corner Bakery, SmileBooth and Berghoff Restaurant. Plus, check out the "10 Wonders of the Loop," free maps with must-see locations around the city for the holidays. Check online for all offers and events. From Nov 23-Dec 22. Throughout the Loop (winterwonderloop.com); free.

  • Photograph: Jessica Zerby

    77.Bang your drum Tsukasa Taiko at the MCA
    The traditional Japanese drumming technique known as taiko is on full display at the MCA, when the advanced youth members of Tsukasa Taiko perform a varied set of beats, bangs and bongs on the sumo-sized drums. In what's becoming an offbeat annual holiday offering, they perform two shows timed to the winter solstice, with special-guest appearances by jazz percussionists Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake. Keep a pillow handy; we're guessing your kids will want to drum on something by the end of the show. Dec 21 at 7:30pm; Dec 22 at 3pm. 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660, mcachicago.org) $15, students$10, free for kids under age 12.

  • 76.Climb aboard the Enchanted Railroad at Morton Arboretum
    A holiday favorite returns with model trains of different colors and styles. Nine trains operate via remote-controlled interlocked signals, allowing them to cross tracks safely, and two trolleys reverse direction automatically. One train even has a tiny camera on board so visitors can see what it would be like to ride along. Complimentary timed tickets required for entry are available at the Morton Arboretum Visitor Center desk. Nov 23-Jan 6. 4100 Illinois Rt 53, Lisle (630-968-0074, mortonarb.org); free with admission.

  • 75.Hit the indoor links at the Putting Edge
    Rummage around for your best neon outfit before you embark on this glow-in-the-dark miniature golfing experience. Playing 18 holes on one of these black-lit courses is like stepping into a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Check online for days and times. 4105 N Harlem Ave (708-457-8377, puttingedge.com); $10.50 kids ages 13 and up, $8.50 kids ages 12 and under.

  • Photograph: Allison Williams

    74.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 uber-modern 21st-century jungle gym, dubbed the Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure, with 36 curvy wooden platforms for curious explorers. 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000, lpzoo.org); free with admission.

  • 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). Free.

  • 72.Embrace the season at Emily Oaks Nature Center's Winter Chilly Fest
    This annual weekend of cold-weather fun includes ice skating, hay rides, snow and ice games,and campfires. Chili dinners are served inside next to a fireplace Feb 9, 10. 4650 Brummel St, Skokie (847-674-1500, skokieparks.org). $5-$11.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Flying Fox Co

    71.Head into the wild at Garfield Park Conservatory
    Get to know the wildlife at Garfield Park Conservatory on Wild Wednesdays, when animal presenter Scott Heinrichs offers a up-close-and-personal look at ferrets, foxes, bats, armadillos, and hedgehogs. Kids can ask questions of of Heinrichs, and there will also be animal face-painting and animal tattoos provided. Nov 28, Jan 30, Feb 27, Mar 27, Apr 24, 4:30-7:30pm. 300 N Central Park Ave (312-746-5100, garfield-conservatory.org); free.

  • 70.Tickle the ivories at PianoForte's Family Series concerts
    Piano-centric performances and talks are geared to families with kids ages 6-12 and are followed by a milk-and-cookies reception. On March 2, pianist George Lepauw introduces the audience to foreign lands with music by Scarlatti and Debussy. PianoForte Salon, 410 S Michigan Ave, Studio 825 (312-291-0291,pianofortefoundation.org). $5 per person. Ticket holders get $5 off parking at the Grant Park South Garage.

  • 69.Step inside the flurry at the Adler Planetarium's "World's Largest Snow Globe"
    Haven't you always wondered what it'd be like to jump into a snow globe? Well, here's your chance, as the Adler transforms its 70-foot Grainger Sky Theater dome into the world's largest winter wonderland after each space show. Now everyone can see the great winter spectacle normally reserved for paperweights and knick-knacks.Through Jan 6. 1300 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-7827, adlerplanetarium.org). Free with admission.

  • Photograph: Chicago Wolves

    68.Hope for a hat trick at a Chicago Wolves hockey game
    The American Hockey League team's games are especially family friendly, from the pregame fireworks show to the in-game contests and birthday party packages. Through Apr 21. Allstate Arena, 6920 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont (800-843-9658, chicagowolves.com). $9-$49.50.

  • Photograph: BRUCE POWELL

    67.Glide along the Heller Nature Center's wooded trails on cross-country skis
    Breathe deep that fresh air as you glide through fresh powdered snow on three miles of trail on the Heller Nature Center's grounds in Highland Park. Rental skis are available for ages 6 and older whenever the snow base reaches 4 or more inches. Boots and poles are included. A driver�s license or $20 deposit is required for each set of skis. Call ahead to check snow conditions. Heller Nature Center, 2821 Ridge Rd, Highland Park (847-433-6901, pdhp.org). Daily rental $12, kids 12 and under $7.

  • 66.Play "I Spy" at a gnome hunt at Morton Arboretum
    Who's hiding in the Children's Garden? Most of the little critters are hibernating, but bring your best "I Spy" skills to find the gnomes hidden here. A sign at the entrance of the Children's Garden gives clues. Through February. 4100 Illinois Rt 53, Lisle (630-968-0074, mortonarb.org); free with admission.

  • 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.

  • Photograph: Margaret Strickland

    64.Travel back to the Jazz Age with Chicago Children's Theatre's "Bud, Not Buddy"
    Chicago Children's Theatre adapts the Newbery Medal-winning novel by Christopher Paul Curtis about an orphan who heads to Depression-era Michigan to find his father, whom he suspects is a famous jazz musician. Jan 12-Feb 24. The Ruth Page Center for Arts, 1016 N Dearborn St (773-227-0180, chicagochildrenstheatre.org). $26-$36.

  • 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.

  • Photograph: courtesy Giant Screen Films

    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 specific screening times. Museum admission $15, kids ages 3-11 $10; movie ticket an additional $7 adults, $5 kids; discounts for Chicago residents.

  • 61.Glide through the Danada Forest Preserve
    Explore the woods of the Danada Forest Preserve on a sleigh ride pulled by Percheron horses from the equestrian center. Fifteen-minute rides happen every Sunday in January and February on a first-come, first-served basis. If there�s no snow, you can for a hayride.Dec 26-30,Sundays in January and February; noon-2pm. 3S507 Naperville Rd, Wheaton (630-668-6012, dupageforest.com); $5, ages 5-12 $2, under 5 free.

  • Photograph: Brenna Hernandez

    60.Swim with the "Jellies" at Shedd Aquarium
    Step into another world filled with alien-like creatures when you observe �Jellies,� a fascinating array of surreal beauty. A tip to parents: While the content is suitable for all ages, the languid movement of most of these beings (once commonly referred to as jellyfish) is likely to quickly bore younger kids. Through 2013. 1200 S Lake Shore Dr (312-939-2438, sheddaquarium.org). Free with admission.

  • 59.Twist 'n' shout with the stars at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago's FamilyDance series
    Jan 19, Mar 23 and Apr 6: 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. Columbia College Dance Center, 1306 S Michigan Ave (312-369-8330,colum.edu/dancecenter); $15.

  • 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. Visitymcachicago.orgfor locations.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

    57.Burn your cookies at the Chicago History Museum
    Kids will surely find the presence of 140-year-old charred cookies curious. That's probably why they're on display in CHM's "City in Crisis" exhibit, among other artifacts from the Great Chicago Fire. These Albert biscuits were once the pale-cream color of shortbread, but after getting baked a second time in their tin container, they now look like Oreos. 1601 N Clark St (312-642-4600, chicagohistory.org). $14, kids 12 and under free.

  • 56.Practice your headers at Lil' Kickers
    Lil' Kickers classes are a non-competitive introduction to soccer for young athletes who just want to have 50 minutes of fun, and during the winter that fun happens at indoor locations around the city. Warning: Classes have been known to return a smellier, sweatier version of your little superstar. Check online for dates, times and prices. 2640-B W Bradley Pl (877-545-5457, lilkickerschicago.com).

  • 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, fdpcc.com); $12 (plus $100 deposit) for ski rentals.

  • 54.Head out on a deep-space adventure at the Adler
    Head to the dark comfort of the high-tech Grainger Sky Theater for an armchair journey aboard a futuristic starship. From the observation deck, viewers will experience the larger-than-life phenomena of the universe. Through Dec 31. 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.Feel the love at the I Love Nature! Family Valentine�s Day Dance
    Valentine's Day becomes a little more special than drug-store cards and candy hearts at this family event. Families are encouraged to don their fine attire and head to the nature museum for an evening of dancing, dinner, mocktails and Valentine�s Day card crafts. The night also includes access to the museum and its Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N Cannon Dr (773-755-5100, naturemuseum.org). Feb 9. $45, kids $15, kids 3 and under $5.

  • 51.See nature as art at the "Woodcut" exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden
    Explore the stories of 25 trees through Bryan Nash Gill's woodcut photography. (Think overhead shots of tree rings.) Jan 14-Apr 14. 1000 Lake-Cook Rd, Glencoe (847-835-5440, chicagobotanic.org);free with admission.

  • 50.Smash into buildings at the new children's play area at Gurnee Mills
    Just opened in November, 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.

  • 49.Decode "The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost" at Lifeline Theatre
    Kids of all ages can enjoy the adventures of Boogle Bay's Uncle Tooth and Otto, two friends on the lookout for town's pirate thief. Based on the book The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost, the play chronicle's Otto's journey toward understanding the value of integrity. Jan 12-Feb 17. 6912 N Glenwood Ave (773-761-4477, lifelinetheatre.com); $15.

  • 48.Hop aboard for Train Saturdays at the DuPage County Historical Museum
    Young rail fans will love the museum's "All Aboard" exhibit, which features artifacts from local railroads, and the HO Gauge Model Railroad, which spans more than 2,000 feet of track. Both are accessible whenever the museum is open (the model railroad has a pushbutton-activated train loop), but on the third and fifth Saturdays of each month, engineers are on hand to operate the entire railroad from 1:30-3:30pm. 102 E Wesley St, Wheaton (630-510-4941, dupagemuseum.org). Included with museum admission.

  • 47.Channel Julia Child at family cooking classes at Alliance Francaise
    Kids ages 7-10 and their parents can get schooled in French cooking basics at single-day classes taught in English at Alliance Francaise de Chicago. On Sat, Jan 19, students learn how to make clafoutis aux poires (a flan-like pear dessert); on Sat, Jan 26, it's croque monsieur sandwiches. 2-4pm. 810 N Dearborn St (312-337-1070, af-chicago.org). $35 for parent-child pair; $50 for up to four people.

  • 46.Hit the sledding slopes in the Cook County Forest Preserve
    Ten-count 'em-ten hills for sledding in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Check online for all the locations throughout the county to go for a day of snow-filled fun. 536 N Harlem Ave (800-870-3666, fpdcc.com); free.

  • Brenna Hernandez

    45.Hang out with Baby Beluga at the Shedd Aquarium
    In August, the Shedd's beluga whale Mauyak gave birth to a baby girl, who can now be seen in the Shedd's generous beluga whale tank. The calf still hasn't been named, so while you're there, drop a suggestion to the staff. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr (312-939-2438, sheddaquarium.org); $28.95; kids $19.95.

  • Lavoie,Mike

    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. Check online for class times. 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org); prices vary.

  • robin

    43.Ride the Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Gardens
    All aboard for the Botanic Garden's 10,000-square-foot indoor model train exhibit, which runs through some 80 itty-bitty, amazingly detailed city monuments. Head outside, too, to check out the roughly 750,000 twinkling lights that illuminate the gardens. Kids can participate in hands-on activities, including making paper snowflakes and examining snow under a microscope.Nov 23-Jan 6. 1000 Lake-Cook Rd, Glencoe (847-835-5440,chicagobotanic.org) $10-$12, seniors and kids 3-12 $8-$10, venue parking $20.

  • Photograph: Chicago Park District

    42.Embrace the cold-and the wild-at Polar Adventure Days
    Load on those layers and shake that cabin fever with the Chicago Park District�s annual winter celebration of the great outdoors. The family-oriented day includes exploring Northerly Island and its wildlife, live music with the Old Town School of Folk Music, dog-sledding demos and-if there are a few inches of the white stuff-some snowshoeing. Dec 8, noon-4pm. Northerly Island, 1400 S Linn White Dr (312-742-7529, chicagoparkdistrict.com). Free.

  • Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka

    41.Skate amid towering skyscrapers at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
    Glide around Millennium Park�s bustling ice rink with a sweet view of the city�s famous skyline. Warm up with a steamy hot chocolate from the adjacent Park Grill afterward before popping in to say hi to the "Bean."Through mid-March. 11 N Michigan Ave (312-742-5472, millenniumpark.org). Free, skate rental $10.

  • Photograph: Morton Arboretum

    40.Run with the dogs at Husky Heroes
    Sled dogs are the stars of this Morton Arboretum event, where kids can pose with and pet the pups, and parents can consider fostering or adopting one of them. The afternoon also includes a free screening of The Last Great Race, which explores the husky's role in Alaskan history. Jan 26, 27. 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle (630-968-0074, mortonarb.org). Admission $12, seniors $11 youth ages 2-17 $9 (discounts on Wednesdays).

  • 39.Watch Disney characters hit the ice at Rockin' Ever After
    Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, Merida and other Disney princesses compete in a talent show in Disney's newest ice show. Jan 23-27 at Allstate Arena, 6920 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont (847-635-6601, allstatearena.com) and Jan 30-Feb 10 at the United Center, 1901 W Madison St (312-455-4500, unitedcenter.com); $15-$75.

  • 38.Rediscover the world's most fun-yet-educational songs with "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" at North Shore Center for Performing Arts
    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 19 and 21. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie (312-335-0440,northshorecenter.org); $8.

  • 37.Examine a miniature Chicago at the Lincoln Park Conservatory
    A variety of model trains, tiny versions of the citys notable buildings constructed from natural materials and loads of poinsettias make the annual Winter Flower and Train Show a favorite for Chicago families. Nov 24-Jan 6. 2391 N Stockton Dr (312-742-7736, chicagoparkdistrict.com); free.

  • 36.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. Mondays at 8pm. 5153 N Ashland Ave (312-409-1954, barrelofmonkeys.org) $10, kids $5.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    35.Channel your inner monkey at Chicago Athletic Club
    Five of CAC's facilities boast some form of climbing-either the traditional walls with ropes or a style with overhangs and horizontal surfaces known as bouldering. Sign up your kids for four-week classes sorted by age groups, or hit the gym on the weekends for "family climb time." ($25 kids day pass; $5 members). Chicago Athletic Clubs, multiple locations; chicagoathleticclubs.com.

  • 34.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 8-11, is a bright, colorful space designed to look like a municipal park that works to teach 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; hmfi.org). $12, seniors and students $8, kids ages 5-11 $6, under 5 free.

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    33.Take a fresh look at "Blue Man Group"
    While there�s no plot to BMG, there�s also nothing you can�t enjoy again, seeing it through your kids' fresh eyes. Surrealist Looney Tunes antics play out before your eyes: giant gum balls, once chewed, fuel Pollock-esque splatter paintings; enormous �GiPads� make the man magically change costume; Twinkies propel a new alien form of bulimia. Thu, Fri 8pm; Sat 4, 7, 10pm; Sun 4pm. Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N Halsted St (773-348-4000,blueman.com). $49-$69.

  • 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. Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Ave (312-994-4000,gowright.org); $15, kids $12.

  • 30.Gaze away the evening during the Festival of Lights and Trees at Cosley Zoo
    Twenty-thousand twinkling lights and spectacular displays transform Cosley Zoo into a fairy-tale winter wonderland. Visit the animals and purchase hot chocolate, trees, wreaths and holiday gifts. Lights go on at 3pm. Families and groups can also reserve a tree to decorate for Christmas Tree Lane for $35.1356 N Gary Ave, (630-665-5534, cosleyzoo.org); $3 for non-residents, children 17 and under free.

  • 29.Get spun around by "Science Storms" at the Museum of Science and Industry
    For kids who duck under the bed whenever lightning strikes, this exhibit provides an explanation and better understanding of natural disasters. With two floors chock-full of more than 50 hands-on experiments, it might just be the answer that afraid tots have been looking for. Ongoing. 57th St and Lake Shore Dr (773-684-1414, msichicago.org); free with admission.

  • Denis Finnin

    28.Learn about "Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest, and Most Amazing Mammals of All Time" at the Field Museum
    Evolution is a strange, strange thing. Take, for example, the babirusa's curved teeth, which grow out of its nose. Or the amazingly efficient lungs of the red kangaroo. Or even the long-extinct Astrapotherium, who had a flexible trunk with four teethlike tusks. This exhibition looks at the evolution of dozens of mammals through specimens, multimedia displays and interactives, plus hands-on activities that will appeal to curious wee ones.1400 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-9410,fieldmuseum.org);$22, kids ages 3-11 $15, students and seniors $18.

  • 27.Wrap up a history lesson at the Oriental Institute
    Kids curious about ancient Egypt can get close to the real deal in Hyde Park, where this University of Chicago-affiliated museum displays several mummies. Some are still inside their sarcophagus (with an interactive touch-screen nearby showing X-ray scans of one occupant), but you can see the actual bones of another. And don't miss Lamassu, the Institute's ginormous bird-bull-man statue from Iraq. 1155 E 58th St (773-702-9514, oi.uchicago.edu). Admission is pay-what-you-can.

  • Charles Cherney

    26.Get swinging with Tennis Explorers at Midtown Athletic Club
    Show your preschoolers some love (literally), and sign them up for these 10-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. Jan 29-Apr 8. 2020 W Fullerton Ave (773-235-2300, midtown.com) $225 non-members, $190 members.

  • 25.Get back to nature (storytime) at Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum
    Kids ages 3-5 can participate in a nature-themed story time at the Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The hour-long session also includes arts and crafts activities. Every other Thursday. 738 Thatcher Ave (708-366-6530, fpdcc.com); $1 per child.

  • 24.Check out a mini version of the city at the Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibit
    This permanent exhibition offers a great survey of the architecture and urban spaces that define Chicago. Kids can learn how to find the �zero point� on Chicago�s grid using a scale model, as well as check out displays on the Union Stock Yards' packing house, the World�s Columbian Exposition, Wrigley Field and the wolves at Lincoln Park Zoo.2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000,lpzoo.org).

  • Photograph: Matthew Bowie

    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) $17.50 ages 12 and up, $11 kids ages 3-11.

  • 22.Introduce your kids to an abbreviated Bard with Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "Romeo and Juliet"
    CST stages Romeo and Juliet for its "Short Shakespear"" program this fall, with all the drama between the Montagues and Capulets going down in a tidy 75 minutes. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Sat 11am, Feb 23-Mar 23. Navy Pier, 800 E Grand Ave (312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com). $20, students $16.

  • Photograph: Denis Finnin

    21.Light up your dark days at Field Museum's "Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence"
    If you don't know what bioluminescence is, you'll have it figured out after this exhibit at the Field Museum. Learn all about the phenomenon of living organisms that produce light (yes, like the deep sea cave fish that terrorized Nemo and Dory) and see how scientists study them in all their different habitats. Mar 7-Sept 8. 1400 S Lake Shore Dr (312-922-9410, fieldmuseum.org); tickets included in All Access and Discovery passes.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Mummenschanz

    20.Bring the the whole family to the Harris Theater
    This series at the Harris Theater includes three performances fit for the whole family. It kicks off with the Trey McIntyre Project's 1970s-inspired "Free to Be You and Me," followed by the visual spectacle Mummenschanz. Finally, Walt Whitman's Soul Children of Chicago will celebrate Black History Month with a choral performance. Dec 1, Jan 19, Feb 9. 205 E Randolph Dr (312-334-7777, harristheaterchicago.org); $30 for three performances.

  • 19.Skate great heights at the Hancock Center's faux-ice rink
    The John Hancock Observatory�s Skating in the Sky rink lets little skaters take to the "ice" at a height of more than 1,000 feet. While the ice is actually a synthetic called XTRAICE, the stunning view of the city and beyond from the north window is 100 percent real. The rink measures about 900 square feet, which makes it best suited for smaller skaters. Jan 1-Apr 8. John Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan Ave (888-875-8439, jhochicago.com). 25-minute skating session $5; skate rentals $1.

  • Photograph: Bill Smith

    18.Welcome back legend-in-the-making Derrick Rose at a Chicago Bulls game
    After missing most of the season due to injury, Bulls star D Rose is set to re-join Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and other teammates in February or March. Performances such as the BullsKidz dance troupe, the Bucket Boys, mascot Benny the Bull and the Junior Luvabulls keep families entertained between quarters. Through April 17. United Center, 1901 West Madison St (800-745-3000, nba.com/bulls).

  • Inta Gansone

    17.Feel the "Magic" at the Chicago History Museum
    Feast your eyes on cool ephemera from local magic legends, including Marshall Brodien's Wizzo the Wizard costume from The Bozo Show, as well as his ornate Temple Illusion sword box, plus Henry Blackstone's executioner's outfit. A magic stage show, an interactive Pepper's ghost box and roving magicians throughout the run complete this enchanting exhibition. Through Jan 6. 1601 N Clark St (312-642-4600, chicagohistory.org). $14, seniors and students $12, free for kids 12 and under and CHM members.

  • Photograph: Max Herman

    16.Give winter a warm welcome at North Park Village Nature Center's Winter Solstice Festival
    You can hike the trails and spot deer all winter at the Nature Center's preserve. But once a year, to mark winter's official arrival, North Park's Winter Solstice Festival brings in live music, crafts and visits with creatures from Big Run Wolf Ranch. To top it off, the trails will be bathed in the flickering glow of luminarias. Dec 15, 6-9pm.5801 N Pulaski Rd(312-744-5472,chicagoparkdistrict.com) free.

  • 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).

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    14. Dip some homemade marshmallows into some decadent hot chocolate
    You know it may be too cold to eat gelato (yeah, right), but it's the perfect season for enjoying a cup of real-deal hot chocolate from the new Black Dog Gelato shop on Belmont.1955 W Belmont Ave (773-348-7935, blackdogchicago.com). Mon 7-10am; Tue-Fri 7-10am, 3-10pm; Sat, Sun 2-10pm. Average cup of hot chocolate: $4.

  • Copyright � 2011 Timmy Samuel

    13.Indulge in wunderbar gifts and tasty German food at the Christkindlmarket
    This super popular, highly authentic German Christmas market sets up in Daley Plaza every year, with visiting German vendors selling a stunning selection of imported handmade ornaments, sweets, and hot German food and drink. Kids can meet Santa at his tent here and check out the city's massive official tree. Through Dec 24. Washington and Dearborn Sts (312-494-2175, christkindlmarket.com); free.

  • Photograph: � Todd Rosenberg Photography

    12.Make everything illuminated at ZooLights
    About 2 million holiday lights set Lincoln Park Zoo aglow during this annual event. While basking in it all, kids can meet Santa, make crafts, ride the train, greet animals and take a spin on the carousel. The first 1,000 nightly visitors get to view the scene through 3-D lenses. Through Jan 6. 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000, lpzoo.org); free.

  • 11.Hear sleigh bells jingling in Tinley Park
    When it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together, check out Forest View Farms in Tinley Park, where the equestrian center offers 25-minute horse-drawn sleigh rides. They even have a "Drive It Yourself" package for $70 that includes a 30-minute ride with a 15-minute lesson beforehand. Reservation required. 16717 S Lockwood Ave, Tinley Park (708-560-0306, fvfarms.com); $10.

  • 10.Go exploring in your snowshoes at Northerly Island
    If there's three inches or more of snow on the ground, you can slap on your snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore this 91-acre peninsula. Equipment is available for a two-hour rental on a first-come, first served basis for $5. Select dates through February. 1400 S. Lynn White Dr (312-742-7529, chicagoparkdistrict.com); free.

  • Photograph: courtesy of DuPage County

    9.Break the ice on winter fishing at Blackwell Forest Preserve
    Bring your winter fishing gear to cut through the ice and angle bluegill, channel catfish and largemouth bass at this west-suburban forest preserve. Fishers 16 or older must carry valid Illinois sport fishing licenses and, for safety's sake, make sure the ice is at least four inches thick. Blackwell Forest Preserve, Butterfield Rd, Warrenville (630-876-5931, dupageforest.com); free.

  • 8.Stay late-night at Brookfield Zoo for Holiday Magic
    Brookfield Zoo stays open late for its annual holiday fest, which includes an elaborate lights display, live music, ice sculpting and, natch, appearances by Santa.Dec 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23. 3300 Golf Rd, Brookfield (708-688-8000, brookfieldzoo.org). Included with general admission.

  • 7.Get industrious at the "How People Make Things" exhibition
    This exhibition inspired by the factory tour segments from PBS's Mister Rogers� Neighborhood shows how people, ideas and technology transform raw materials into our fave childhood products. Hands-on activities include a die cutter for guests to make a box and a horse, a chance to operate a three-axis mill to carve a block of wax, a chance to assemble parts of a real golf cart and to race a robotic arm to try to assemble a replica of Mister Rogers�s trolley. Through Jan 27. DuPage Children's Museum, 301 N Washington St (630-637-8000, dupagechildrensmuseum.org). Free with general admission ($12, seniors $11).

  • 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). 10-11:30am Mon, Wed and Fri; Lake View Presbyterian Church, 716 W Addison St (773-281-2655,lakeviewpresbyterian.org). $7 for one child, $10 for two children, $15 for three.

  • Photograph: Sandro

    5.Learn about youth violence at "How Long Will I Cry?"
    Young adults will appreciate this performance about youth violence at Steppenwolf. Put together by DePaul journalist Miles Harvey and his students, the piece explores the issue through interviews with those affected. Feb 26- March 9. 1650 N Halsted St (312-335-0440, steppenwolf.org) $10. KS Young adults will appreciate this performance about youth violence at Steppenwolf. Put together by DePaul journalist Miles Harvey and his students, the piece explores the issue through interviews with those affected. Feb 26-March 9. 1650 N Halsted St (312-335-0440, steppenwolf.org); $10.

  • 4.Be dazzled at Discovery Center Museum
    In addition to 200 hands-on exhibits, the Discovery Center Museum adds on a handful of winter programs during its Dazzling Winter Days program to give kids a whole list of fresh things to do. Expect new planetarium shows, live science demonstrations in the theater, and lots of art and craft activities. Dec 22-30, 11:30am-3:30pm. 711 N Main St, Rockford (815-963-6769, discoverycentermuseum.org). Included in admission.

  • Illustration: Sarah Williamson

    3.Follow the yellow brick road at Kohl's Children's Museum
    Head over the rainbow with a new exhibit, �The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,� inspired by the beloved book (first published in 1900). Little ones can take a self-guided tour from Dorothy�s gray house into Technicolor country. Through Jan 6. 2100 Patriot Blvd, Glenview (847-832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org); free with admission.

  • 2.Open young minds at "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy" at DePaul's Merle Reskin Theatre
    This production by Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences, part of the Theatre School at DePaul University, helps kids learn lessons about friendship and prejudice in the tale Turner and Lizzie, of two friends in early-20th century New England. Jan 19-Mar 2. 60 E Balbo Dr (312-922-1999, events.depaul.edu); $10.

  • 1.Chill out at the Stars on Ice "Then & Now" Tour
    Dorothy Hamill and Kurt Browning headline the Chicago-area stop of this ice show, which also includes other champion skaters performing inspiring feats.Mar 8, 7:30pm. Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim Rd, Rosemont (847-635-6601,ticketmaster.com); $25-$155.

You know how it is: For most of the year, you can't find holes in your calendar where there isn't something you're planning to do, want to do, or sad you can't do because you're doing a hundred other things. Then comes the winter, and the cold and snow and ice, and with them bored and restless kids. Little known scientific fact: Once you have a family, cabin fever sets in at approximately a gajillion times faster than when you were single. But behold! There is so much to do during the winter, at least 101 very-fun things to do, and they are all collected here. And we've included in this list a wide variety of activities, from fun ways to hit the outdoors to awesome ways to stay dry, warm and entertained.


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