When the weather turns too cold, hot or rainy, and your kid has played with every toy at your local indoor playground—twice—children's museums in Chicago can save the day. The Chicagoland area is home to several institutions that cater only to kids, offering dynamic, family-friendly programming year round. Your options triple when you consider that most of the top Chicago museums feature exhibits designed specifically for little ones. Check out the best children's museums in Chicago for hands-on learning disguised as play, and be sure to explore our full guide to things to do in Chicago with kids.
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Children’s museums in Chicago
One of the best children's museums in the country, there is something for kids of all ages—from babies to school-age children—to enjoy here. Kids can make their way through a faux forest at the Treehouse Trails exhibit, dig for dino bones at the Dinosaur Expedition or create something new in the Tinkering Lab using hammers, saws and more. There are even designated spaces for the tiniest of babies to tag along. And because the museum itself is on Navy Pier, there's endless fun to be had before and after visiting the museum.
This Naperville children's museum hosts a number of different exhibits and classes to help kids learn everything from math and science to art in a creative way. The museum's "neighborhoods" help children young and old work together to create new things, harvest problem-solving skills and—most importantly—play.
This museum is worth a quick trip to the northern suburbs for a chance to explore a mini version of Chicago, among other cool things. Kids can shop for groceries at Whole Foods Market, tend to kittens and turtles at the Pet Vet exhibit and make music at Ravinia Festival Music Makers. They can also mimic “adult things” like caring for babies, repairing cars and constructing houses.
Founded in 1993, the Bronzeville Children's Museum is the first and only African-American children's museum in the country. Designed for kiddos ages 3 to 9, the institution's permanent exhibits invite guests to learn about historical black inventors, S.T.E.M. foundations and noteworthy Bronzeville landmarks.
This natural history museum will have kids engaged from the moment they see Máximo the Titanosaur, but there's so much more beyond the massive prehistoric creature. Take a closer look at the soil beneath your feet and the creepy, crawly creatures that inhabit it; scope out at 4,000-year-old boat from ancient Egypt; and talk with educators about fascinating items on display.
Although some of the exhibits at this downtown institution appeal to an older crowd, there’s plenty to do with the younger set at MSI. Explore "YOU! The Experience" to learn more about the human body, marvel at the miniatures at Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle and watch 20 model trains traverse 1,400 feet of track at "The Great Train Story" exhibit.
You don't have to look any further than Pilsen to find one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. The National Museum of Mexican Art boasts a variety of kid- and family-friendly programs, including bilingual summer camps, art classes and workshops. When the museum hosts special exhibitions, there's often art classes offered to youngsters that highlight an art form or artist from the show.
Kids (and adults) go gaga for the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, where butterflies can land on you from every direction. Then adventure through an underground cave, climb on a giant spider web and learn about the how food goes from farm to plate. There's never a dull moment at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
This 89-year-old aquarium is a feast for the eyes: Your little one will be pointing out piranhas, frogs, turtles, sharks, penguins, sea lions and otters as you make your way through exhibits organized by origin. The Shedd also offers immersive experiences, like 4-D movies and animal encounters, where guests are invited to touch stingrays, sturgeons and sea stars.
This subterranean playspace managed by the Skokie Park District features a giant "Lite Brite" wall, a theater complete with costumes, a water-filled stream where kids can "fish" (raincoats provided) and a train table. There's a play area for younger kids and, for older kids, an intricate jungle gym/obstacle course. Bring your lunch to eat in the cafe area.
This may not be the first museum that pops into your head as child-friendly, but within the Swedish American Museum is the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, an interactive play space where kids can pretend to milk a cow or bring in firewood in a replica of a Swedish farmhouse. Kids will love the 20-foot-tall steamship and parents will love that the museum is small enough that they can watch their kids from all angles of the room.