Children looking at an aquarium exhibit
Photograph: Grace DuVal for Time Out

The best children's museums in Chicago that kids and adults will love

Kids can enjoy hands-on learning and discovery when they explore the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and more.

Morgan OlsenEmma Krupp
Contributor: Isaiah Reynolds
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Whether it's too cold, hot or rainy, children's musuems in Chicago can save the day when it comes to keeping little ones occupied. The Chicagoland area is home to several institutions that cater to kids with dynamic and educational exhibits. Options skyrocket when considering most of Chicago's top museums have programming specifically for children. 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 the best kid-friendly things to do in Chicago

RECOMMENDED: Discover the best kid-friendly restaurants in Chicago

Children’s museums in Chicago

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Hyde Park
  • price 2 of 4

Although some of the exhibits at this Hyde Park 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.

  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

One of the best children's museums in the country, there's 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.

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  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus
  • price 2 of 4

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 a 4,000-year-old boat from ancient Egypt; and talk with educators about fascinating items on display.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Museum Campus
  • price 3 of 4

This aquarium, a Chicago institution since 1930, 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 4D movies and animal encounters, where guests are invited to touch stingrays, sturgeons and sea stars.

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  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus
  • price 1 of 4
Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium

Astronomy and astrophysics take the spotlight at the Adler Planetarium, where kids can fixate on permanent exhibitions like "Mission Moon," a journey along the history of U.S. space exploration and "The Universe: A Walk Through Time," which posits theories on how the galaxy started. Try to schedule your visit during a clear night to take an unforgettable peak through the Doane Observatory telescope.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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  • Attractions
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

Step into the Willy Wonka-esque world of the Museum of Ice Cream Chicago, a multi-room interactive experience dedicated to all things ice cream. After choosing an ice cream-themed nickname (e.g. “BaChoc Obama,” “Oprah Winfreeze” or “Mintdonna”), visitors enter through a pink recreation of an El car that leads them to a collection of experiential rooms, including a science-heavy ice cream lab, an exhibit on the history of local ice cream ventures, a mini-golf course and—of course—the museum’s famous sprinkle pool. The saccharine adventure will be a sweet day any child will be sure to cherish.

  • Kids
  • River North

Slime is king at this interactive center. A general admission ticket gives you access to Sloomoo's DIY Slime Bar, where kids can design their own eight-ounce slime, and to the Sloomooverse, a slime-themed augmented reality. Don't miss out on the enhanced experience, where participants can get slimed at Sloomoo Falls. This sensory playground is the perfect day trip for keeping any group of kids stimulated and entertained.

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  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Calumet Heights
  • price 1 of 4

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.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Lincoln Park

For a day of fun facts and history lessons, bring the kids to the Chicago History Museum. Although it may not seem too kid-friendly at first, there are plenty of youth-oriented exhibits to keep the young ones' attention. "Sensing Chicago" lets kids cosplay as a Chicago hot dog while an interactive film on the Great Chicago Fire seamlessly mixes play and learning.

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  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Suburbs
  • price 1 of 4

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" allow children young and old work together to create new things, harvest problem-solving skills and—most importantly—play. 

  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Suburbs
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lower West Side

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 and art classes. The art classes in question incorporate art and artists from the museum's exhibitions, crafting a thematic arc for the duration of instruction. 

  • Kids
  • Skokie
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Andersonville
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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