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Chicago's top children's museums

Parks and playgrounds are great, but kids can learn about the world around them while playing at a Chicago children's museum

Photograph: Chris Strong

When the weather turns too cold, hot or rainy, and your kid has played with every toy at your local indoor playground—twice—a children's museum can be a savior. Chicago has some of the best museums in the country, and many feature exhibits specifically for little ones. Of course, there are several museums that cater only to kids—yet another reason why Chicago is one of the best places to raise a family. Check out these top spots for hands-on learning disguised as play.

Children's museums in Chicago

Chicago Children's Museum

Recommended

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.

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Streeterville

DuPage Children's Museum

This western suburban children's museum hosts a number of different exhibits and classes to help kids learn everything from math to science 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. 

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Suburbs

National Museum of Mexican Art

You don't have to look any farther 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. 

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Lower West Side
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Bronzeville Children's Museum

Founded in 1993, the Bronzeville Children's Museum is the first and only African-American children's museum in the U.S. Designed for students ages 3 to 9, permanent exhibits allow kids to learn about African-American inventors, science, technology and the Bronzeville community.

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Calumet Heights

The Field Museum

Recommended

This natural history museum will have kids engaged from the moment they see Sue the T. Rex, but there's so much more beyond the massive prehistoric creature. Check out the 3-D movies about different animals in the theater, stoke their curiosity in the Crown Family PlayLab, and learn about cool sciency things like DNA and ancient Egypt in the many cool exhibits.

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Museum Campus

Skokie Exploratorium

Recommended

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 is 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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Skokie
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Kohl Children's Museum

Recommended

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. They can also mimic “adult things” like caring for babies, repairing cars and constructing houses.

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Suburbs

Museum of Science and Industry

Recommended

Although some of the exhibits appeal to an older crowd, there is 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 the newly renovated "Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle" and watch 20 model trains traverse 1,400 feet of track at "The Great Train Story" exhibit. 

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Hyde Park

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Recommended

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 spider web and learn about the how food gets from the farm to the plate. 

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Lincoln Park
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Shedd Aquarium

Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this 85-year-old institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays, turtles and moray eel of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks, mesmerizing jellies, adorable penguins and marine mammals like sea lions and otters.

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Museum Campus
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