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Photograph: Shutterstock

10 ways to keep Chicago kids busy at home and reclaim your sanity

Get the kids off your back—if only for 30 minutes—with these enriching at-home activities

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

If we can all agree on just one thing right now, it's this: We will never again underestimate the struggle that is being a parent. Balancing childcare and school lessons while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal routine is no joke.

That's why we rounded up the best resources for Chicago parents to use right now—from virtual tours of the city's most amazing museums and drop-in improv classes at the Second City to interactive science experiments and bedtime stories. Next time the little ones are toying with your last nerve, consider this guide your playbook.

1. Mesmerize them with the Shedd Aquarium's live cam

Having trouble getting the kids to settle down for nap time? Tune into the Shedd Aquarium's soothing and relaxing live cam of its "Underwater Beauty" exhibit, which showcases a colorful view of angelfishes, wrasses, tangs and butterflyfishes making their way through the water.

2. Let Michael Shannon read tonight's bedtime story

Go with us on this one. The Chicago Children’s Theatre recently launched an action-packed YouTube channel where you'll find an adorable virtual puppet show titled Frederick, which is narrated by none other than Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon. The adaption of a children's book by author Leo Lionni follows a mouse who helps his friend weather the winter with tales of summer.

The Field Museum, Maximo
Photograph: Lucy Hewett

3. Virtually tour Chicago's best museums

Missing weekend adventures at the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Museum of Science and Industry? Lucky for you, some of the city's top institutions have moved their exhibitions online thanks to Google Arts and Culture, allowing families to download pages of coloring books, learn fascinating history lessons and browse galleries without leaving the house.

4. Check out a book from the Chicago Public Library

Consider your eCard for the Chicago Public Library a secret weapon to beat boredom. Functioning just like a regular library card, your electronic library cards gives you access to thousands of e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines. Don't have one? Anyone who's a Chicago resident can sign up for free.

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Photograph: Ari Craven

5. Enter the Chicago Children's Theatre play contest

West Loop institution the Chicago Children's Theatre is hosting its first-ever Play@Home Contest, challenging homebound local kids to create and film their own five-minute plays, with the winner snagging performing-arts classes or season tickets. The contest encourages little ones to use their imaginations, write their own scripts and create original props. Parents, that should translate to some time back on your day.

6. Sign up for an online improv class with the Second City

If your little ones are begging to set up their own TikTok accounts, steer them to the Second City instead. Offering online classes for kids and teens, the comedy institution will help harness all that hilarious energy. Classes range from 90-minute drop-in sessions to five-day camps, and there's something for kiddos as young as 4 and as old as 18.

7. Learn how to draw your favorite Disney characters

Kids don't need more than a piece of paper and a pencil to learn how to draw like the pro animators behind their favorite Disney flicks. The park's How to Draw series on YouTube will have them sketching amazing renditions of Elsa, Tinker Bell, Goofy and Winnie the Pooh in no time.  

Chicago Children's Museum, museum, Eliza Poznanski
Photograph: Eliza Poznanski

8. Dig into the Chicago Children's Museum's Parenting Playbook

Like most other attractions, this fantastic children's museum is still closed to the public, but parents have full access to its totally free Parenting Playbook, which is jam-packed with tips, tricks and secrets from the experts. You can browse interactive at-home activities, science experiments, mindfulness exercises and safe outdoor activities—enough to keep the kids out of your hair for at least an hour.

9. Tour the real-life locations of Harry Potter's world with Google Earth

Calling all Potterheads! You can now visit 12 real-life Harry Potter locations thanks to a wanderlusting virtual tour from Google Earth. You'll get to see the spots that inspired notable scenes from the books, including Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

10. If all else fails, watch one of the all-time best family movies

Listen, sometimes you just have to throw your hands in the air and queue up a movie on Netflix—and there's no shame in that. Our guide of the 50 best family flicks will give you plenty of material to work with, from classics like The Lion King and Star Wars to newfangled favorites like Frozen and Finding Nemo.

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