The Best Museums for Chicago’s Curious Kids

February 10, 2023

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Story by: Wendy Altschuler

Explore one or all of these amazing museums in Chicago with your young inquisitive minds

Chicago has some of the best children’s museums in the world where interactive play, with a focus on engaging youth development, is the modus operandi. We’ve rounded up the GOAT (greatest of all time) museums for kids, all with special family programming and events, that are fitting for various ages and interests. You can also try adding one of these fun kids’ activities in Chicago to your agenda and make a whole day of it. Get a delicious meal, and spend the day lost in knowledge.

Field Museum of Natural History

The world’s most famous T. Rex, Sue, got the royal treatment with brand new digs on the 2nd floor and you should stop by to check out her now-more-accurate skeleton. Volunteer docents will, at your request, lead you around the museum on a public tour. Also, in Stanley Field Hall there are discovery carts for hands-on learning and exploring. If you’re up for a stroll outside, the Rice Native Gardens are perfect for a peaceful fresh-air break. 

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.

Chicago History Museum

The history museum might not pop into your head right away when considering which museum to bring your kids to, but it’s definitely worth a look-see. Learn how blues music came to Chicago through southern black migrants, bring classroom studies into focus through a deeper look into Dr. King’s work within the Civil Rights movement, get a glimpse into what Chicago looked like during Lincoln’s era, and visit the Sensing Chicago permanent exhibit where kids can ride a high-wheel bicycle, play with baseballs at a recreation of Comiskey Park, and climb into a life-sized Chicago hot dog (with no mustard, of course). And of course, there are several family-friendly events and happenings throughout the year.

1601 N. Clark St.

Shedd Aquarium

The Polar Play Zone is designed with littles in mind, which means kids have the run in the penguin play place, submarine, and touch tanks with real starfish and stingrays. Visit the Amazon Rising and Wild Reef exhibits, see an aquatic show with dolphins, ask questions during an animal chat, and watch a 4-D movie. Also, do not miss seeing the live diving and feeding at the Caribbean Reef.

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.

Bronzeville Children’s Museum

The first and only African American children’s museum in America, Bronzeville Children’s Museum’s exhibits and galleries highlight Black culture. Learn about famous politicians, artists, musicians, and athletes that lived in this neighborhood, take part in enriching S.T.E.M. activities, learn about prominent Black inventors, and explore why healthy eating is important for families.

301 S. Stony Island Ave.

WNDR Museum

Voted “One of the Top Five Immersive Art Experiences in the Country” by USA Today, WNDR Museum is filled with more than 20 interactive artworks and multi-sensory installations by cutting-edge artists and designers. As guests travel through WNDR, they are taken on a multi-dimensional journey in which they serve as an extension of each creator by interacting with various installations such as the WNDR Light Floor made of 100’s of motion sensor LED panels for guests to stride and dance across, the Midwest’s only Infinity Mirror Room by iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and much more.

1130 W. Monroe St. 
West Loop

Museum of Illusions

We guarantee that this spot will be an absolute delight for kids as they have a chance to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of illusions. You’ll find more than 80 visual and educational exhibits featuring holograms, stereograms, optical illusions, and immersive rooms designed to tease the senses and trick the mind. 

25 E. Washington St.

The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn

Play-based activity is important for children’s development emotionally, physically, and mentally. The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn has designed activities and exhibits that engage children in social activity in response to that fact. Popular highlights include Water Adventure, Safe Haven Animal Shelter, Nanoscale: The Science of Small, The Moo Café, and Dream a Dream Theatre.

5100 Museum Dr.

Kohl Children’s Museum

Children eight and under will love exploring this museum with hands-on exhibits to keep them busy for hours. The love of learning is nurtured here through music, art, water play, and nature-focused exhibits. Shop in the Whole Foods Market, make sandwiches in the play café, take care of stuffed pets at the vet, and send hand-made cars down a chute at the SpotHero Car Garage. New activities and exhibits are featured on the regular, which means that there is always something fresh and fun at the museum.

2100 Patriot Blvd.

Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier

Play and learning are bridged together at this museum, where kids can: tackle the Cloud Buster, a 30-ton, 37-foot-tall steel dreamscape that celebrates adventure and risk-taking—qualities that are inherent to childhood—excavate dinosaur bones, explore the way water moves through pulleys and pipes, pretend to fight fires, and discover how our skyline full of buildings is created through architecture and engineering. 

700 E. Grand Ave.
Navy Pier

Adler Planetarium

Since 1930, Chicagoans have been learning and exploring at this planetarium, which includes interactive permanent exhibits, the Doane Observatory, and highly-rated Sky Shows. Special programming exists for kids of all ages, including special nights out for teenagers.

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

At Peggy Notebaert, children are connected to nature and science through the museum’s hands-on exhibits, family events, and education programming. Learn about the specimen and archival collections: birds, eggs, and nests; mammals; amphibians, and reptiles; insects and spiders; fossils, and more. The most popular exhibit is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, where you can watch 40 species of these delicate creatures flutter around the 2,700-square-foot indoor greenhouse. Other fun events include interactions with turtles, live animal feedings, and storytimes.

2430 N. Cannon Dr.
Lincoln Park

Museum of Science & Industry

This museum has it all: flight and ride simulators, a submarine, a coal mine, a chick hatchery, a mirror maze, storms created by science, model ships and railroads, a fairy castle, farming equipment, pinball machines, and classic metal toys, a whispering gallery, and a Pioneer Zephyr. Four films are shown in the large dome theater. This museum is massive—most people don’t see everything in one visit, so plan accordingly and wear your favorite walking shoes.

5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.


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