Chicago Culture for Kids: Museums and Cultural Offerings

Kohl Children's Museum

When it comes to opportunities to enjoy arts and culture, Chicago is a veritable wonderland. With offerings so numerous it could take a lifetime to explore them all, it’s a good idea to get started young. Think your preschooler is too young? Think again. Here are some of our favorite museums and cultural institutions that offer amazing programs for our youngest Chicagoans.

The Art Institute of Chicago

111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-443-3600

Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago. View of Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions. Bronze with Green patina. Gift of Mrs. Henry Field, 1898.1a-b. The Art Institute of Chicago. The lions are the registered trademarks of the Art Institute of Chicago.

With a collection of more than 300,000 works of art, the Art Institute of Chicago is a cultural experience you won’t want to miss. Ranked the third-best museum in the world by Trip Advisor, the Art Institute attracts millions of visitors from across the globe. The museum hosts numerous events each year, including lectures and performances. Be sure to visit the Modern Wing, which was built in 2005 to house the recent additions to the museum’s collection. Additionally, Illinois residents can enjoy free general admission every Thursday from 5-8 p.m. Visit the venue’s website for a comprehensive list of admission prices.

For preschoolers: Kids under 14 are always admitted to the museum for free, making it a great family destination. The Art Institute hosts “Mini Masters Workshops” for preschoolers and their parents. The programs, which are led by museum educators, present the perfect opportunity to introduce your child to various art forms. Additionally, the museum’s Ryan Learning Center houses an Artist’s Studio, which is open to children of all ages. Here children can create their own masterpieces and show them off to their families.

Kohl Children’s Museum

2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, 847-832-6600

Housing 17 interactive exhibits, the Kohl Children’s Museum aims to instill in young children a love of learning. The museum was founded in 1985 to present creative methods of learning both teachers and children could enjoy — so parents and grandparents will have a blast too. Permanent as well as temporary exhibits feature activities that allow children to explore nature, music, various occupations and more. The museum suggests you visit weekday afternoons to avoid the crowd.

For preschoolers: Every exhibit is tailored toward the young ones, but a specific exhibit you might want to check out is the Pollinator Garden, which opened June 30. The garden features flowers and plants, as well as butterflies, bees and soldier beetles. Children and families are encouraged to explore the garden and enjoy the warm weather with a bit of an educational touch. Located right outside the museum’s main entrance, admission to the garden is completely free and does not require a ticket to the museum.

Lincoln Park Zoo

2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park, 312-742-2000

With its prime location just north of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year and boasts free admission. Take a stroll down the Nature Boardwalk, embark on the Regenstein African Journey, and relax at the Park Place Café. The zoo makes for a great afternoon for adults and children alike. Visit the website for parking rates.

For preschoolers: Lincoln Park Zoo offers a variety of events for toddlers and their families. LEAP (Learn, Explore and Play) is a series that guides preschoolers through activities such as meeting animals, painting and making music at the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo and Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House. Register online for the fall series, which begins in September. Another great program is Parent & Toddler Yoga, an animal-themed yoga class geared toward kids aged two to four. Fall Fest is set to take place during weekends in September and features various events the whole family can enjoy. A schedule of events will be available soon.

Poetry Foundation

61 W. Superior St., Chicago, 312-787-7070

Poetry Foundation: Poemtime
Photo courtesy of Poetry Foundation.

Established in 2003, the Poetry Foundation serves as Chicago’s resource for all things poetry. The Foundation serves as the publisher of Poetry magazine and receives more than 90,000 submissions each year. Visitors can browse more than 30,000 volumes of poetry in the library and view the gallery exhibitions. The website lists upcoming events, for both children and adults.

For preschoolers: The Poetry Foundation invites children aged two to five to Wednesday Poemtime, a free weekly program that introduces them to poetry through interactive readings and crafts.

Chicago Children’s Museum

770 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-527-1000

Zoom Room at the Chicago Children's Museum
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Located on Navy Pier, this interactive museum is the ultimate experience for children who want to explore. Kids can control toy cars in the Zoom Room, dig for real dinosaur bones in Dinosaur Expedition, create works of art in the studio, and so much more. Education meets fun at this unique space, and there is free admission for everyone on Target Free Family Night every Thursday evening from 5-8 p.m.

For preschoolers: Preschoolers will enjoy virtually every exhibit at CCM, especially splashing around at WaterWays and enjoying the museum’s Treehouse Trails. The Pritzker Playspace was designed specifically for preschoolers and their families. Here, your children can join an open playgroup and interact with other preschoolers. Cultural programs for kids are also available. Visit the museum’s website for more details.

Adler Planetarium

1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, 312-922-7827

Come learn about the solar system at one of the most unique spaces in Chicago, the Adler Planetarium. From designing your own experiment in the Community Design Lab to learning about astronomy’s role in culture, the Adler offers numerous exhibits that allow visitors to learn from experts in the field. Additionally, adults can enjoy Adler After Dark, an exclusive event that offers shows and entertainment every third Thursday of each month. Ticket packages, including those for families with young children, are available on the museum’s website.

For preschoolers: Children aged three to eight can take part in their own outer space mission with their families with Planet Explorers. The educational and hands-on experience will be one that kids will definitely enjoy. Even better, the program is included with general admission.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-294-3000

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Once Upon A Symphony The Three Little Pigs
CSO Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny performing Once Upon A Symphony The Three Little Pigs. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography.)

Chicago boasts one of the most impressive orchestras in the world. Founded in 1891, the CSO performs more than 100 concerts each year, and hosts family, volunteer and tour events. CSO also offers performances at Ravinia. Visit the website for a full calendar of events and concerts.

For preschoolers: The “Once Upon a Symphony” programs are for children aged three to five. CSO members perform live music, complete with vivid sets and costumes. The 2016/2017 season offers two shows, The Three Little Pigs and The Bremen Town Musicians. Both toddlers and parents will enjoy these engaging performances.

Chicago Botanic Garden

1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, 847-835-5440

The Chicago Botanic Garden, which opened more than 40 years ago and now boasts more than 50,000 members, offers year-round classes for families and children of all ages. Events such as plant giveaways and art festivals keep the whole family engaged. The Garden offers multiple family drop-in activities each week, where you can participate in themed activities in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

For preschoolers: The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts a wide range of events for children. The Little Diggers series consists of four classes for children aged two to four and their parents. Children will take part in a planting project and group activities on Thursday, Friday or Saturday mornings. Stop by on Oct. 29 and 30 for “Trains, Tricks & Treats” to celebrate Halloween and pick up some treats and a Halloween potted plant along the way.

The Museum of Science and Industry

5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, 773-684-1414

Museum of Science and Industry: Brick by Brick
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Interactive museum displays entertain the whole family at one of the largest science museums in the world. Explore centuries of scientific discoveries all in one impressive space. Unique exhibits offer something for everyone.

For preschoolers: Children 10 and under can visit The Idea Factory, where they will experiment with toy trucks, shapes and the Water Spectacle playset.

Shedd Aquarium

1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, 312-939-2438

Shedd Aquarium
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Dive into learning about the amazing aquatic world at Shedd, which houses award-winning exhibits and more than 32,000 animals to see. Hands-on exhibits such as the Stingray Touch makes this the perfect destination for a day out with the family. Various ticket options are available to choose from on the website, including behind-the-scenes tours and penguin encounters. Shedd recommends you purchase tickets in advance online, to beat the lines at the door.

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