The Best Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve With Kids (and Still Get Grown-Up Time)

Kid-Friendly New Year's Eve and New Year's Day Events Around Chicago

Growing up, New Year’s Eve at my aunt’s house was epic. She just had a way of making a night in feel like a New Year’s rockin’ celebration for my cousins and me. Thanks to her, New Year’s Eve is still my favorite holiday. It signifies new beginnings, fresh starts, goals, rich memories, and yes — fun times spent with family and friends.

So why not bring it this year and create fantastic memories for your kids instead of just plunking them down in front of the TV or leaving them with the babysitter. Celebrating with the kids doesn’t even have to cramp your night: NOON Year’s Eve celebrations and KidNight Celebrations — where you pick the time for the countdown — get everyone to bed on time and give Mom and Dad the chance to get out for the night.

If you are looking for some fun ways to get the kids in on the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations, here are a bunch of kid-friendly events happening around Chicago, plus some great ways to celebrate with the kids at home.

New Year’s Eve Fun

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, 773-755-5100

Ring in 2018 the Nature Museum way at the Peggy Notebaert Noon Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31. Celebrate top party animals of the year with the whole family. Don’t forget your dancing shoes — the museum will play rockin’ tunes and organize family-friendly games — and everyone will count down to the Noon Year with an apple juice toast. Recommended for kids ages 1-8. Light lunch is included in the ticket price. Cost: $20/member, $25/non-member, $10/ages 2-18; Children under 2 are free; but must be registered; $5 extra at the door

The Exploritorium

4701 Oakton St., Skokie, 847-674-1500 ext. 2700

Head on out to Skokie on Dec. 29 where the folks at the Oakton Community Center will transform the Exploritorium into a miniature Times Square, complete with a DJ and a countdown to noon balloon drop. Itty Bitty New Year kicks off at 10 a.m. and ends at noon. Pre-registration is required. Space is limited. Cost: Children ages 1 & up, $10/residents, $13/non-residents $2/adults

DuPage Children’s Museum

301 N. Washington St., Naperville, 630-637-8000

On Dec. 31, check out the annual Bubble Bash at the DuPage Children’s Museum, where Bubble Bash goers will be ringing in the Noon Year with a Safari Adventure. Cost: $20/member, $25/non-member

Kohl Children’s Museum

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

Get in the party spirit on Dec. 31 when Kohl Children’s Museum transforms an entire wing of the museum into a giant Times Square-style party. Enjoy a children’s concert, DJ and dance party, hat making and horns, family photos, and a confetti drop! Tickets are required: $32/person, $22 for members

Wilmot Mountain

11931 Fox River Road, Wilmot, Wisconsin, 262-862-2301

Get the family outside and moving ’til midnight! Wilmot Mountain is the place for family-friendly skiing — and on New Year’s Eve they will have the works: live music, photo booth, face painting, games, and fireworks at midnight.

The Abbey, Lake Geneva

269 Fontana Blvd., Fontana, Wisconsin, 262-275-6811

Looking to get out of town for the night? The Abbey in Lake Geneva is just far enough to feel you’ve gotten away. This New Year’s Eve they will host “NO ADULTS ALLOWED!” parties for kids, tweens, and teens and a glow stick family-friendly dance party (for families who want to stick together). For adults who want to celebrate with the family early then have a grown-up celebration, there is an adults-only gala and the resort offers in-room babysitting.

New Year’s Day Fun

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier

600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 1-800 595-PIER (7437)

Now in its 18th year, Chicago’s biggest and best indoor winter playground, Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest, returns to Navy Pier’s Festival Hall now through Jan. 7. You’ll find 170,000 square feet of rides, giant slides, the Chicago Blackhawks indoor ice-skating rink, and fantastic holiday décor.

Chicago’s New Year’s Day 5K Run & Walk

Lincoln Park (Stockton Drive and LaSalle), 1700 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago

Kick off 2018 on a healthy foot with Chicago’s New Year’s Day 5K Run & Walk. A great way to get going on those New Year’s resolutions!

New Year’s Eve at Home: How to Ring in 2018 With the Kids

Noon Year Celebration

Have all the New Year’s Eve hoopla for the little ones at noon — confetti, balloon stomp, sparkling grape juice toast — and save the evening for adult celebration.

Make a Family Time Capsule

Chronicle the highlights of your year with a Family Time Capsule. Gather all the things that remind you of the past year. Find a big tub — a jumbo plastic pretzel container from Costco works well. You can put in math tests, Halloween pictures, Valentine’s Day cards, report cards, newspaper clippings — anything you want to archive and then hide it somewhere to be discovered in 10, 20 years. Make note of where it’s hidden if you want to be the family to discover it. Or happily forget it and let it be discovered by another family down the line.

2018 Piñata

Who doesn’t love a piñata!? Pick up a 2018 piñata and fill it with predictions for 2018 written on slips of paper along with the typical goodies.

New Year’s Resolution Boards

It’s fun to follow a goal when you can chart your yearly progress. Have kids list their goals for 2018 on a decorated poster board — whether it’s making junior high orchestra, selling the most popcorn for a fundraiser, or getting straight As. Kids can turn to their resolution boards during the year as a reminder of what their aims are — even add to it as goals are realized and new one pop up.

Mocktails Anyone?

Come up with fun mocktails or colorful punch for the day or night and make the kids feel like little adults. Fancy cocktail umbrellas optional.

New Year’s Family Fun

Cut newspaper for recyclable homemade confetti and let the kids bang pots and pans on the porch after your countdown. It sounds so simple, but it’s still an exciting way for the kiddos to ring in the New Year.

Say What??? Happy New Year!

Learn how to wish each other Happy New Year in a bunch of different languages (Google makes it easy).

Homemade Fortune Cookies

Make homemade fortune cookies with your own personalized predictions for the new year.

2018 Good & Plenty Box

Start out 2018 chronicling good fortune and good times spent. Have the children make their own 2018 Good & Plenty box or jar decorating it however they like. Write down the good times, good things that happen, and goals recognized on folded bits of paper. Keep in your Good & Plenty box and read them next New Year’s Eve!

Resolution Jars

Make goal-setting fun for the kids with resolution jars, easy to make out of an empty mayo jar or jelly jar. Have them write their 2018 goal on the jar with a paint pen or Sharpie marker and decorate as they like. Every time they take steps toward their goal, they put in poker chip, penny, or a few M&M’s.

Look For a New (Year’s) Twist!

Borrow a tradition from another country! We love this Croatian custom we do with friends on New Year’s Day: The oldest child drops a drop of wine on a candle to determine whether there will be an abundance of food and good health that year depending on whether the smoke travels straight up from the candle’s wick or bends. Here are some other ideas:

  • In Spain, people eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight for 12 happy months.
  • In Greece, they bake a cake and hide a coin in it. Whoever finds the coin is the lucky one.
  • In Colombia, people walk around the block with an empty suitcase for promise of new adventure in the new year.
  • In China, they believe incorporating fish into the evening brings good fortune, so consider putting a colorful fishbowl out on the table or offering Goldfish snacks to the kids.

Balloon Drop

Let the kids help you with this — or tackle on your own. Blow up balloons and stick them inside a plastic tablecloth taped to the ceiling by the corners. At the stroke of midnight (or for little ones with an earlier bedtime, kidnight), pull the tablecloth for a fun shower of balloons! And here’s is a tip for added fun: Write out New Year’s predictions on little slips of paper and put inside the balloons before you blow them up. You can even add bits of confetti if you don’t mind the cleanup. After the balloons drop, let the kids pop them to reveal the 2018 predictions.

Pop Pop Pop Into The New Year!

Save the bubble wrap from your holiday packages this year and then tape it to the floor. At the stroke of midnight or kidnight (you determine the time), stomp in the New Year — pop, pop, pop! 

2018 Parade

Make musical instruments out of paper towel holders, beans in empty jars — whatever you can find around the house. Then lead the kids in a New Year’s Eve parade.

Feature photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash.

Donna Bozzo

Donna Bozzo is author of the book “What the Fun?!: 427 Ways to Have Fantastic Family Fun” (Penguin) and is a frequent TV contributor appearing on Chicago TV stations, TODAY, and shows across the country. Next fall, look for her new book on the power of sensory play, “Fidget Busters” (Countryman/W.W.Norton).