Editor’s Note: The situation with COVID-19 is everchanging, so please be sure to check directly with these museums prior to a visit. We will continue to update this story as more museums open their doors.

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. All have been closed for months, but with new COVID-19 protocols in place, some have expanded their offerings to slowly allow in-person visits. We’ve rounded up the GOAT (greatest of all time) museums for kids in Chicago and are providing an update on re-openings and virtual opportunities to stay connected.

IN-PERSON VISITS AVAILABLE

photo: Shedd Aquarium

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. 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.

COVID-19 Update: Shedd reopens to the public on Jan. 30. Visitors must register online prior to visiting and they have stringent measures in place to create a safe and enriching experience with the aquatic animal world. 

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-939-2438; Online: sheddaquarium.org

photo: Maria Chambers

Field Museum of Natural History

The big thing to see these days is literally big: Maximo the Titanosaur, the largest dinosaur that ever lived. And, the world's most famous T. Rex, Sue, got the royal treatment with brand new digs on the 2nd floor. 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.  Their special exhibition Apsáalooke Women and Warriors is a vibrant show that features collection items alongside contemporary beadwork, clothing, video animation, painting, and photography. If you're up for a stroll outside, the Rice Native Gardens are perfect for a peaceful fresh-air break. 

COVID-19 update: Field Museum reopened on Jan. 23 at 25% capacity and a time-entry ticket is required. Some exhibits that are contained in smaller spaces will remain closed.

On the Museum's Learning at Home page, you'll find activities, games, printables and more to keep kids excited about science, nature and history. You can also explore natural history at home by watching an educational and action-packed film at home with Movie Night with Sue the t.Rex.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-922-9410; Online: fieldmuseum.org

Chicago History Museum

The history museum might not pop in 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). Of course, there are several family-friendly events and happenings throughout the year—take a peek at the online calendar under the “families” audience tab.

COVID-19 Update: The museum will open just in time to celebrate our city's birthday, March 4. In the meantime, use their website to see Chicago's history through augmented and virtual reality experiences via The Chicago 00 Project or check out their Classroom Resources for a deep-dive into local history. 

1601 N. Clark St., 312-642-4600; Online: chicagohistory.org

photo: The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn

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 and Beachcomber Island, Safe Haven Animal Shelter, Nanoscale: The Science of Small, The Moo Café, Dream a Dream Theatre, Friendly Market, Air Maze and Health Quest.

COVID-19 Update: The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn has reopened with limited hours. Visitors must schedule their visit online for a two-hour time block.

5100 Museum Dr., Oaklawn, 708-423-6709; Online: cmoaklawn.org

Kohl Children's Museum

Kohl Children’s Museum

Children eight and under will love exploring this museum, with 17 permanent 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.

COVID-19 Update: As of Jan. 29, Kohl's is open for V.I.P. sessions. Enjoy private access, Fri.-Sun., to one of three exhibit packages for your group of 10 or less: Thomas the Tank Engine, Main Street and The Works. To connect with Kohl's at home, tap into their Home Zone, a remote learning video series with stories, activities and experiments that can easily be replicated at home. 

2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, 847-832-6600; Online: kohlchildrensmuseum.org

CLOSED, BUT VIRTUAL OPPORTUNITIES

Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier

Play and learning are bridged together at this museum, where kids can: play in a Castle with secret tunnels, 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. Daily art, S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), health and wellness, and language and literacy classes are offered as well as programming that focuses on the diversity that exists in our great city.

COVID Update: As of press time, Chicago Children's Museum has not announced an opening date. However, they put together a list of activities that allow you to turn a corner of your home into a mini Chicago Children's Museum experience on their Recipes for Play at Home page. 

700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier, 312-527-1000; Online: chicagochildrensmuseum.org

photo: Adler Planetarium

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.

COVID-19 Update: Visit Adler's Online Resources page to listen to their YOUniverse Podcast, view their exhibits virtually, contribute to real-life science from your couch via Zooniverse and get ideas for experiments to conduct at home. 

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: adlerplanetarium.org

photo: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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. You'll find an indoor treehouse that can be climbed on and in to learn about animal habitats (there’s even a crow’s nest at the top). 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.

COVID-19 Update: As of press time, Peggy Notebaert has not announced a reopening date. Via their Wonder at Home page, you can explore past newsletters that include fun activities to do at home with your kids. 

2430 N. Cannon Dr., 773-755-5100; Online: naturemuseum.org

photo: DuPage Children's Museum

DuPage Children’s Museum

DuPage Children's Musem's 20,000-square-feet of play space will keep little kids and their imaginations busy for hours. There are designated spaces for babies and toddlers and older kids can run around and get their sillies out. Exhibits are situated throughout the space for extra entertainment and learning. Enjoy story time, movement and music classes and pop-up playtime.

COVID-19 Update: No reopening date has been announced, but you can bring the museum to you! If you're missing DCM, turn your home into a hands-on museum by having portable exhibits delivered right to your doorstep.

301 N. Washington St., Naperville, 630-637-8000; Online: dupagechildrens.org

photo: Museum of Science & Industry

Museum of Science & Industry

This museum has it all: flight and ride simulators, submarine, coal mine, chick hatchery, mirror maze, storms created by science, model ships and railroads, 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 most favorite walking shoes.

COVID-19 Update: MSI hasn't given an official opening date, but you can stay connected virtually via their Learning Resources and Science at Home pages. 

5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., 773-684-1414; Online: msichicago.org

Exploritorium

This hidden-gem museum delights kids with hands-on exhibits about light, water, wind and more. Come wearing your thinking cap—or just romp around. Attractions include a giant “Lite Brite” pegboard, musical instruments, and climbing tubes and tunnels that stretch two-and-a-half stories.

COVID-19 Update: As of press time, the museum is closed and no reopening date has been announced. 

4701 Oakton St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org

TEMPORARILY CLOSED

KidsWork Children’s Museum

Local parents and educators founded KidsWork because they wanted a safe and fun place for kids to play and learn. What they’ve found, is that the community as a whole benefits. Kids can roam around the museum’s two floors, discovering science, art and movement exhibits. Highlights include the Pet Vet, Imagination Theater, Art Works, Tot Spot and Light Exhibit.

COVID-19 Update: As of press time, the museum is closed and no reopening date has been announced. 

11 S. White St., Frankfort, 815-469-1199; Online: kidsworkchildrensmuseum.org

Bronzeville Children’s Museum

The first and only African American children’s museum in America, Bronzeville Children’s Museum’s exhibits and galleries highlight African American 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 African American inventors and explore why healthy eating is important for families.

COVID-19 Update: As of press time, the museum is closed and no reopening date has been announced. 

301 S. Stony Island Ave., 773-721-9301; Online: bronzevillechildrensmuseum.com

Wonder Works

Wonder Works is best for the little guys, ages birth to eight-years-old. This children’s museum is a designated shoe-free play space, with things to climb, jump and run on. Art, performance, design and building are the main objectives here and kids are encouraged to be creative and let their personalities shine. Over 600 special events are held every year, including a concert series, celebration of African American History and Dino Works. Kids here can meet other pals and brush up on their social skills and adults can hang out with new friends, too.

COVID-19 UPDATE:As of press time, the museum is closed and no reopening date has been announced. 

6445 W. North Ave., Oak Park, 708-383-4815; Online: wonder-works.org

— Wendy Altschuler

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