Winter is in full swing and we know this right about the time that creativity is waning in coming up with family outing ideas. From butterflies to trolls, we’re letting you in on some of our favorite exhibits for kids to get those creative juices flowing.

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

Castle at Chicago Children's Museum

In Chicago Children's Museum's temporary exhibit, Castle, young imaginations are invited to play in a castle with secret tunnels, a rope bridge, tower, dungeon, throne room, wizard's room, kitchen, feasting table, market and more. Among other activities, kids can dress up like royalty, guard a secret dungeon, prepare a mighty feast, sell goods in the market and search for a mystery dragon. Their own imagination is their only limitation to a fantastical adventure. 

Jan. 24-May 10; Chicago Children's Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier. More details


photo: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Dragons Alive at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Don't be afraid, but dragons await you at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The exhibit features 10 species of reptiles from around the world. You'll stare into the deep eyes of the bearded dragon, measure yourself against the mighty black-throated monitor, and wonder at the beauty of the colorful jeweled lacerta. The frilled dragon, blue-tongued skink, and the majestic uromastyx are ready to show you how these fierce creatures have inspired people throughout the ages.

Through Aug. 23; Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., Lincoln Park. More details

photo: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Butterfly Haven at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Who doesn’t love butterflies? Experience 40 species of exotic high-flying butterflies and several bird species from the southern hemisphere floating amongst pools of water, flowers and tropical trees in a 2,700 square-foot greenhouse. Take in their beauty as new butterflies are released daily at 2 p.m.

Ongoing; Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., Lincoln Park. More details

photo: Kohl Children's Museum, credit Ken Carl

Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond

Kohl Children's Museum's Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond features 4 distinct interactive learning areas modeled after episodes that encourage kids to learn about their natural environment and incorporate each TV character. Nature Cat is one of the most popular children's shows, reaching over 10 million households each month, voiced by several SNL cast members. 

Through Mar. 29; Kohl Children's Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview. More details

photo: Field Museum

A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton at Field Museum

The Field Museum’s newest exhibition, A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton, celebrates the work and legacy of the museum’s first African American taxidermist. It tells the story of Cotton’s life — from his youth in Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side, stuffing what squirrels and birds he could find, to his service in the Navy during WWII, to his work creating some of the Field’s most iconic dioramas until his death in 1971.

Ongoing; Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus. More details

photo: Maria Chambers

Troll Hunt at Morton Arboretum

Something special is lurking in the woods, meadows and vast open spaces of Morton Arboretum's grounds . . . unusual creatures made of reclaimed wood and measuring 15- to 20-feet-tall, constructed by Danish artist Thomas Dambo and crews of woodworkers and volunteers. These guardians of the forest are trying to make sense of the human world and make us think about our impacts on the planet.

Through Jun. 2020; Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-53, Lisle. More details

photo: Morton Arboretum

Enchanted Railroad to Morton Arboretum

Marvel at a world of tiny enchantment and watch on as an intricate mini model railroad winds through magnificent scenery. This two-level interactive display of tree collections from around the world is specially designed for the kiddos because it’s meant to be viewed from just two feet off the ground.

Through Feb. 23; Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-53, Lisle. More details.

photo: Maria Chambers

Remembering Dr. King at Chicago History Museum

Remembering Dr. King is a collection of 25 photographs depicting key moments in Dr. King's work during the Civil Rights Movement. The exhibit places a special emphasis on his time in Chicago shedding light on the existence of discrimination and segregation. the abysmal state of housing and the realities of poverty in the north.

Through Sept. 8; 1601 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park. More details

photo: Field Museum

Underground Adventure at Field Museum

When you're paying a visit to everyone's favorite T.Rex, Sue, be sure to pop into the Underground Adventure where you'll get a bug's-eye view of the world. You'll magically shrink to 1/100th of your actual size, smaller than a penny, to explore an immersive environment of worm tunnels and soil chambers. Kids will learn that soil is home to an incredible diversity of living things and that not a single plant or animal could survive without it.

Ongoing; Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus. More details.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Butterflies & Blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden

Fill your summer days with butterflies and blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden’s temporary exhibit where visitors can immerse themselves in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals. You’ll find species native to South America, Asia, North America and Africa, as well as those native to Illinois.

May 25-Sep. 2; Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe. More details

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Model Railroad Garden at Chicago Botanic

Experience the delightful sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Model Railroad Garden. The exhibit features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel.

May 9-Oct. 11; Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe. More details

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

Michael’s Museum: A Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures

Indulge your inner child by taking a peak at this permanent exhibit that fosters the art of collecting and features nearly 100 collections of tiny objects, including miniatures, trinkets, artifacts and curiosities. It'll engage your kid's cognitive, physical, linguistic and social and emotional development as they utilize magnifiers to gain new perspective, sort, organize, ask questions and share stories of their very own.

Ongoing; Chicago Children's Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier. More details

photo: Shedd Aquarium

Behind the Scenes Tour at Shedd Aquarium

Take a peek at Shedd from the perspective of their animal care staff during a 50-minute guided behind-the-scenes tour. At the animal healthcare center, participants will see how preventive care and innovative water-quality practices keep the animals healthy. Then they’ll go behind the galleries to view the aquarium from a new angle, see where nutritious meals are prepared for over 32,000 animals and witness Shedd Aquarium at work.

Ongoing on Sat. & Sun; Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus. More details

photo: Frida Kahlo, The Bus, 1929, oil on canvas, Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo Exhibit

The Cleve Carney Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition of the works centered on Frida Kahlo, who is considered one of the greatest artists of her time. The 26-piece collection will feature work spanning Kahlo's career with a series of photographs detailing the artist's life, interactive video presentations, a poetry garden and a children's area. Leading up to the exhibition, the gallery will host a series of Frida-inspired events that are family-friendly—so be on the lookout for those announcements.

Open Jun. 1-Aug. 31; Cleve Carney Museum of Art at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn. More details

photo: Field Museum

Fantastic Bug Encounters at Field Museum

Don't get too creeped out, but all around us, bugs, such as insects and spiders have built an amazing world that we rarely notice. They can camouflage themselves as flowers, communicate with flashing lights, and even perform “brain surgery” to turn their prey into zombies. Fantastic Bug Encounters! is a hands-on experience where visitors discover how bugs’ incredible adaptations are changing the world through interactives, larger-than-life models and a bug zoo where visitors can see (and even hold) live bugs.

Through Apr. 19; Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus. More details

photo: Museum of Science and Industry

Black Creativity: 50 Years at MSI

Black Creativity: 50 Years tells the story of the program’s significant moments and Chicagoans whose work pushed boundaries, including Charles Harrison, the designer of the View-Master, and Black Creativity founding collaborators Chicago Defender photographer Robert (Bobby) A. Sengstacke and artist Douglas A. Williams.

Through Mar. 1; Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park. More details

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

Cloud Buster at Chicago Children's Museum

The concept behind this 30-ton, 37-foot-tall steel dreamscape is to celebrate adventure and risk-taking, qualities that are inherent to childhood. From every vantage point and with every ascent, Cloud Buster helps provide children the opportunity to develop the grit and determination necessary to lifelong success.It was designed to be a challenging climb, empowering children to face the challenge and encouraging them to push their boundaries.

Ongoing; Chicago Children's Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier. More details

— Maria Chambers


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