For the introverts, the social distancing and closures during COVID-19 are perhaps the things that happy dreams are made of. The extroverts, not so much. Many Chicago kid-focused businesses, zoos and museums are going over-and-above to make the extended shutdowns manageable, and maybe even fun at times. From long walks in massive parks to art masterpieces created at home, we have ideas to keep your family safe, happy and connected with our city. So read on and happy wintering, friends!
Art Institute of Chicago
A family visit to the Art Institute of Chicago is on hold for now. But, prep for a future trip with JourneyMaker, an innovative digital interactive kids can use to create a one-of-a-kind adventure with works of art from the Art Institute’s collection. Kids can fly through galleries like their favorite superhero, travel back or forward in time or discover strange and wondrous beasts.
ARTIC's Get Creative at Home series is a great resource to help kids get in touch with their artistic sides. Using inspiration from their collection, ARTIC provides art-making activities, creative writing prompts and coloring book pages to spark imagination into action.
Sea Curious — From octopus to otters, this video series brings the animals, experiences and stories at Shedd Aquarium to virtual visitors. Designed by kids for kids, the videos range from uncovering animal superpowers and discovering how they play to witnessing animal behaviors. Each episode pairs curious kids from the Shedd Aquarium Adventure Club—a diverse group of Chicago area students ages seven to 10—with one of Shedd’s Animal Care experts, as well as a Chicago celebrity guest star, to answer a different question about sea life. Also available on Shedd’s YouTube channel.
Underwater Beauty Live Cam — Need to recharge? Take a break for beauty with Shedd's special exhibit, Underwater Beauty, live cam! Discover the dreamlike patterns of angelfishes, wrasses, tangs and butterflyfishes.
Audio Guides — Dive deeper into some of your favorite habitats at Shedd! These free audio guides share everything you’d want to know about some of the aquarium’s most memorable species, from a beluga whale “who’s who” to the amazing rescue story of green sea turtle Nickel.
Virtual Reality Penguin Expedition — Utilizing Google Expeditions, this free virtual reality experience allows users to digitally visit Shedd’s penguin exhibit, going behind the scenes to learn more about how the aquarium cares for two species of penguins—rockhopper and Magellanic. Explore 360-degree scenes shot in the aquarium’s animal hospital, kitchen spaces and of course, the penguin exhibit. (Can be viewed with or without VR googles)
Kohl Children's Museum
On its website, Kohl Children’s Museum is providing Home Zone, a remote learning video series with stories, activities and experiments that can easily be replicated at home. All Together Story Time videos feature museum educators and kids reading children’s books. In addition, through Kohl Kids Live! weekly programming, kids can explore the 17 interactive exhibits and replicate their educational content.
For more learning resources, visit the Teacher Resources page.
DuPage Children's Museum
The Museum also developed Parent Playshop, an adults-only virtual program that helps parents, who are playing a more rigorous role than ever in education, understand early childhood development. The program is meant to give parents context on what might be going on in the brain of a young child, and provide tips on modeling behavior, how to talk through emotions and issues and addresses specific age-appropriate needs.
The remote-learning format of the school year brought about a complex set of challenges, so DuPage Children's Museum responded by creating a variety of STEM Labs and took their popular in-house Arts & Maker programming virtual to help fill the afternoon with engaging activities that spark curiosity.
Chicago’s beloved Field Museum stands as one of the world’s great museums of natural history. Thankfully, kids can online chat or text message the museum’s very own titanosaur, Máximo: Ask him what life was like during the Cretaceous Period, how he came to be at the museum, and even his favorite color or what he likes to eat. Send Máximo a message using the button on this page or text him at 70221.
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.
Museum of Science & Industry
Also during its closure, MSI is offering live 45-minute virtual tours of their massive U-505 Submarine.
Even though Adler Planetarium's doors are closed for a short while, you can stay connected with science, astronomy, our universe—and other Earthlings—from exactly where you sit. 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.
Chicago Children's Museum
Chicago Children's Museum knows we can't socially distance from our children. That's why 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.
Lincoln Park Zoo
While Lincoln Park Zoo is closed through March 4, they're bringing animal experiences to Chicagoans via their new YouTube series, Stay Tuned to the Zoo! Episodes will feature many of the animals you'd see on a typical zoo visit, from giraffes to meerkats, and will highlight activities families can do together related to animal care or behavior. New episodes will air every Tuesday and Thursday.
Every Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. & 2 p.m., join Lincoln Park Zoo for Facebook Live experiences. For behind-the-scenes updates and to get a glimpse of ongoing animal care, connect via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Brookfield Zoo is closed to the public until Mar. 1, but they created Family Play Programs with the help of artists, nature educators and early childhood specialists. Children learn through play with their favorite play partner. . . you!
Their Zoo to You series brings you some of the coolest and most interesting animals around while also providing informative sessions that engage and educate.
PLAYSPACES & MUSIC
Mr. Dave Music
Mr. Dave Music in West Town is closed, but he is offering virtual classes Wed.-Sat. and is available for virtual birthday parties.
We’ll admit, a Chicago winter can be tough. But, a dose of fresh air, unforgettable scenery and a chance to spy on animals in their natural habitat is a guaranteed day of wintry family fun. Lace-up your boots, strap an infant to your back and explore one of Chicago's hiking trails that range from under a mile to seemingly endless.
Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports
There’s a lot of great things about living in the Midwest (the people, the sports teams, the lack of earthquakes) but let’s face it, the winters leave a bit to be desired. Cue Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports in Lisle for some much-needed winter fun for the whole family just 45 minutes west of Chicago. From ski and snowboard lessons for beginners to a challenging terrain park for the most adventurous, Four Lakes is the close-by cure for your winter blues.
Chicago’s terrain is flat as far as the eye can see, making it tricky to use that ski gear collecting dust. The options to ski near Chicago are few and far between. But, in a little over an hour, you can hit mountainous slopes at one of the area’s best ski destinations. Plan your winter family-friendly romp in the snow at Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin where new COVID-related safety protocols are firmly in place.
Cross-Country Ski or Snowshoe at Morton Arboretum
When more than 4 inches of snow is on the ground, bundle up and head to Morton Arboretum for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Visitors can bring their own equipment or rent from the Arboretum. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center for directions to the on-site ski trails.
ARTS & SCIENCES
Art Makers Outpost
Classes at Evanston's Art Makers Outpost are temporarily canceled, but they are hosting virtual art classes. Each week, using a free-form art-making approach, kids will journey through creating fantasy lands, imaginative robots, whimsical creatures, abstract sculptures and 2D design projects. Each student will receive an environmentally conscious art kit based on the theme of their class.
The Laboratory Collective
We know The Laboratory Collective for their wildly popular STEM date night drop-offs, classes and day-off and summer camps with fun themes like Spa Night, Harry Potter Wizarding, Robots, Dragons and LEGOs. For now, in-person classes are halted, but you can watch pre-recorded lessons on their YouTube channel.
Stages Performing Arts
Stages in West Loop offers baby music classes, musical theater classes and camps and birthday parties with (you can probably guess) . . . performing arts themes. They jumped into high gear and created virtual class options to help kids pass the time. For the virtual classes, you'll need to enroll and there will be a fee, but they are also offering FREE Facebook live events.
Grow Mushrooms at Home with Fresh Picks
Looking for a fun family science project this winter? Fresh Picks will deliver Mushroom Growing Kits from River Valley Ranch to kickstart your home garden while it's still cold outside. The mushrooms grow in a box stored inside and can be picked in as soon as 3-4 weeks. Today's educational e-learning project, next month's dinner!
GARDENS & ARBORETUMS
The Morton Arboretum's 1,700 acres of trees and outdoor space are still available for midday brain breaks. Winter highlights of a visit to the Arboretum are the Troll Hunt exhibit and the gnomes of Gnome Hunt hiding in the Children's Garden.
Chicago Botanic Garden
Even when it's cold outside, there is plenty to see, do, touch, taste, hear and explore at Chicago Botanic Garden. The peaceful allure of nature in winter reminds us to appreciate the simple pleasures of the season. Unwind on a walk through the quiet solitude and reap fresh air benefits. Bring binoculars to catch a glimpse of feathered friends and don't forget your camera to capture unexpected beauty.
— Maria Chambers