Baby: Chicago Children’s Museum
Although it is generally aimed at children a little older, the Chicago Children’s Museum is the ideal spot to take baby. The museum, located on the beautiful Navy Pier, recognizes that development starts early. The Pritzker Playspace is designed for babies and toddlers to interact and play together in a safe, clean environment. WaterWays is another fun exhibition for babies, as they can splash around in water. You might get wet, but stay with your little one and help them to control the water by pulling ropes and turning wheels or paint on the water wall. The Treehouse Trails exhibit, set in an enchanted forest, now features an infant nook for babies to explore and experiment with the sense of touch. Similarly, in the Tinkering Lab, the Early Learning Nook is the perfect place for babies to stay safe while playing with interactive tools, shakers and other objects. Although visiting museums with a baby can be a challenge, your bundle of joy will love having the freedom to explore, observe and touch new things, and older siblings can join in on the fun too.
Toddler: Field Museum
Chicago’s Field Museum is an adventure in and of itself—and toddlers will love exploring it. With massive steps and majestic columns outside, the excitement will begin before you even enter the building. In the main lobby sits Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the world. Snap some photos of your little one in front of it before you move on to the exhibits. For those that can’t get enough of Sue, start out at the “Evolving Planet” exhibit, where little ones can learn about the journey of life on Earth. With fossils, videos and interactive displays, there is much to see. Another exhibit that is great for toddlers is “Inside Ancient Egypt”, where you and your family will descend into an ancient tomb while examining mummies, hieroglyphics and various treasures. Toddlers won’t be able to contain their excitement as they venture through the realistic pyramid. The museum also has many signs reading “Please touch!” inviting little ones to feel pieces of the displays. For some more hands-on fun, visit the “Pawnee Earth Lodge”, where toddlers can get their hands on everything from Native American buffalo hides and weapons to pottery and jewelry. They also have the chance to “cook” a meal at a fire pit, play with Pawnee toys and view constellations in the sky. Don’t forget to make a stop at the incredible Crown Family PlayLab before you leave—little ones can become a scientist for the day, using their senses to explore.
It would be hard to find a museum that kids would enjoy more than the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Take a tour on-board a German submarine (one of the most popular exhibits the museum has to offer), learn about genetics in the baby chick hatchery or stop by the “Great Train Story” to see over 20 model trains make the trek from Chicago to Seattle. On the main level, you will find “Science Storms”, an interactive room filled with weather-related experiments. Museum staff will gather children to help create (and destroy) a tornado in the center of the room while explaining the science behind the massive phenomena. You can also see a tsunami simulation, explore convection currents and learn about fires, lightning and avalanches. Another exhibit expertly designed for children is “Toymaker 3000”. Buy a toy from the electronic kiosk then watch as a toy is designed before your child’s eyes. The exhibit features an assembly line that builds the toy as well as interactive stations and unique robots that will astound young ones.
Teen: Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Museum of Contemporary Photography, located on the Columbia College campus, offers teens a chance to view some incredible photographs while learning about artistic, cultural and political implications. Though the museum is small and offers only one exhibit at a time, it is filled with images that tell a story. When we visited (and running through mid-July) we were lucky enough to see “Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity” which explored contemporary and historical fashion in various black communities around the world, demonstrating a mix of styles from the Victorian era and more traditional African fashions. After the exhibit comes to an end, “North Korean Perspectives” will replace it, showcasing images released by the North Korean government juxtaposed with non-controlled images from photojournalists and Google Earth. For teenagers interested in art or politics, the Museum of Contemporary Photography offers a unique look inside different cultures around the world. Teens will also love the fact that the museum has no strict admission price, though they do ask for donations to keep operating.