Chicago's Top 5 Science Museums for Kids

Looking for a quick academic fix on your outing? Keep those little minds active when you visit Chicago’s top museums for the curious, skeptical, creative, and intrepid. It’s science to the rescue!

Whether you’ve got a hands-on scientist, a computer game wizard, or just a bored kiddo who needs to improve his or her STEM skills, a trip to one of Chicago’s science museums might just expand your child’s horizons and open a doorway into discovery.

The Field Museum

Undoubtedly Chicago’s greatest museum, as well as one of its oldest, The Field Museum prides itself on being the diving board of the curious. The museum doesn’t limit its exhibitions to one subject or area of discovery, so you’ll see everything from mummies to DNA.

Its most famous acquisition, the largest complete T-Rex skeleton ever recovered, greets visitors in the front gallery. Introduce yourself to SUE when you enter, and learn more about uncovering fossil remains in a related exhibit. Kids can go on a fossil hunt and uncover their own bones in workshops too. (Update: SUE has recently been deinstalled from Stanley Field Hall, but will be back in 2019 with their own suite upstairs in the permanent Evolving Planet exhibition.)

Exhibits exploring the prehistoric Americas, the islands of the Pacific, and a safari through Africa are other highlights. Natural history, geology, and biology do get a lot of the attention at The Field, but cultural history (ancient Egypt, anyone?) and modern life science (try the DNA Discovery Lab on for size) are also hot topics here.

See science on the big screen in one of the 3D IMAX shows if you need to relax. If your kid has a lot of time on her hands, the Field Museum’s research team designs programs for “citizen scientists” to contribute to research in the real world. Visit the Learning Center to see how your kids can be involved with hands-on, participatory science.

Adler Planetarium

Step outside the planet and explore the rest of the galaxy at Adler Planetarium. Permanent exhibits at the observatory detail the moon and the solar system, while telescope viewings allow visitors to see the real objects described by the exhibits.

Planetarium shows take the public on a journey through space to see Earth from a whole new perspective. Nearby, at the Space Visualization Lab, kids can see the current work of astronomers and scientists: figuring out how to travel through space without leaving the gravitational field. Virtual space travel has never seemed so real!

Young kids will love the Planet Explorers Playground, which makes a moon landing out of a molehill – or something like that. Your little astronaut will experience intergalactic gravity and investigate the geological formations of a wholly unexplored planet called “Planet X”.

Museum of Science and Industry

If you’re wondering where your video game zombie fits into this equation, it’s the Museum of Science and Industry. This, the second-largest museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, is where future engineers come to find inspiration and motivation to keep building new things.

Exhibits show kids real-world scenarios like farms, coal mines, and bridges and connect the technology used to make them to the minds behind it. Transportation, from trains to spaceships, is another big focus.

Don’t miss the Fairy Castle, a giant, miniature-sized castle fit for a Disney princess. The handmade dollhouse was crafted by a silent film star and donated to the museum years later. Talk about a hobby!

Check out the out-of-school workshops called “Science Minors” and “Science Achievers”, in which interested kids can develop skills and go deeper in after-school programs.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Back in the outside world, encounter nature at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Expanding the legacy of its founders, the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the museum seeks to give Chicagoland an encounter with the outside world that’s not often found among the urban jungle.

Send your kid to the Butterfly Garden for a peaceful afternoon in a grassy meadow or help him learn to play in the mud, like when we were young. Outdoor nature trails show kids what the wild flora and fauna of Chicago’s environment once looked like and introduce them to indigenous wildlife in a protected natural zone.

Hands-on exhibits show kids recreated animal habitats, the connections between nature and the food we eat, and how to think more about the environment with everyday choices. Several art exhibits tie the visual languages city kids know to the natural world they may not.

International Museum of Surgical Science

And finally, the science museum for your goth teenager: The International Museum of Surgical Science. Part Victorian curiosity lab, and part medical history museum, this is the place to spend an awe-inspiring day with the kid that doesn’t easily impress.

Old timey medical artifacts, paired with the textbooks and journals of their time periods (all the way back to the 16th century!) bring to vivid life the frightening history of surgical operations. Strange art pieces – a marble reproduction of a human heart, collages made entirely of pills – illustrate medicine in unique ways. And the facts and artifacts detailing Eastern and Western medical practices are nothing, if not enlightening.

Best of all, the museum is housed in a genteel 1917 lakeside mansion, designed to emulate a small house on the grounds of Versailles. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Italian marble flourishes attracted a vampire or two.

Planning on a trip to Chicago with the kids? Which museums will you be visiting?

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