Hands-on is the operative concept for this brightly colored Navy Pier anchor. Kids tinker with real tools in an open work space, climb through multilevel tunnels and the riggings of a ship, play at being a firefighter, dig for dinosaur fossils, and, if their parents allow it, get soaking wet.
Oversize water tubs with waterwheels, pumps, brightly colored pipes, and fountains are all part of the splashy fun at "WaterWays," with raincoats for kids. If everyone pumps hard enough, water squirts 50 feet in the air.
The new "Tinkering Lab" lets children ask their own questions, play around with their own ideas, fail, and learn from their mistakes—all using real tools and materials.
A "garden" brimming with giant flowers and insects draws kids to the "Big Backyard" exhibit.
Kids can don authentic firefighter gear, operate a replica fire truck, slide down a pole, or practice escaping from a smoke-filled bedroom in "Play It
With real tools and wooden struts, kids can construct their own building in the "Skyline" exhibit.
Parents and children can scurry up a three-story-high rigging complete with crow's nest and gangplank on the "Kovler Family Climbing Schooner," reminiscent of boats that once sailed Lake Michigan. From the rope tunnels to the top, you can take in bird's-eye views of the museum, then slide back down to see tanks of fish.
"Dinosaur Expedition" lets families brush away dirt to discover the bones of a Suchomimus, a fish-eating dinosaur. The exhibit re-creates a trip to the Sahara led by University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno.
"Collaboration" is the watchword at Kraft Artabounds Studio, where kids participate in rotating art activities like creating a castle out of clay, a do-it-yourself flea circus, or painting with marbles.
The museum issues readmission bracelets that let you leave the museum and come back on the same day—a great idea for weary families who want to get a bite to eat or simply explore other parts of Navy Pier before coming back to the museum.
Stop for lunch at the nearby space-themed McDonald's or bring a picnic and grab a seat outside (in warm weather) or in the Crystal Ballroom (amid tropical plants and fountains).
Hour-long art workshops at Artabounds are free.
Most families spend an average of three hours visiting the museum.
The museum is designed for children 12 or younger. Adults may not enter the museum without a child.