Hands-on is the operative concept at this brightly colored Navy Pier anchor. Kids can tinker with tools, climb through multilevel tunnels and ship riggings, play at being a firefighter, dig for dinosaur fossils, and, if their parents allow it, get soaking wet.
Oversize water tubs with waterwheels, pumps, colorful pipes, and fountains are all part of the splashy fun at "WaterWays" (raincoats for kids are provided). If everyone pumps hard enough, water squirts 50 feet in the air.
The "Tinkering Lab" lets children ask their own questions and test their own ideas using real tools and materials.
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 Safe."
With real tools and wooden struts, little ones can construct their own building in the "Skyline" exhibit.
Children—and adults who act like ones—can scurry up a three-story-high
rigging complete with crow's nest and gangplank on the "Kovler Family Climbing Schooner," which is reminiscent of the boats that once sailed Lake Michigan.
"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.
"Creativity" is the watchword at Kraft Artabounds Studio, where kids participate in rotating art activities like creating a castle out of clay or painting with marbles.
The museum issues readmission bracelets that let you leave and come back on the same day—a great idea for weary families who want to grab a bite or simply explore other parts of Navy Pier before returning to take in more of the museum.
Stop for lunch at the nearby space-themed McDonald's; alternately, you can bring a picnic and snag a seat outside (in warm weather) or inside amid the Crystal Ballroom's tropical plants and fountains.
Artabounds workshops are free with admission.
Most families spend an average of three hours here.
The museum is designed for kids 12 or younger. Adults may not enter without a child.