As someone who has grown up in Chicagoland, I have been lucky enough to visit Chicago’s impressive museums numerous times. I have some great photos of me in pigtails standing in front of the gorgeous marble buildings with friends, excited to explore everything these resources had to offer. But here’s the thing…taking a trip to a museum is totally different once you are a parent with little ones. Now you have to consider stroller accessibility, what types of food is offered, where they can safely play and learn…the list is endless. But if you make a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry with kids, you will NOT be disappointed. It is hands down the most family friendly museum in Chicagoland and if you take advantage of my tips for bringing kids to the Museum of Science and Industry, you won’t want to explore anywhere else on Chicago’s museum campus.
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HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR MUSEUM & SCIENCE INDUSTRY VISIT
- Arrive EARLY. The museum is open daily from 9:30-4:00. You want to be there when it opens to take advantage of the adjoining parking garage, especially in the winter. That way, you don’t need to carry your coats all around with you. Simply leave them in the car and you’re good to go! There is also a coat check available near the admissions desk, but you might want to skip this on busy days when the lines get crazy long.
- Bring an umbrella or BABY WEAR. Most likely one of your children will get tired since there is a TON of walking, so bringing a small stroller is a great way to keep everyone happy. You can also use it for storage and just about everywhere in the museum is stroller friendly, so no need to panic about stairs or being separated from your belongings. The only trouble is that there are only a few elevators (the building is from the Chicago World’s Fair, after all) so going up and down levels with a stroller can be challenging. If possible, I highly recommend baby wearing to make travel from one level to another a breeze.
- Do your research. Ask around and look on the website to figure out which exhibits are appropriate for certain ages. The last time we visited the MSI, there was a Disney exhibit going on. Many families upgraded to attend this exhibit, but were bummed to find out that their kids weren’t interested in the slightest about the history of Walt Disney and instead wanted to see something that featured their favorite characters (spoiler alert: the new “Science Behind Pixar” exhibit fits the bill and is running through January 2019!). If you are confused about an exhibit, ask one of the friendly MSI employees hanging out in the line for tickets or at the ticket counter. They told us to save our money and we are incredibly grateful.
- Avoid the dark and scary places with the young ones—or at least prepare them for it. One of my favorite exhibits at the MSI is the “Science of Storms.” Unfortunately, the dark room with the booming noises was not a favorite of my toddlers, so we hardly spent any time in it. Learn from my mistake and talk with your little ones about what you are going to see to try to calm their fears and turn them into excitement.
- Have a game plan. The MSI is huge, so it is best to focus on 3-4 different exhibits that you really want to see and look at them on the map before you set out for the day. Also pay attention to the different color stairways and elevators—they are key for not getting lost. I have found that when kids start to get antsy, you should stop for lunch at the food court so kids can fuel up, admire the interactive displays in the cafeteria, and then get ready to burn some energy at the Idea Factory.
FOOD AT THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY
- Eat lunch at an “off” time. We ate a late lunch since we had some snacks on the museum benches—I highly recommend that you do the same so that you can snag a table in the restaurant.
- Pack a lunch. While the food at the Brain Food Court is delicious, it is expensive and not extremely kid friendly. For example, kids meals are limited to grilled cheese and mac ‘n cheese, so if your child prefers something else, bring it from home. You can always enjoy an ice cream treat at the ice cream parlor if they want to indulge in some museum food before returning home.
“MUST DO’S” WITH KIDS AT THE MUSEM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY
- Practice taking a ride on the airplane by visiting the plane exhibit. Kids can know what it is like to sit on a plane and get ready to travel somewhere more exotic than Chicago. You will definitely notice how the aisles and seats are much smaller on current airplanes, so don’t forget to tell kids about the “good old days” of aviation.
- Talk to the employees—they are incredibly helpful! I got turned around and was trying to find my hubby and son at a certain exhibit. After asking directions, a guide took me where I wanted to go and even told me about a “show and tell” exhibit that they were setting up so that my kids could be up front and center for learning.
- Plan ahead to visit The Idea Factory. Since it is such a popular area, there is now timed entry for the Idea Factory. Typically you will only have to wait a bit if you get tickets at the spur of the moment, but if you want to avoid any wait time, simply swing by for a timed ticket once you arrive at the museum and plan your day accordingly.
- Bring an extra change of clothing for The Idea Factory. There is lots of water play and if your kids are anything like mine, they will get soaked. And a wet kid in a museum is no good.
- Play “I Spy.” One of my favorite things to do with my boys when they get antsy (waiting in line, walking far, etc.) is to play “I Spy.” Thankfully I have background knowledge on the MSI so I could look for certain fun things, but you can really play this game anywhere.
- Be sure to visit the trains! There is such a spectacular train display that spans a massive room, as long as a replica of the city of Chicago. Try to stake claim to some of the step stools for your shorter kiddos so they can enjoy the full display, or head upstairs and watch the trains and buildings from up above.
To buy tickets, check out this page (and remember to use your local Chicago library to try to get a free museum pass if available, if you aren’t already one of the people who receive free/discounted admission such as teachers, military, and young children).
Want to S T R E T C H your dollar? Check out all that City Pass has to offer for the Museum of Science and Industry, as well as the other great museums in Chicago.