Chicago is (arguably) the most fun in the summer months, and this year that’s truer than ever thanks to fantastic new exhibits at cultural institutions around the city. They make visiting an old favorite feel new again.
These exhibits are highly interactive — making it easy for families to create fun summer memories — and educational. But shhhhh, don’t tell your kids just how much they’re learning; focus on the fun and let their curiosity take over. As a bonus, they’re all very Instagram-worthy, too.
This new exhibit features 100 species and is a treat for the senses. Divided into different rooms named Shimmer, Color, Patterns, Rhythms and Move You, Underwater Beauty is visually stunning. That may be expected, given the name, but there are many unexpected twists, like a living rainbow of fish, different sound tracks in each space and unique interactive experiences, including a chance to mimic and control animated cuttlefish and seahorses, and “Who Wore It Best?” which matches what you’re wearing (color and pattern) to a fish with similar traits.
Older kids may be more interested in seeing the shrimp that can break glass and a fish that swims backwards. And the zen feel of the Move You room will not only convince you of the beauty of freshwater fish, it will have you feeling more zen than you ever have at the end of an exhibit. It will also likely succeed in convincing you and your kids that nature is both inspiring and full of beauty worth saving. The exhibit is included in general admission.
Pixar and its heroes, from Buzz Lightyear to Lightning to Dory, are enmeshed in childhood. But have you wondered how they make everything in the animated movies seem so real? The answer to questions involve the way the light shines off the cars in the Cars trilogy, how Elastigirl moves her arms in “The Incredibles,” or how the blades of grass wave in the breeze in “A Bug’s Life,” and all those are thanks to STEM concepts. (And I’d argue that they really mean STEAM concepts, because art is a key component here.) They’re not obvious or easy concepts, either. We’re talking coordinate geometry, mathematical subdivision and 3D modeling. The exhibit works on many different levels, so little ones and adults are all learning something new.
The exhibit gives visitors a look at Pixar’s production pipeline as well as an idea of what working at Pixar involves and the different jobs that exist there. It’ll inspire kids to consider cool careers involving math and science, and it may just have parents contemplating a career change.
Kids can get hands-on with opportunities that include learning about coding by programming a tiny robot named Evo and storytelling through cameras. It could be fun to plan a trip to this exhibit that coincides with a trip to the new “Incredibles 2” movie that comes out in June, but maybe save the movie for after the exhibit, because once you and your kids see all that goes into it, you’ll have new perspective and appreciation. Admission requires a separate timed ticket in addition to museum admission that costs $14 for adults, $11 for children. You can enter to win tickets here.
Maximo, a 122-foot long titanosaur discovered a few years ago in Argentina. He’s making his way to Chicago and you can see him (well, a cast of his skeleton) at the Field Museum, where he’s taken up residence. The skeleton was divided into 12 sections and a piece of his vertebrae alone weighs 2,000 pounds.
A flock of pterosaurs and hanging gardens suspended from the ceiling help make guests feel transported to the Cretaceous Period when they are in Stanley Field Hall. As of today, visitors are welcome to take selfies with our new dinosaur friend from the second-floor balcony. The Field Museum is still finalizing an official date for visitors to touch the cast because they are building seats that will allow visitors to have a more intimate experience with Máximo.
Trolls towering 15 to 20 feet tall will be inhabiting the Morton Arboretum in Lisle this summer, and guests are invited to find all six of these guardians of the forest. Some will be obvious, others less so. Danish artist Thomas Dambo is currently building the trolls from reclaimed wood and guests can see him working (check the Visitor’s Center for the schedule). On June 22, the trolls will be complete. They are designed to be both fun and interactive. For example, one troll sits next to a tree, holding a long rod that crosses a low-hanging tree branch and a net dangles from the rod in which visitors can climb into to be “captured.” They are also designed to encourage guests to consider their own role in protecting the trees and environment.
Navy Pier’s location jutting out into Lake Michigan makes it the perfect place for this nautical exhibit that explores all things boats. Kids can play with authentic boating equipment and do everything from secure the rigging to drop a fishing line off the edge of a two-level boat. And they get to be in charge as captain, including trying on the captain’s jacket and steering the ship. The exhibit is designed to encourage active imaginative play. When you’re done at the Children’s Museum, wander along the pier and check out the boats docked there with a brand new perspective.
A cool maze, the chance to learn an Italian folk dance, an art gallery and lessons in weaving are all fun, interactive parts of the Brookfield Zoo’s latest exhibit. Sounds great, right? And the exhibit is Amazing Arachnids, meaning it’s all about spiders. Still sounds great, right? Really, it is. And I say that as someone who is pretty arachnophobic. But the more you know, the less fear you may have, and your kids may grow up thinking spiders are awesome after learning about the roles they play in a variety of areas at this exhibit. Read more about it here.