By Lori Smerz
Need a little nudge to get into the holiday spirit or a new family holiday tradition? Pack up the family and head to the Museum of Science and Industry because there’s no fighting the feeling of having your kids around you and the joy in the air. As you ride the escalator or climb the stairs to the main level, you’re instantly greeted by the twinkle and glow of the 45-foot decorated Grand Tree. Expect oohs and aahs to quickly follow as your family takes it all in.
Look up, down and all around you.
Look up and you will see the stars and ribbons of light as they dance and spin on the rotunda’s ceiling. These same images reflect on the floor. Every 30 minutes, the wonder of falling snow fills the air as snow actually falls on you. It’s a kid (and big kid) fave. As you wander around the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light, you’ll see more than 50 trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s cultural communities.
It’s a tradition since 1942. Each cultural group uses handmade or embellished ornaments to represent their heritage and traditions from their specified countries.
We really enjoyed the Chicago Cubs tree (a photo-op must) and the inclusion of Legos everywhere, with a nod to the great Brick by Brick exhibit. Continue your visit down “Holiday Lane” and you can see Lego ornaments created together by Chicago celebrities and touch screens displaying some of Chicago’s other holiday traditions.
Mark your calendar for a cool Santa Claus visit. He will be at MSI for photo ops 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 18. A separate timed-entry ticket purchase is required. And for LEGO fanatics, LEGO ornament making also will be available from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 18.
Cultural performances will take place Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18. For a full schedule, visit msichicago.org/holiday.
If you go:
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light run through Jan. 8 and is also included with admission.
PHOTO CREDITS: J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
By Elizabeth Diffin
When you think about the Museum of Science and Industry, chances are you assume it’s for “big kids” only, at least ones old enough to read all the educational signs. And while high schoolers and adults can find plenty to do and see at the South Side spot, there’s still a lot at the museum that appeals to the littles in your life.
If you’ve got a toddler or preschooler at home, here are five must-hit spots.
The Transportation Gallery
Little ones are obsessed with cars and trucks and things that go (thanks, Richard Scarry!), and The Transportation Gallery is the perfect place to feed into that obsession. The crown jewel is the Boeing 727 that kids can explore (adults are likely to be relegated to the well-worn seats to sit back and watch). My 4-year-old couldn’t get enough of pressing buttons, adjusting airflow and chatting away to air traffic control via telephone. Even better, at select times, a real pilot from United Airlines stops by and bestows pilot’s wings on tiny flyers – a trinket that’s sure to be treasured. And if you’ve got older kids, this pairs well with Above & Beyond, the temporary exhibit that runs through Jan. 8.
Brick by Brick
Is there any toy more beloved than Legos? Not in my world. The Brick by Brick exhibit is only at MSI through Feb. 12, so find some time soon for a visit. The massive Lego-built structures like the Golden Gate Bridge and Roman Colosseum are awe-inspiring for all ages (just try not to snap a picture!), but the real appeal for preschoolers is the hands-on area where they can build with Duplos and colored or white Legos. Dedicated builders will want to try all three – I speak from experience – while the dabblers can pick their favorite. Bonus: It’s also a great spot to reinforce concepts of sharing and taking turns, since there are so many excited kids jockeying for the same coveted bricks.
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
For preschoolers who can’t get enough happily-ever-afters, the Fairy Castle is a must. The castle has been at MSI since 1949, enchanting generations of children with its treasure-filled rooms and overall fairytale vibe. The only downside is that it’s a look-but-don’t-touch space, so don’t plan to spend too much time here. But chances are, when they get home, they’ll just want to play with their own dollhouse for a few hours.
Whether they’re city kids or live out in the ‘burbs, your tykes probably aren’t too familiar with life down on the farm. The hands-on Farm Tech area lets them experience everything from “driving” a tractor or combine to milking a very accommodating cow. And while there’s a section on cow poop – sure to make them giggle – it doesn’t come with any of that infamous “fresh country air.” Good news for all us city slickers, that’s for sure.
The Idea Factory
Another spot that would keep my little guy entertained for hours is The Idea Factory, MSI’s solution for busy little hands (and bodies). The Water Spectacle is sure to be a hit, with its spraying, splashing and bubbling, not to mention the air tubes, hand-cranked conveyer belt and magnetized maze/air hockey table). We also had a blast building with the oversized Big Blue Blocks. I could see Jackson’s imagination come to life as he assembled a pretty respectable motorcycle and handed me an enormous “flower” to sniff. And I was pretty pleased that he was learning all kinds of new things – even without being able to read the signs.
Elizabeth Diffin is senior editor at Chicago Parent and the best aunt ever. Follow her on Instagram @Elizabeth_onair.
By Taylor Wood
Think about the world 100 years ago. The Cubs had won the World Series, women couldn’t vote, there was a czar in Russia and most Americans could never have dreamed of just how commonplace stepping aboard an airplane could become.
You can’t help but wonder: what can happen in 100 more years of flight and space exploration? Luckily for us Boeing and MSI have partnered to help explore this question and more at their latest exhibit: Above and Beyond.
Above and Beyond coincides with Boeing’s 100th anniversary and is a deep look into not only the past 100 years of flight and space technologies, but also what could be coming next. All future engineers, pilots, astronauts, and aerospace enthusiasts are sure to find something that sparks their imaginations in this exhibit.
Some of those include:
An interactive touch-screen timeline of flight and space technologies and explorations:
A virtual “space elevator” that explores riding up through the atmosphere and beyond:
An interactive feature that allows participants to design a jet plane and then virtually fly that plane through a course, giving the participants an understanding of design choices based on functionality, speed and maneuverability:
Interactive hands-on demonstrations to learn about the literal nuts and bolts of air and spacecraft engineering:
…and these are just the tip of the air-and-space iceberg! Other features allow participants to understand flight mechanics as they flap and soar as birds, prepare to go on a virtual mission to Mars, and explore present and future innovations in air and space technology.
This exhibit runs through Jan. 8 before it takes off for its North American tour. Admission to Above and Beyond is included in your ticket to MSI ($18 for adults, $11 for kids 3-11), but future air and space explorers must book a timed-entry ticket available onsite. The exhibit is mostly aimed at kids aged 7-14, but adults are sure to enjoy every aspect as well.
What we have accomplished in 100 years in flight has been nothing short of incredible, and what is coming in the next 100 will be even more so. And who knows? Maybe the Cubs will have another World Series by then. If we have proven nothing else it is that anything is possible!
Taylor Wood is a Florida-raised, Chicago-obsessed mom living in Buena Park with her son, dog, cat and husband. When she isn’t trying to find that coffee she just put down two minutes ago, she can probably be found exploring the city with the kiddo. In addition to her blog at ChicagoParent.com, she also blogs about her (mis)adventures at motherhoodwhat.com.
By Jackie McGoey
If it’s been awhile since your kids’ grandparents have visited the Museum of Science and Industry, they may be surprised at how much has changed. National Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 11, so this month is the perfect time to reintroduce them to the wonders of science, technology, medicine and engineering.
Make connections across generations
Ever wonder why your baby’s eyes are a striking, bright blue (like Grandpa’s!) while the rest of the family has pretty green peepers? The answer: genetics! Visit the Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery exhibit to discover how the smallest variations in our DNA are what make each of us unique.
Of course, genes aren’t the only parts of you that make you who we are. Your experiences, choices and personalities do as well. At YOU! The Experience you’ll learn exactly how they all fit together. The end result? An amazing and incredible you!–that Grandma is surely proud of.
Step back in time
If anyone can appreciate history, it’s a grandparent. Since its opening in 1933, MSI has welcomed millions of families through its doors–yes, maybe even your parent’s grandparents! Coal Mine was MSI’s very first exhibit. Learn more about its history and discover little known fun facts on the WOW! Tour, which takes you behind the scenes of some of the museum’s most popular exhibits.
Come up from underground and step right into the year 1910. Yesterday’s Main Street is a blast from the past that may make the grandparents nostalgic for simpler times. Be sure to stop in for a treat at Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor. The kids will think sharing a sundae is the cherry on top of an already great day.
Capture precious memories
A trip to MSI means plenty of sweet photo ops. Grab a snap sitting in a Chicago cable car or a United Boeing 727 in the Transportation Gallery. Don’t blink or you’ll miss eyes–young and old–that light up while taking in the unbelievable Lego displays at the Brick by Brick exhibit. And definitely get a few shots in the neon wonderland that is Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze. Just make sure to get Grandma’s good side. No doubt she’ll want to share photos on “The Facebook.”
Good to know
• Wheelchair rental is available in the Entry Hall
• Accessible parking is available in an underground garage with direct access to the Entry Hall
• There are 19 days this month when Illinois residents receive free general admission: Sept. 6-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30
Jackie McGoey is a Chicago mom with two sweet little girls and really great parents. She also is digital editor at ChicagoParent.com.
By Megan Murray Elsener
Those back-to-school to-do lists can feel overwhelming. From getting haircuts to buying school supplies to picking out backpacks, getting ready for the new school year is in full swing.
Yet there is still some time to soak up summer and put those back-to-school assignments aside. Get in one last outing to the Museum of Science and Industry before school starts and put this to-do list at the top of your agenda.
#1- Fab Lab
Get your kids’ brains back in academic gear without them even realizing how much they are learning at the Wanger Family Fab Lab. For kids over 6, the “Dream it. Design it. Fab it.” exhibit allows kids to become inventors and manufacturers. They come up with a design idea, and then use the cutting-edge technology and software in the workshop to make a design a reality. Options include 3D printing, laser cutting and vinyl cutting. Your kids will be begging to come back for more and love that they get to take their creation home.
#2- Grab a seat (a bike seat that is)
Fresh off the excitement of the Rio Olympics and the intense cycling races, the Art of the Bicycle is a perfect place to make a stop. The exhibit allows visitors to take a ride down history with rare and fascinating bicycles along with the latest high-tech bikes of today. The first bikes were created 200 years ago and it’s a stunning gallery to see how far they have progressed and even how similar they remain to the original.
#3- YOU! The Experience
Kids love nothing more than talking about themselves, so hit up the YOU! The Experience exhibit to really let it be all about them. It allows them to connect mind, body and spirit through a combination of experiences, choices, personality and environment. See what you’ll look like when you are 100 years old. Make an animated 3D heart beat in time with yours. Get inside a human-size hamster wheel and see how fast you run. Learn how what you eat affects your body. The fun and facts are everywhere you turn.
#4- Watch out for storms
Become weather watchers together at the Science Storms exhibit and see first-hand the power of nature. They’ve got lightening, fire, tornadoes, avalanches, tsunamis, waves and more right there for your eyes to see. You’ll be amazed at the power and strength, while getting to learn the science behind it. Science Storms will definitely make the next rain storm to hit Chicago seem like a piece cake.
#5- Don’t miss Brick by Brick
The spectacular Brick by Brick LEGO exhibit is a must-see for everyone who has ever built their own LEGO set. Beyond the stunning all-LEGO created structures like the 60-foot Golden Gate Bridge and the Roman Colosseum, there are hands-on building opportunities and challenges for kids (and adults) of all ages. The exhibit is only at MSI until February.
We all know that once that school year gets started, it’s harder to find days to get those school-aged kids for a MSI visit, so do it now and you won’t regret spending one of your last summer days at the museum.
Megan Murray Elsener is a mother of three.
By Cheryl Eugenio
The Museum of Science and Industry is easily one of my family’s favorite museums in the Chicagoland area. We’ve been there more times than we can count! Because it’s the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, a trip with kids may seem a bit daunting. I have a few tips to help you enjoy your visit and make it more manageable.
1 Have little ones? You must check out the Idea Factory with one of the best water play areas of any museum we’ve visited. The hands-on area also includes balls, blocks and even an area for crawlers to explore. Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes. Kids will get wet! There is also a private nursing area here, too.
2 We always stop by Finnegan’s ice cream parlor (next to the coal mine) for a treat. In fact, we actually eat our lunch by the tables here for quick access to the ice cream shop. What can I say? We love ice cream!
3 Souvenir hunting? For a couple of dollars, you can watch a machine create a plastic mold engraved with “Museum of Science and Industry.” Our favorite is the train replica. Another great souvenir opportunity is at the ToyMaker 3000 exhibit. Watch your toy being assembled and in a few minutes it will be in your hands.
4 Buy tickets ahead of time. If you’re looking forward to seeing something specific, especially the amazing Brick by Brick exhibit, buy online and avoid the frustration of finding out it’s sold out.
5 Driving to the museum? Parking is super convenient in the underground garage. We like to park on the last level C so you avoid having to use the elevator to go down.
6 Did I mention the museum is HUGE? Grab a map and locate your must-sees. Or better yet, do a little online research beforehand. And remember, there’s always next time! Make sure to find the daily schedule of cool shows and experiments, which are free and fabulous.
By Megan Murray Elsener
Sometime with little kids, it can be hard to justify the cost or energy required to make a trip to the museum. Yet the Museum of Science and Industry makes a concerted effort to make a trip both easy, enjoyable and educational.
So I set off for a museum day with my gang that includes a 6-year old, a 4-year old and an almost 2-year old who thinks he can keep up with his older siblings. With only my oldest able to read, I was curious to see what they all would gain from the trip.
From the get-go, the easy underground parking lot where you ride up and enter into the main lobby couldn’t be easier. Everything is stroller accessible and straight- forward. First stop was the Brick-by-Brick exhibit for my current Lego-loving people.
Unlike Legoland where there is lots of cool stuff to see, but not much to do, MSI’s Brick-by-Brick had hands-on opportunities to get kids building, imagining and becoming their own master builders. Beyond seeing the incredible Lego-built structures like the Golden Gate Bridge, they were able to be engineers and build blocks to withstand earthquakes, use paper to create bridges and put together Lego racecars to zoom down a track.
My 6-year-old and 4-year-old even volunteered to participate in a Lego challenge where they had four minutes to create a design if they were stranded on a desert island. They won a “master builder” sticker for aesthetics. Meanwhile, my little guy was busy with the giant Duplo Lego wall.
Up next was a quick trip around the Great Train Story, where the kids were able to point out the buildings they recognized from downtown Chicago and which one their daddy works in. The moving trains kept all three kids mesmerized.
Then we headed to Science Storms, where visually they were immediately pulled-in. From the giant spinning cloud-like vortex to the rumbling avalanche and the crashing waves tsunami, this exhibit is great for young kids to see science in ways they never have before. They’ve always heard mom and dad talk about weather, but this is their first time to see it up close. Even if they couldn’t understand or read lots of the technical definitions, their eyes were able to learn.
Anybody with small children needs to visit the Idea Factory on the first level. You could literally spend your entire visit in this one exhibit! Kids have the chance to be totally hands-on and splash, spin and stack with the Water Spectacle, a hydrodynamic play set that sprays and floats balls. I could see the wheels in my kids’ brains spinning and absorbing the science around them as they started to dream up and build all together.
Another great opportunity when visiting MSI with little kids is stopping by one of the Live Science Experiment booths. My kids were given the chance to make their own slime from glue, Borax and water, while the museum employee taught them age-appropriate science in a one-on-one experiment.
Getting to take the slime home was just icing on the cake for my under-6 set who anxiously are awaiting our next trip to MSI.
Megan Murray Elsener is a part-time freelance writer and full-time mother of three.
By Michelle Elfvin
The Museum of Science and Industry is the perfect spot to hit when the elements of Chicago’s summers – rain and extreme heat are just a few – threaten to keep the kids bored and indoors. But at MSI, while they will be inside, they won’t ever be bored.
They’ll actually learn a ton, too.
My kids love robots, tornadoes, Legos and lasers. All of which they could see up close and even reach out and touch at MSI. Well, not laser beams, but they did get to keep Chicago-themed laser cut and 3-D creations from the Fab Lab. The Fabrication Laboratory allows kids 6 and up to dream up and create designs using cutting-edge software.
We made an easy transition from lasers to Legos in the Brick-by-Brick exhibit. The boys made Lego trucks and raced them, spelled their name on a Lego wall and got to learn about famous monuments. When things are made of Legos, the boys have no idea they are learning while racing, spelling and admiring the 60-foot Golden Gate Bridge Lego replica.
After the Brick by Brick Lego room, we decided to visit Science Storms exhibit where we were all mesmerized by the 40-foot vortex of swirling air and vapor. Just feet away from the tornado, we watched an avalanche simulation pick up and reduce speed on an 8-ton disk. My kids asked a million questions and the staff was passionate and patient enough to answer everything we wanted to know about all their magnificent elements.
We will be back, rain or shine, to see more exhibits and sneak in some learning this summer.
More fun online
Every summer, MSI offers its popular and seriously fun Summer Brain Games. This free program of weekly emails sends out hands-on experiments for the budding scientists in your household.
This year’s theme is travel. Kids will learn about engineering, physics and materials science as they build and launch a glider, move a vehicle with propulsion, engineer a parachute and more. The games emphasize hands-on learning and reinforce what kids learn in school, so you don’t have to worry about that dreaded summer brain drain.
By Cheryl Eugenio
No matter how many times we visit The Museum of Science and Industry, we always find something new to discover. Our latest visit brought us face to face with larger-than-life LEGO structures and an awesome mini children’s museum within the museum.
Brick by Brick
We were beyond thrilled to learn that the museum’s newest exhibit centered around the wonderful world of LEGOs. Brick by Brick combines principles of engineering, construction, architecture and passion.
We were given a couple scavenger hunt sheets and off we went. If you are at all fascinated with how the structures are built I strongly urge you to spend a few minutes watching the video on how Adam Reed Tucker works his magic. It’s crazy to think that the Chicagoland native doesn’t use computers to design the structures and he doesn’t use glue!
We continued on with the exhibit and “oohed” and “aahed” over the 12 replica structures such as the 60-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge, the Coliseum, and the working American Eagle roller coaster. Unable to contain their excitement, kids jumped from building to building, “Wow, Mom, look at this. Oh, wait, look at this!” When I did have a few minutes, I was able to read about the structure including how long it took to design and build (hundreds of hours!?!) as well as how many bricks it took to build. For instance, my favorite structure, Cinderella’s Castle, incorporates almost every LEGO building technique in Adam’s repertoire and took 145 hours to design and 230 hours to build.
Not only were we wowed by these magnificent brick buildings, but the kids had plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. Kids (and adults) can balance on a beam or hoist themselves up on a pulley. They could even construct a building and see if it could withstand shaking. Without a doubt my kids’ favorite part was building their own master creation in the open build area and brick wall. Even my youngest could take part in the action since the bricks were just her level.
The Idea Factory
A visit to MSI is not complete without a visit to The Idea Factory, especially if you have children 10 and under. In fact, it’s probably our kids’ favorite part of the museum. And who can blame them? It’s like a mini children’s museum with loads of hands-on activities and a huge water play area – 3,000 gallons of water to be exact. My little one could probably just stay here the entire time grabbing rainbow-colored balls from the flowing river and inserting them into the air tube. The water contraption near the back of the exhibit is loads of fun with a swirling vortex, blasting water cannons and bikes used to pump water.
When they’re not playing with water, the kids are racing toy trucks, lifting objects with a crane, learning about light and magnetism, or reading books. MSI recently added a section for those huge blue blocks from Imagination Playground for more building fun.
Have young tots? The gated section with mini fountain will be sure to please along with padded play area. Moms also will find a private area to nurse or change.
Tip: During peak times, the Idea Factory restricts visits to only 30 minutes. Strollers aren’t allowed inside. Oh, and please bring a change of clothes. You’ll need it.
Cheryl Eugenio is a wife and mommy to two young boys and a baby girl who are officially addicted to traveling and exploring Chicagoland and beyond. She recounts her family adventures at O the Places We Go and blogs at ChicagoParent.com.
By Shannan Younger
My family started Spring Break by marveling at the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, we gazed up at the spires on One World Trade Center, moved on to the pyramids of Giza, checked out the Coliseum in Rome, and then observed how Walt Disney used forced perspective to make Cinderella’s Castle seem even bigger than it really is.
No, we did not win the lottery and take a trip around the world. Instead, we headed to the Brick by Brick exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which is a fantastic Spring Break destination.
All those architectural wonders that we saw were models built out of Legos constructed by Adam Reed Tucker, a native Chicagoan and one of just 14 Lego certified professionals in the world. The collection of models also includes landmarks like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Hoover Dam and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. It’s even a trip that’s out of this world with a model of the International Space Station.
We didn’t just get to marvel at these incredible creations, we also learned about the architecture and engineering that goes into creating structures, be they built out of Legos or I-beams, and the importance and beauty of design. My middle schooler and her friends were eager to dive into the bins of Legos available for guests to assemble their own creations, and also had a chance to see if the structures they built could withstand the elements by putting them in the wind tunnels and seeing if they survived the tremor table. They were big fans of how interactive the exhibit was.
Brick by Brick has pretty much everything a family would want for Spring Break in one exhibit — it elicits “ooohs” and “aaahs,” inspires the imagination, offers a chance for interactive exploration and teaches fun science and engineering concepts. No need to tell the kids about that last one, though.
Another opportunity for kids to design and create can be found at the MSI’s Wagner Family Fab Lab. The Fab Lab is a state-of-the-art workshop for computer-based innovation, design, and fabrication. Kids can imagine, design and create pretty much anything. Sessions include 3D printing, laser cutting and vinyl printing
If you’re like me and know absolutely nothing about fabricating, fear not. MSI is there to help. And they won’t even laugh at you. Your kids, however, may be another story. Speaking of kids, they need to be 6 or older for the Fab Lab.
Places like the Fab Lab make it obvious that hands-on experience is a great way to get kids interested in STEM. A visit to the Fab Lab is an great opportunity for kids to see how they can take an idea and make it into a tangible object, and pretty quickly. Seeing the pride on their faces as they hold their creation is awesome, and may just ignite the inventor spark. Also, when someone asks them what they did over Spring Break, they can say, “I designed and created this.”
While I’m all about kids making the most of technology, sometimes you need to balance the innovation with old-fashioned fun.
We added some extra Spring Break fun to our visit to the MSI with a stop at Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor. Based on a real Hyde Park ice cream shop that opened in 1917, this fun spot is like stepping back in time. (It’s on the Main Level, tucked in behind the Coal Mine at the entrance to Yesterdays’ Main Street.) We all enjoyed a scoop, which made our visit extra sweet, and it was a great way to fuel up to make the most of our Spring Break day at the museum.
Shannan Younger is a recovering attorney living in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and teen daughter.