For our 3rd museum free day, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. We visited with a vehicle-crazy Landon two years ago, and my post from that trip has details on parking and the history of the museum. Last time, Landon ran around like a wild child the whole time, and we didn’t get to really appreciate the exhibits. This time, we were actually able to spend time and learn something, and not just flit from one vehicle to another! Getting free tickets was really easy. We walked up to a kiosk, put in our zip code, and the free tickets printed out. Much easier than waiting in the long ticket counter line. Like other museums, the special exhibitions and movies were extra, but there was so much to do for free that we did not feel the need to pay for the extra exhibits.
For our first exhibit, we headed to the U-505 exhibit. Landon has been on a WWII kick lately, so this was right up his alley. He was glued to the films in the beginning showing naval battles, and it was sobering to see how many Allied ships were sunk by U-boats during the first years of the war. The U-boat was giant! It is so awesome that an actual German U-boat from WWII is sitting in the basement of MSI! Landon was a little sad that we didn’t pay extra to tour the inside of the U-boat, but there was so much more to see in the exhibit that he moved on quickly. We tried a U-boat driving simulator, and managed to crash the U-boat within a few seconds, every time. I think it was designed for older kids. Next up, we went back to the Idea Factory children’s play exhibit. I was not aware that free tickets were required for entry, so we used the kiosk outside of the exhibit to get tickets for a half hour later and checked out the farm exhibit in the interim.
The Idea Factory is a mini children’s museum with many different activities and simple experiments for ages 3 and up. There was also a baby play area with a cute mini water table for the babies. Owen started out in that area, but splashed so much in the water that I took him to the big kid area because he was splashing all the other little babies. He ended up soaked, but dried off before we had to leave! Landon and I did experiments with mirrors, rainbows, and friction, but he spent most of his time playing with the water cannons and other water and ball features. At the end, he found the big blocks and Owen joined in the fun building big structures! I would definitely recommend stopping by the Idea Factory with kids ages 0-10- there’s really something for all ages and its a great place to play for a few minutes before exploring the rest of the museum! The ticketed entry system is nice because the number of children in the exhibit is limited for maximum enjoyment without the crowds.
The cafeteria and tables for packed lunches are on the bottom floor with the Idea Factory, U-boat exhibit, and Space area. We found a table, but Landon was immediately drawn to the Swiss Jolly Ball nearby. It was a super neat pinball machine (the largest in the world!) with so many sounds and things that moved that he watched it over and over! It was hard to pull him away. Finally, with the promise of trains, we made our way to the main floor.
The Great Train Story is a huge model train exhibit with so many details and moving parts that we spent a long time circling it, watching the different kinds of trains as they made their way between a neat replica of Chicago and Seattle. It’s every little train-lover’s dream!
Off of the train exhibit was a neat genetics exhibit that we didn’t visit last time. Many parts of the exhibit were still over Landon’s head, but would be great for older elementary school students up through adults. There were tons of interactive screens, but what we were most interested in were the chicks hatching right before our eyes! There were a few newly hatched chicks out of their shells, and we came just in time to see one finally break through the shell! It was so cool to watch! On the other side of the incubator were older chicks running around and eating. Owen really liked watching the chicks. Even if you skip the rest of the genetics exhibit, check out the chicks if you’re visiting with young kids!
This time around, Landon was really interested in the details of the airplanes hanging from the ceiling, especially the war planes. In fact, right now he thinks he wants to be a pilot. So, we took some time to look at all the war planes, and the passenger jet that is attached to the 2nd floor. It is such a neat exhibit for the kids to be able to walk around inside of a real airplane!
We finished up our time at the museum in the Science Storms exhibit. We learned about acceleration, air pressure, and how tornadoes work. There is a giant tornado simulator that Landon was dying to go inside, and we just happened to show up during a demonstration and Landon was picked to hold the balloon inside of the tornado! He did a great job being the volunteer, and everyone who wanted to volunteer had a later opportunity to walk in the opposite direction of the tornado and make it disappear. Landon was super excited to help out and feel what it was like inside. He said it was pretty cold, because the cloud is made out of water vapor.
I had a parenting first/fail happen at MSI after Science Storms. Owen was REALLY tired and not interested in Science Storms, so I was trying to clip him into the stroller when Landon ran off toward the train exhibit (I thought). Well, by the time I finished getting a flailing Owen into the stroller, Landon was nowhere to be found. I looked in every exhibit on the main floor, and I couldn’t find him anywhere! I did not think he would go downstairs without me, so I went to the information booth and put in a missing child announcement. Super embarrassing, but I was pretty sure he was not on the main floor, and there were two other floors and so many exhibits to look through I needed help. I described his physical characteristics and made sure to add that he was tall for his age and would not be at all upset or looking for me. The guy at the desk was so nice and put out the call. Less than 20 seconds later, he got a call back and had his manager walk me downstairs to the tractor/farm exhibit where we were reunited. Landon did not want to get out of the tractor. That ended our day at the museum, because I wanted to teach Landon that running away means no more fun for the day. He’s just so independent he doesn’t think he needs me anymore.
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has so much to do and see! We did not go to the special ticketed LEGO exhibit, but I’ve heard great things about it. The volunteers and staff are all so nice, and there are many exhibits that would appeal to kids and adults alike. I would highly recommend for families with kids who love transportation and science.