City Kid: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Now that August is walking – well, more like running – I’m always looking for new ways to engage both his brain and brawn. And with the weather slowly turning from dry and hot to rainy and cool, I’m also looking for fun indoor spaces where he can burn some energy while engaging his imagination. So where to go? One of my favorite Chicago gems: the Nature museum!

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been in their current space since 1999 but has been a part of Chicago’s history for more than a hundred years. An interactive educational space for people of all ages, the museum’s mission is to create a positive relationship between people and nature. Sounds like the perfect place to me!

Just a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Park Zoo, the museum sits north of Fullerton Avenue and is surrounded by a gorgeous (and hilly!) prairie restoration complete with hiking trail. It’s the perfect place to stroll your toddler before entering the museum itself. The fresh grassy smells are enough to make you want to escape the city for good. But we know that’s never going to happen, right?! At least we have a bit of ancient flat lands to explore in our urban backyard!

The Nature Museum’s exhibits provide a good balance of educational and experiential learning. For little tykes like August, there’s a mock Illinois wildlife habitat complete with slides, a climbable tree house, textures to touch, and interactive displays. Just pop their shoes off and set them free! Or that’s the general idea anyway. Beyond the toddler nook the museum has a butterfly haven with hundreds of breathtaking specimens ready to land on you or your prodigy at a moment’s notice. Or no notice at all (hence the back check mirrors at the exit). I found their forthcoming personalities pretty amusing. August, on the other hand, did not. Though he loves chasing butterflies in the park, coming face to face with several hundred friendly critters was a bit overwhelming. So we exchanged some sweet snuggles in the space before he discovered the turtle in the pond.

In addition to the toddler zone and butterfly sanctuary, there is also a permanent exhibit detailing Illinois’s natural history and native wildlife, both past and present. The museum also boasts a clean energy exhibit and an elegantly curated space discussing weather and climate change. All three work great for older kids, as well as for all us adult nature nerds. The final touch, which makes this place a great adventure for younger bloaks and ladies, is the water conservation and management exhibit on the first floor, where kiddos can see the effects of river damming and conservation, all while getting to splash about in the displays.

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Entry into the museum cost us a mere $8 since August is still young enough to enter for free. If you have older kids you can check with your local Chicago Public Library for a free museum pass – though I’ve found these are hard to catch. I frequently find them checked out and overdue for return, so they may not be worth the trouble. And for a half day trip, $8 is really a steal anyway! So next time you’re looking for a fun indoor activity for your little city kid, be sure to give the Nature museum a try!

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