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The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with Toddler in Tow

By Elizabeth Shapiro in Miscellaneous on Feb 21, 2008 5:03PM

We read somewhere that the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (formerly the Chicago Academy of Sciences) is one of the least visited of the Chicago museums, but it’s one of our favorite places in the city to bring our toddler. Unlike the MSI, the Notebaert’s exhibits are accessible to those under three feet tall. The taller displays have low interactive panels and those that don’t have stools nearby. And the bugs! What kid doesn’t like bugs?

2008_02_Notebaert.jpgStave off S.A.D. and head for the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. The greenhouse area captures warmth and light, even on the most overcast and nasty Chicago day. Butterflies and moths of all kinds and, uh, sizes are free to dive bomb fly around here, which can either excite or freak out your kid. Keep an eye on curious tykes, though; we saw a two year old stomp one of these beauties on a recent visit.

The Marsh exhibit and adjoining Riverworks are also truly kid-friendly. Head to their look-in lab to see scientists work with black widow spiders, walking sticks and something called the ferocious water bug; catch snake or mantis feedings, scheduled throughout the week. The non-living exhibits here are also a favorite: there are plenty of buttons, flaps, scents and manipulatives to keep even the youngest of kids interested in protecting marshland. Pull up a stool and let your kids splash in their river display. You can even learn some pretty cool stuff about storm drainage in Chicago while they’re at it.

The Notebaert, like the MSI and the Garfield Park Conservatory, has a designated, closed-off kid area that combines hands-on fun with natural themes. Kids can climb, slide, crawl and swing through tree and prairie displays. Although this is a great place to really let your active kid unwind and discover, avoid it in the afternoons when it gets massively crowded.

Bring a sack lunch to munch on in their cafeteria, or grab snacks from Southport Grocery, sold by the entrance in their gift shop. Thursdays at the Notebaert are free; get there at 9 a.m. before the free parking on Cannon fills up.

Thanks to Maureen O’Shay for the picture of the Istock Butterfly Haven.