Just because you didn’t book airline tickets and hotel rooms for a faraway vacation doesn’t mean the family has to be under house arrest during spring break.
Plenty of places near Chicago beckon for a daycation or a quick-and-easy getaway within a few hours’ drive of the city.
Here are some suggestions for last-minute spring break sojourns with the brood, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, indoor entertainment or some extracurricular education while school’s out.
Play with the farm team
Show the kids that food doesn’t just magically appear on grocery store shelves with a visit to Fair Oaks Farms in Northwest Indiana.
Make no mistake: This agritourism attraction 75 miles from Chicago is no petting zoo. Fair Oaks is a massive farming operation with a dash of Disney. It’s home to more than 35,000 cows — and at least as many puns, starting with the sign at the entrance that promises “A Dairy Good Time for the Family.”
Spend a full day exploring the well-executed, interactive exhibits and other features, like the birthing barn, where folks file in to take a seat in the bleachers and watch a cow deliver a calf. About eight to 10 births a day take place behind a transparent wall on the hay-covered barn stage. A convenient traffic light signal outside the barn’s front door helps you time your visit: Red means no rush, the cow still has more laboring to do; yellow means she’s getting close, and green means it’s showtime.
Buses take visitors on a tour through the cows’ quarter-mile-long free-stall barns and to the so-called dairy-go-round, where 72 Holstein cattle chew cud as they take a slow spin on a rotating carousel while hooked up to automatic milking machines.
Go from bovine to porcine with a somewhat similar experience at Fair Oaks’ Pig Adventure. You’re able to spy on thousands of swine at various stages of development from an elevated, enclosed observation area. Be prepared to hear kids squeal when workers display a newly born piglet.
Fair Oaks added to its ever-growing lineup of offerings last year with a Crop Adventure focused on farming.
When the kids get antsy, they can unleash their energy on an indoor ropes course at the Pork Education Center, go rock climbing on a giant milk bottle and more.
Fuel up at the Farmhouse Restaurant, serving food grown on-site or by nearby purveyors, or head over to the Cowfe (I told you there were a lot of puns) for sandwiches, salads, cheese curds and ice cream made on the premises with milk from Fair Oaks’ cows. The cold, creamy treat is free if you tell them you’re on spring break.
Fair Oaks Farms, 856 N. 600 E (right off Interstate 65, exit 220), Fair Oaks, Ind. 877-536-1194, www.fofarms.com. The all-inclusive pass covers the Dairy, Pig and Crop adventures ($25 for kids, $29.95 for adults).
Get an adrenaline rush
Thrill-seekers can get their fix — and an ecology lesson — at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours & Outdoor Adventure Center, about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.
The canopy tour traverses a series of eight zip lines and five sky bridges that connect a network of platforms built high into the trees of this 100-acre forest. Reach speeds up to 40 mph as you whisk past towering red and white oaks and get a bird’s-eye view of flora and fauna below.
After a thorough safety briefing and gear check, you start your adventure on shorter, slower zip lines before building up to big ones like the 841-foot-long expanse dubbed The Beast. It sounds scary, but by the time you work up to this one, most people are pretty comfortable with the concept and nerves give way to big smiles. Two parallel zip lines at the end let you race to the finish, weather permitting.
Tours typically last a little over two hours, and the guides drop some eco-knowledge about the area in between the high-flying fun. (If you’re still not ready to come back down to earth, book the guided high-ropes excursion made up of 16 obstacles hovering 18 to 32 feet above ground.)
No experience is necessary to do the zip line canopy tour, but you have to be at least 7 years old and weigh between 65 and 250 pounds.
The tour costs $100 for adults and $90 for kids ages 7-15. A $500 spring break special is being offered for groups of eight until April 23.
While you’re in Lake Geneva, catch illusionist Tristan Crist’s live show at the intimate theater bearing his name. The Wisconsin native’s hourlong prestidigitation shtick gets rave reviews from all ages. Spring tickets cost $29-$35, and April shows take place each Saturday as well as some Wednesdays and Sundays; www.lakegenevamagic.com.
Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, N3219 County Road H, about 1.5 miles north of downtown Lake Geneva, Wis. 262-248-9271, www.lakegenevacanopytours.com.
Disney’s most thrilling animated adventure gets the Broadway treatment with this gonzo musical production. We’re not sure how well Robin Williams’ shape-shifting genie translates onstage when played by a mere human, but there are enough great musical numbers and eye-popping color in this blockbuster to keep it zipping along. The touring production’s first stop is in the Loop, featuring original heartthrob star Adam Jacobs in the title role, beginning April 11 (with tickets on sale through July 2) at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. $42-$118. http://tinyurl.com/k88awp8(Cylla von Tiedemann)
It took 108 years, but the Chicago Cubs finally broke their World Series curse and became champions in 2016! Relive the “lovable losers’” amazing win and celebration with this exhibition on display at Water Tower Place. Available to visit until April 30, MLB-sanctioned World Series Championship artist Opie Otterstad’s paintings capture the heart and spirit of the Chicago Cubs and their adoring fan base. Otterstad will be appearing at the exhibition April 8, 6-9 pm, and April 9, 1-4 pm. Free. Water Tower Place 835 N. Michigan Avenue http://tinyurl.com/z8robup(Opie Otterstad)
The annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo — better known by its droid-sounding acronym, C2E2 — returns for another weekend packed with geektastic goodness. In addition to all the comic books, sci-fi and fantasy books, toys and action figures, the three-day convention includes a great family area with stormtrooper games, drawing demos, yoga with a storyline for kids, and interactive performances by Storytown Improv. Celebrity guests include the world’s most famous superhero-comics creator, Stan Lee, and a trio of “Stranger Things” youth: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo (pictured). April 21-23 at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive. $30-$50 per day; $10 Sunday for kids 6-12. http://tinyurl.com/d6suro9(Netflix)
Mix wellness into family fun with the 21st annual Health Walk and Family Festival, produced by the National Museum of Mexican Art. The 2-mile walk starts at the museum and ends at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, where the festival kicks into high gear. Expect art activities, bounce houses, performances, free health screenings and more. You can also catch a free shuttle between the two sites throughout the day. Registration begins at 8 a.m., walk at 9; festival runs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22. National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., and UIC Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave. Free. http://tinyurl.com/lc24h8f(Anthony Robert La Penna)
This five-week-long series from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County teaches a variety of skills, including navigation, geocaching and first aid. The classes are broken up by age — 6- to 8-year-olds meet 4:30-5:30 p.m. Mondays; ages 9-12 meet 6-7 p.m. Mondays — in two separate sessions. The first series begins April 3; the second, May 8. Pick between three different DuPage locations: Churchill Woods, Willowbrook and Hidden Lake. $45 per person. Register online or by calling 630-933-7248. http://tinyurl.com/n4dne4u(Forest Preserve District of DuPage County)
Horse lovers and spectacle-theater fans might have fond memories of “Cavalia,” which played Chicago in 2009. Now the same creative team is back with a bigger-is-better, $30 million extravaganza for all ages: Think of it as something like Cirque du Soleil meets the World Equestrian Games. Boasting 65 horses and 48 riders, “Odysseo” also includes an ensemble of acrobats and dancers, a five-member band (playing a mix of jazz, new age and world music), a multi-tiered performance arena, a giant video screen and (spoiler alert!) a grand finale featuring a 40,000-gallon “lake.” April 1-23, under the white big top in Soldier Field’s south lot, 1410 Museum Campus Drive. $34.50-$269.50; $19.50-$114.50 for kids 2-12; $24.50-$129.50 for teens 13-17. http://tinyurl.com/mesar9y(Dan Harper)
Is that a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Super Jane! On April 22, check out the Gorilla Tango Theatre in Bucktown to see Jane, with the help of her puppet friends, learn how to become the superhero she’s always been. Mixing interactive elements of song, puppetry, education and more, there’s plenty to keep your pint-sized superhero enthralled from beginning to end, for children up to 5. $15, 11 am. Gorilla Tango Theatre 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. http://tinyurl.com/zj32k98(Anthony Duvall and Ellen White)
Get an introduction to classical pieces as performed by young professional musicians, and then let your kids ask questions about the instruments and the music. These interactive free concerts for families with kids 5 and up, held Sunday afternoons and performed by small ensembles (string, brass or woodwind), come from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, CSO’s training ensemble. 3 p.m. March 26, April 9 and 30, and May 14 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St.; and April 9 and May 7 at Indian Boundary Park, 2500 W. Lunt Ave. Free. http://tinyurl.com/kh24sua(Todd Rosenberg Photography)
The fascinatingly precise art of folding squares of paper into amazing shapes gets magnified tenfold in this nifty new outdoor-sculpture exhibit. Working with origami artists from around the world, Santa Fe-based couple Kevin and Jennifer Box have transformed those tiny works into giant metal sculptures, pictured here in New Mexico. Wander the grounds of the Morton Arboretum this spring and summer to spot all 25 of them, beginning May 19. Through Oct. 22, families can head to the Children’s Garden and try their hand at folding their own origami creations. At the Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle. $14, $9 for kids 2-17. ($9/$6 on Wednesdays.) Free parking. http://tinyurl.com/ka2d9dc(Kevin Box / “Origami in the Garden”)
This monthly program for high school students offers teens the opportunities to learn more about various vocations, through meetings with professionals and colleges that offer pertinent majors. Held monthly on the first Saturday, the program skips April (presumably due to spring break). It resumes May 6 to focus on music and continues June 3 with fashion (noon to 3 p.m. both dates). Register in advance online. At the Harold Washington Library’s YOUmedia Center, 400 S. State St. Free. http://tinyurl.com/lyk36gc(Chicago Public Library)
Do your children love to build? They’ll be in awe of the robots at Toymaker 3000 at the Museum of Science and Industry. Worker robots Max and Lisa process toy tops on an automated assembly line and entertain onlookers with more human curiosities such as dancing. You can even purchase a Gravitron and watch Max and Lisa engrave it with your child’s name. Other activities include robots that will draw your child’s face on demand and ones that will challenge you to a memory game! The Toymaker 3000 is included in regular museum admission; $16 for adults and $9 for children ages 9-11, if you purchase online. Museum of Science and Industry 5700 S. Lakeshore Drive. http://tinyurl.com/zglno8y(J.B. Spector / Museum of Science and Industry)
Deaf and hearing actors unite in this unique production, with all actors using American Sign Language along with voice to retell the famous fable about a wooden puppet. The 60-minute show, a co-production from Chicago Children’s Theatre and Neverbird Project, is geared to kids 7 and up. April 20 to May 7 at The Station, 100 S. Racine Ave. $25; $80 family rate (admits four). http://tinyurl.com/lf7gf5x(Neverbird Project)
One of 2016’s most acclaimed movies, the Oscar-nominated animated feature “The Red Turtle,” returns to the big screen for a spring encore. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli and rated PG, the dialogue-free tale of a man marooned on an island has won universal acclaim; Tribune critic Michael Phillips describes it as "falling into an 80-minute wormhole of spare artistry.” April 21-27 at the Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. $11, $7 for kids 6-17. http://tinyurl.com/kmwhklb(Sony Pictures Classics)
Whether you have a beginning reader or a tween who loves action, you’ll find a comic book for any age during this annual celebration — May 6, this year — of this marvelous born-in-America art form. From Wonder Woman to the Guardians of the Galaxy to the Legend of Zelda, dozens of famous characters get featured in special free editions. (The retailers pay for the comics, so consider supporting independent businesses by purchasing something too.) Participating stores include Challengers Comics in Bucktown, First Aid Comics in Hyde Park and Little Italy, Third Coast Comics in Rogers Park, Aw Yeah Comics in Skokie, and Comix Revolution in Mount Prospect and Evanston. Some shops have comics creators on hand as well; visit the stores’ websites for details. Find a store here.(Marvel, from left, United Plankton Pictures, DC Comics)
Every Saturday morning, the folks from Storytown host an hourlong improv show the whole family can enjoy. Complete with musicians and artists who rely heavily on suggestions from the children in the audience, no two shows are alike. Kids are also invited on stage to create the scenes for each skit, helping to decorate the backdrop and bring the stories to life. Recommended for children ages 3-10 and their families, $10. Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. http://tinyurl.com/hs6tyq4(Erika Kokkinos)
It’s become a super-fun tradition: After select Sunday home games, kids 13 and under can run the bases at Wrigley Field. Be warned: The experience is limited to no more than 1,000 “early arriving” participants — and, given Cubs fans’ World Series high from last year, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll need to arrive extra early for this monthly opportunity. April 16 and May 21 (plus June 11, July 9, Aug. 20, Sept. 10 and Oct. 1) at Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St. $24-$183. http://tinyurl.com/n72cs7x(Chicago Tribune)
The best skyscraper-enabled views of the city are from the top of the John Hancock Center, where the eastern perspective is basically all lake. To entice local residents as well as tourists, 360 Chicago (the name of the observation deck) launches a wide array of weekly programming, beginning April 1. Families will be most excited about Sunday Funday, which offers kids half-price admission (a particular deal for city kids, who already get a discount), plus magic and storytelling Sunday afternoons (1-3 p.m.). Photography students will also want to take advantage of Tripod Mondays, the one day per week that equipment is permitted. Ongoing at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck (the 94th floor of the the John Hancock Center), 875 N. Michigan Ave. $20.50, $13.50 for kids 3-11; $10.25/$6.75 for Chicago residents with valid IDs. $7 extra for Tilt. http://tinyurl.com/mpule2t(360 Chicago)
Medicine is never more fun than inside this pint-size laboratory, geared to let kids play and learn all about research and technology. Various stations introduce tomorrow’s brilliant minds to concepts like germs and antibodies, while interactives let kids try their hands at microscopes and machines that mix or separate. Daily, May 10 to Aug. 27, at Kohl Children’s Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview. $12. http://tinyurl.com/mbvgfhv(Kohl Children’s Museum)
This musical adventure based on the classic literature tale follows outlaw-with-a-heart-of-gold, Robin Hood, as he fights for justice and wins the heart of Maid Marian. The AlphaBet Soup production runs a little bit over an hour, so it’s recommended for kids pre-K through fourth grade. While performances run at various locations through May 12, “Robin Hood” stops at the Museum of Science and Industry on May 3 with a performance at 10:30 a.m., $8.50. Museum of Science and Industry 5700 S. Lakeshore Drive http://tinyurl.com/zhgupv6(AlphaBet Soup Productions)
Subtitled “Rethinking Home in a Changing Climate,” this brand-new exhibit, developed in house at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, takes a look at how human homes must adapt to survive a changing climate — and, too, how the structures we build have an impact on our environment. Visitors learn about building materials and can navigate four different extreme-weather possibilities that require problem-solving skills. There is plenty of interactive fun for energetic little ones too. Daily at the Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive. $9, $6 for kids 3-12. Thursdays are suggested-donation day for Illinois residents. http://tinyurl.com/knevjgk(Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)
The Morton Arboretum has long celebrated this day to honor trees — come help plant a tree, enjoy activities for kids and more. Bonus: You get in free if you dress like a tree! (The Tree-rific Kids’ Costume Contest begins at 10:30 a.m.) But in case you can’t make it out to this west-suburban green haven for the last Friday in April, the arboretum sponsors a Pop-Up Plant Clinic at Daley Plaza. Talk to experts, score some tree-themed giveaways, and more. All day long on Arbor Day (April 28) at Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle; and Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St. http://tinyurl.com/ktyamvu(Morton Arboretum)
Say “Oui!” to learning French with your bebe. Every Friday at 10:15 a.m., take the first steps to learning the language with your little one with instructor Shara Doliget, who will share whimsical stories and songs full of French words and phrases you can learn together – just bring your imagination and sense of adventure. $10. Sprout San Francisco, 1943 W. Division St. http://tinyurl.com/h2tvlhq(Shara Doliget / Sprout San Francisco)
Don’t tell the kids, but toys such as tea sets and army men were initially intended to help kids grow up faster! Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, childhood was seen as an unproductive phase of life, according to the DuPage County Historical Museum. While we now know that to be untrue, it is interesting to see capitalism and work ethic sold to children as a “game.” Let your little ones in on the secret at the “Little Adults” exhibit, and learn how some of your favorite games and toys were creatively used to encourage kids to grow up faster (then take them out for ice cream and remind them not to). Free through May 29 (donations suggested). DuPage County Historical Museum, 102 E. Wesley St. http://tinyurl.com/zuxxr5v(DuPage County Historical Museum)
Here’s a great option for rain or shine: The weekly storytime inside the Botanic Garden’s library. Little ones, ages 2-5, and their adults are welcome for an hour of nature-themed tales and activities. Afterward (as long as there aren’t any April showers), take a stroll around the gardens with the special activity card. 10 a.m. Mondays through May 22 at Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe. Free admission; $25 parking. (Tip: Metra’s Union Pacific North Line takes you right to the garden, sparing you parking fees.) http://tinyurl.com/kooevux(Chicago Botanic Garden)
A one-person show designed for students in third through eighth grades, “A Game Apart” conveys the triumphs and tragedies of being Jackie Robinson. The All-Star athlete integrated Major League Baseball but, off the field, grappled with the miseries of American racism. 2 p.m. April 9 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. $16. http://tinyurl.com/k5jn5bs(Chris Charles for Creative Silence)
The ever-inventive House Theatre of Chicago presents its muscular adaptation of the ultimate American classic: L. Frank Baum’s original “Oz” book (written in Chicago!). This version, geared for a more mature audience of kids 10 and older, follows Dorothy through Oz as she steps into her role as Witch Slayer. Through May 7 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St. $30-$45. http://tinyurl.com/hpr68vt(Delicious Design League)
Call it a seesaw, call it a teeter-totter — by any name, you’re also going to call it lots of fun. This new art installation from Toronto gives people of all ages and sizes the chance to climb aboard one of 15 giant diagonal structures. They all light up and make sound, controlled by users’ repetition and rhythm. Come and play on the pier! The interactive “Impulse” exhibit is installed outdoors, so dress for the weather. Through May 21 at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave. Free. http://tinyurl.com/loqd9xz(Heidi Ziegler Photography)
Big dogs and little dogs, black dogs and white dogs — and of course, snazzy hats and party trees! Sound familiar? The generational touchstone of P.D. Eastman’s classic early-readers book comes to life in a musical adaptation. Northwestern University’s geared-for-families Imagine U series concludes for the season with this canine party. April 14-23 (with a special “relaxed” performance April 23, for audience members with autism or other sensory issues) at Mussetter-Struble Theater, 1949 Campus Drive, Evanston. $10, $8 for kids 17 and under. http://tinyurl.com/mpvs3x2(Imagine U)
The animals run wild when Farmer Brown goes on a well-deserved vacation, leaving his brother Bob, an accountant from the city, in charge. With typing cows, protesting hens and a duck bent on mayhem, can Brother Bob return order to the farm? Find out in this playful, musical adaptation of the 2002 New York Times best-seller by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. through April 23. Note, there will be no show Easter Sunday, April 16. Tickets $40, students with ID $20. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. http://tinyurl.com/h2b8bka(Kelsey Jorissen)
On May 12, sleep in the shadow of Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum! Families spend the night in one of the museum’s exhibitions and adventure with Field Museum scientists after-dark, even explore the “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibit by flashlight. Last sleepover of the season, for families with children ages 6-12, $60 per person, registration required. Field Museum 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive http://tinyurl.com/z7h89h3(Johnny Knight / Field Museum)
Have kids who love to get their hands dirty? Let them explore nature as part of Nature Nuts at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Starting at 10 a.m. and geared toward children 2-3 years old, this hourlong program uses interactive activities with live animals. Sign up for a four-week course for $70, which includes child and caregiver, or a single day class Wednesdays for $20. Registration is required. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum 2430 N. Cannon Drive http://tinyurl.com/zyontsk(Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)
Get your little ones grooving every weekend thanks to Beat Kitchen’s jammin’ Concerts for Kids series, featuring a wide range of kindie artists. Most of the performers are local, including the Dreamtree Shakers (pictured, performing March 26), The Young Stracke All-Stars (April 9) and Mary Macaroni (April 30). The series runs Sundays through May 21 before taking a summer break; there’s also a special Saturday show, April 8, celebrating the “Home Earth” CD release by Wendy and DB. At Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave. $6 in advance, $7 at door. http://tinyurl.com/jaurwe3(Dreamtree Shakers)
“Up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear”: Go ahead and hum the classic “Mary Poppins” song (“Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) while you head to this high-flying annual affair. Look for free paper-kite kits to build and decorate, or opt to buy a fancier kite. There’s fun on the grass, too, like face painting and crafts — but all eyes will be on the skies, especially when The Big Kite Candy Drop happens. And yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like! 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 7 at Cricket Hill, east of Lake Shore Drive between Wilson and Montrose avenues. Free. http://tinyurl.com/mtobogh(City of Chicago)
Introduce little ones (ages 3-5) to the symphony with this inventive program. A small CSO ensemble teams up with Chicago Children’s Theatre to tell the German folk tale about four animals, fired from their farm jobs, who aspire to become musicians instead. Arrive 45 minutes early for pre-show activities, and linger afterward to meet the musicians — and their instruments too. 10 and 11:45 a.m. April 8 and May 13 at Symphony Center’s Buntrock Hall, 220 S. Michigan Ave. $17. http://tinyurl.com/gmwjws2(Todd Rosenberg)
“Culture vulture” doesn’t have to be just a term of grown-ups. Thanks to the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, toddlers can enjoy a wide range of inventive music, dance and theater too. Highlights of the spring slots in the ongoing Juicebox series (before it takes a summer hiatus) include a celebration of West African dance (April 7-8); bilingual language-skills band Future Hits (May 5-6); and an interactive dance-along party thrown by Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band (May 19-20). Friday performances at Chicago Cultural Center (Preston Bradley Hall), 78 E. Washington St.; Saturday performances at Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave. Free. http://tinyurl.com/z6gjq9p(City of Chicago)
If your kid’s dreams include catching a ball on the outfield of a real MLB stadium, the annual Sox Field Day is a don’t miss. In addition to playing inside Guaranteed Rate Field (let’s all overlook the undignified new name), families can visit the dugouts and bullpens and tour the White Sox clubhouse. Kids also can elect to get pitching and hitting lessons from Bulls/Sox Academy instructors. Sign up for one of three times: 10:45 a.m., noon or 1:15 p.m. Meanwhile, check out the “garage sale” of autographed memorabilia and team-issued apparel, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It all happens June 10 at Guaranteed Rate Field, 333 W. 35th St. Ticket prices TBA (last year’s were $30, $12 for kids 13 and under). http://tinyurl.com/k37bn69(Chicago White Sox)
Typically, the Art Institute closes at 5 p.m., but Thursdays are special. Illinois residents get free admission after 5 p.m. You can explore historic works of art, including James McNeill Whistler’s “Whistler’s Mother” (pictured) –which is on loan from a Paris museum until May 21. Kids can also see AIC’s Modern Wing, which features eclectic pieces from artists such as Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono. Open until 8 p.m. Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. http://tinyurl.com/7ow9llc(Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)
Models don’t get any cooler — or much more ambitious — than the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s sprawling version of the Loop (and near North, West and South sides), which scales 4 square miles down to 320 square feet. Containing 1,000 3-D structures, the Chicago Model takes up a large portion of the Railway Exchange Building’s spacious lobby. Walking around the model, checking out all the features of downtown Chicago, is a cool experience for all ages — and the kids might learn something about legendary city planner Daniel Burnham too. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at the headquarters of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave. Free. http://tinyurl.com/m8vwzam(Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)
The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and the Gene Siskel Film Center present The Best of the Black Harvest Film Festival on May 17 starting at 6 p.m. Celebrating films from the festival’s past, the Garfield Park Conservatory will be showing “Crescendo! The Power of Music,” which explores the effects of Jose Antonio Abreu’s El Sistema music education program in Philadelphia and Harlem on three gifted students whose talents don’t necessarily help rid them of their problems. Refreshments will be served, and Black Harvest Film Festival consultant and “Shadow and Act” senior writer Sergio Mims will be in attendance for a post-film discussion. Free. Garfield Park Conservatory , 300 N. Central Park Ave. http://tinyurl.com/j3e8kkr(Crescendo: The Power of Music)
The big event of August will be the total solar eclipse cutting a diagonal path across the United States — but you can get ready for it now, thanks to the Adler’s new exhibit. “Chasing Eclipses” deftly describes the sun-and-moon science of the eclipse, explains why a total eclipse is so rare and shows where you have to be Aug. 21 to see it. (Chicago will get 90% totality; to experience the eerie daytime twilight of the full eclipse, you’ll have to head south to Carbondale.) Exhibit highlights for older kids and adults include a display of astronomical devices from previous centuries; meanwhile, all ages can get busy in the hands-on learning lab making pinhole “cameras.” Ongoing through the summer at the Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, $12, $8 for kids 3-11. http://tinyurl.com/knqoft6(Adler Planetarium)
Have you ever wanted to explore Adler Planetarium in your pajamas after dark while solving an alien mystery? With Astro-Overnights, you can do all that and more! On June 2, kids and guardians spending the night at the museum can partake in various programs, sky shows and unlimited access to all of the planetarium’s exhibitions and experiences. Late night snack and continental breakfast the next morning are included. For $11 per person more, you can also have dinner waiting for you when you arrive. Registration is required in advance, and discounted rates are available for groups of 15 or more. Overnight (5 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Saturday) is $60 per person, while an “evening only” (5:30–11 pm) for those who can’t spend the night is $30 per person. For $70 per person, you and your group can sleep under the stars in the planetarium’s Grainger Sky Theater. Adler Planetarium 1300 S. Lakeshore Drive. http://tinyurl.com/hlkdpkr(Adler Planetarium)
Unless you’re squeamish about looking death in the eye, you’ll find plenty to fascinate and educate in this new exhibit from The Field. Curators have opened a window into the museum’s vast collections, displaying some of the more than 30 million (wow!) specimens that are not on display. (It’s not all fish, birds and mammals; precious rocks and meteorites are included too.) Learn about how these specimens help scientists increase the scope of human knowledge and wonder, through early 2018 at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. Free general admission for all Illinois residents. http://tinyurl.com/kun43r4(Field Museum)
Going grocery shopping has never been so fun for little ones, especially if there’s the promise of music and dancing afterward. The Whole Foods in Lincoln Park offers free Bubbles Academy children’s concerts every Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. with Miss Alexis, who incorporates guitar and ukulele in her performances. Parents and caregivers are expected to accompany their children. Whole Foods, 1550 N. Kingsbury St. http://tinyurl.com/jem232h(Bubbles Academy)
Two-time Midwest League champions, the Kane County Cougars have a strong record of sending players up to the major leagues. You can catch this season’s up-and-coming athletes all spring and summer long at their home park in Geneva. Opening day is April 6; family promotions start later, including the Family Four-Pack Fireworks Friday, twice a month beginning May 19. Get four reserved seat tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas and one giant bag of popcorn. May 19 and 26 (plus June 16 and 30, July 14 and 28, and Aug. 11 and 18) at Northwestern Medicine Field, 34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva. $39 for the four-pack; $9.75 for each additional ticket (includes hot dog and soda). http://tinyurl.com/l2vdorp(Kane County Cougars)
Beginning at 9:30 a.m. April 16, the hunt is on! Pinstripes Bowling is hosting an Easter egg hunt for kids who will receive special prizes for their finds. Baskets are $5; proceeds go to American Cancer Society. The bowling alley and bistro is also hosting an Easter brunch that kids and parents can enjoy after working up an appetite egg hunting. Reservations are also required for the brunch, which is a buffet and includes a photo opportunity with the Easter Bunny. For brunch, $34 for adults (includes one mimosa), $15 for kids ages 6-12, kids 5 and under are free. Pinstripes Bowling Chicago 435 E. Illinois St.; Easter egg hunt also at Northbrook, South Barrington and Oak Brook locations. http://tinyurl.com/hzojsra(Pinstripes Bowling)
Introduce a new generation to a musical menagerie when last decade’s hit Dreamworks film gets the musical-stage treatment. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and, of course, the penguin crew come to the burbs, thanks to Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences. Catch a YouTube preview here. Tuesdays to Sundays through April 15 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. $17.23. http://tinyurl.com/hd5ogqa(Amy Boyle / Amy Boyle Photography)
Now in its sixth year, this clever DIY short-film festival celebrates books — specifically, Newbery-honored children’s books. The brainchild of local author James Kennedy, the festival solicits digital-video shorts — adapting beloved stories, such as “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Westing Game” — from budding young filmmakers (and, in some cases, their lit-loving parents). Hosted by Kennedy and fellow author Keir Graff, the annual event is gratis, but advance registration is strongly recommended. Helping steer kids back to the printed word after the screening, Oak Park’s indie Book Table will be on hand to sell some award-winning titles. 3-5 p.m. April 1 at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St. Free. http://tinyurl.com/keexu5s(90-Second Newbery)
Learn your way around the great outdoors — including the valuable skills of map-reading and compass navigation — at this series of half-day classes in three different Cook County Forest Preserves. Geared for kids 8 and up, the three-hour sessions teach basic orientation skills before the group hikes the woods to test out new talents. Call ahead to register (312-415-2970). 9 a.m. to noon April 1 at Deer Grove, 1650 N. Quentin Road, Palatine; 1-4 p.m. April 9 at Bemis Woods South, 1100 Ogden Ave., Western Springs; and 9 a.m. to noon April 15 at Wolf Road Woods, 9800 Wolf Road, Willow Springs. Free.(Forest Preserve District of Cook County)
Ask any kid, “Wanna celebrate the change of seasons by making a gorgeous mess?” and we bet the answer will be “yes!” In this ancient Hindu ritual, friends and strangers fling colored powder at one another to welcome spring. Wear old clothes, and seal your phone in a plastic bag before venturing out. (Don’t worry, the starch-based colors are safe. You buy them at the event; no other powders are permitted.) Holi officially took place in India and Nepal in early March, but the local Simply Vedic Cultural Society celebrates in downtown Naperville in April, presumably banking on warmer weather. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 8 at the Grand Pavilion Riverwalk, 500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville. Free admission; $2 “donation” per bag for colored flour. http://tinyurl.com/2a2pvo2(Vedic Cultural Society)
Celebrate National Poetry Month on April 1 with this shindig, specifically for families with kids 13 and under. In addition to getting youth excited about poetry, the event also celebrates Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who would have turned 100 this year. Joffrey Ballet’s Community Engagement students perform a special dance in Brooks’ honor, while the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Poetry Foundation Library offer scavenger hunts, writing activities, craft time and more. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior St. Free. http://tinyurl.com/mexsa5w(Oscar Arriola)
Dive into the Dells
Nearly 200 miles away, Wisconsin Dells takes a bit longer to get to than the other destinations. But odds are the kids won’t complain about the extra drive time if it means spending a few days in the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World.
The sprawling Wilderness Resort with its wide range of offerings makes it an especially good bet for tweens and teens. If you also have younger kids in tow, check out the new “room escape” attraction for families with children ages 4-10. Located at Wilderness on the Lake, the circus-themed room escape debuted in March. Groups up to six people have 30 minutes to look for clues, solve puzzles and make their escape. (Wilderness already has two other room escapes geared toward older kids.) Pricing for the new room is $18.95, or $13.95 if you’re staying at Wilderness.
As of press time, the resort had rooms for four guests (including water park admission) listed as low as $110 for select days in April.
Another Dells water park resort, Great Wolf Lodge, is celebrating Spring-a-Palooza through April 16 with a whole bunch of complimentary programs and activities, like scavenger hunts, afternoon picnics and educational “wolf walks” all taking place in the main lobby. Save up to 30 percent off room rates with the code MOREFUN when booking online for two or more nights.
Wilderness Resort, 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, Wis. 800-867-9453, www.wildernessresort.com.
Great Wolf Lodge, 1400 Great Wolf Drive, Wisconsin Dells, Wis. 800-559-9653, www.greatwolf.com/wisconsin-dells.