Local museums step up their programming in the fall, appealing to families looking for something to do when days turn cold or rainy. Whether your kids are interested in animals, movies or books, or you're just hoping to stir their imaginations, you'll want to check out these new exhibits.
"Animal Secrets" at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, (773) 755-5100; naturemuseum.org
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price: $9; $6 for kids ages 3-12
The 5,000-square-foot exhibit, which opened Sept. 21, teaches visitors about the lives and habitats of forest animals through a mix of interactive elements and displays. Kids can play in a giant eagle's nest, step on squishy ground resembling a marsh and handle animal bones and skulls. Tanks with live animals are displayed at kid-height so they can check out darters, tiny fish that chase each other across the gravel at the bottom of the tank, and the curious garter snake that likes watching visitors.
"This gives kids an opportunity to really develop empathy for the other neighbors in their neighborhood, those neighbors being everything from bats to squirrels to fish," said Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology.
A map in the exhibit shows different places nearby where visitors could go see the natural habitats of the animals they've learned about.
"We want everybody to come here and visit the exhibit, but at the same time we also want them to take what they learn and apply it every day of their lives and go outside," Sullivan said. "This isn't some crazy African savanna that most of our visitors aren't going to see. This focuses on species and environments that everybody has the opportunity to visit and enjoy."
"Storyland: A Trip Through Childhood Favorites at Kohl Children's Museum"
2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, (847) 832-6600; kohlchildrensmuseum.org
When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Monday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; through Jan. 6, 2014
This traveling exhibit created by the Minnesota Children's Museum landed at Kohl on Oct. 1, giving young visitors the chance to step into the worlds they've read about in books. Kids can harvest vegetables and play in Peter Rabbit's burrow, make noise with steel drums from "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" and see the world from a mouse's point of view by interacting with large props based on "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." There's even a section geared toward pre-reading skills for babies and young toddlers based on the "Where's Spot?" board books.
"Reading and language skills, communications skills, labeling, comprehension -- all of those skills are so important in almost everything you do," said Kohl's president and CEO Sheridan Turner. "One of the richest things you can do for your young child is read a story to them or with them."
The museum has also opened a pair of reading-based permanent exhibits this month. Storywalk lets kids visit 19 stations around the museum's two-acre outdoor park, reading pages from a story at each stop. The stories will periodically change but the first one, about a bear's adventures, has quickly become a hit.
"What we've already seen is children want to do the story again and again, so they're running around and by the end they're tuckered out," Turner said.
Inside, the museum's play library has been transformed into Sheridan's Books and Crannies, a space where kids can climb into nooks and read by themselves or with their parents. The space also hosts regular storytelling sessions geared toward visitors of all ages.
"It's just as important for the mom to sit there with her baby and enjoy as it for an 8-year-old," Turner said. "They just get different things out of it."
"Treasures of the Walt Disney Archive" at the Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, (773) 684-1414; msichicago.org
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; Oct. 16 through Feb. 17, 2014
Price: $27, $18 for kids ages 3-11
The Museum of Science and Industry designed this exhibit, which opens Oct. 16, to teach visitors of all ages about the technological innovations Walt Disney pioneered.
"In the museum, we find stories to tell about inspiration and people doing great things," said David Woody, director of design and exhibit development. "This story really embodies that kind of can-do spirit."
Before Disney, animation was mostly used for advertisements. The motion picture industry was new itself, and Walt Disney was interested in pushing its limits. He's responsible for the first animated film with sound and the invention of animatronics, the storyboard and a camera that allowed animation to have depth. He also created the television miniseries, popularized nature documentaries and designed the modern theme park.
"The word reinvent comes up a lot with Walt Disney," Woody said. "He wasn't happy with the status quo."
The exhibit is packed with 300 artifacts spanning 90 years from the beginning of Disney's career to the company today, including some items that are rarely displayed or have never been seen by the public before. You can see props and costumes from "Mary Poppins," an 8-foot-long model of the Nautilus from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and a mask from the original Broadway production of "The Lion King." Younger kids can build their own Disney castle from a giant magnetic board and play with apps that show how digital animation is done. Visitors of all ages can try drawing one of their favorite characters with the help of a Disney-trained animator.
"It doesn't matter if you're 5 years old or 105 years old," Woody said. "Everyone does this amazing drawing."