Best Free Things to Do With Kids This Winter

Posted: December 05, 2017

There are dozens of ways to have fun this winter, for FREE. From music to nature to outdoors to museums, here's the big list of FREE events and activities to get you through the Chicago winter.

Juicebox Concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St., Chicago
With engaging music and dance in a kid-friendly setting, the free admission Juicebox programs are geared toward the stroller set and enjoyable for the whole family. Concerts take place on the first and third Fridays and Saturdays of the month, at the Chicago Cultural Center and at Garfield Park Conservatory. Mandala South Asian Performing Arts performs at 11-11:45am on Friday, December 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center and Saturday December 2 at 11am at Garfield Park Conservatory. And Mariachi Tradición JuvenilMariachi Tradición Juvenil performs at 11-11:45am on Friday, December 15 at the Chicago Cultural Center and Saturday December 16 at 11am at Garfield Park Conservatory. 2018 Concerts will be posted on the web site.

Bubbles Academy at Whole Foods Lincoln Park
1550 N. Kingsbury Street, Chicago
Come on out to Whole Foods Lincoln Park and enjoy a free show every Wednesday and Thursday morning at 10am. The creative teachers from nearby Bubbles Academy will on be on stage, entertaining kids in a half hour of exciting songs and stories. This event is a favorite for lots of moms and kids and always draws a crowd. Kids can dance and sing along with their favorite songs, and then shop at this enormous Whole Foods to help mom pick out some great snacks to take home.

Brookfield Zoo Free Admission Days
First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield
Admission to Brookfield Zoo is FREE on Tuesdays and Thursdays through December 29. (Parking is $10/car, $15/bus.) Stroll the zoo and see how the animals spend their winter days. Visit Tropic World, Habitat Africa, the Fragile Desert, the Australia House and more. Free Tuesdays and Thursdays start up again in January and February, plus Saturdays and Sundays will be free as well.

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago
Garfield Park Conservatory offers a number of free family programs throughout the Winter months. Monday mornings from 10am - noon, drop in for Morning Glories, fun interactive activities that encourage children's curiosity about the natural world. Wednesdays from 4-7pm, stop in for Wild Wednesdays where kids will be exploring nature, getting hands dirty and discovering new things about plants, animals and nature. And weekends from 10-4pm, drop in for Fiddleheads to explore the natural world through the lenses of biology, anthropology, art, and history.

Cross Country Skiing at Heller Nature Center
2821 Ridge Road, Highland Park
Heller Nature Center offers some free family programs and outdoor activities. Heller has 3 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, free for use with your own skiis, or you may rent skis based on a daily rental fee.

Wildwood Nature Center
529 Forestview Avenue, Park Ridge
In winter, visit the Animal Exhibit Room and see over 35 animals including mice, ball pythons, corn snake, rabbit, guinea pig, alligators, snapping turtles, iguana and more. On Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:30am and 3:30pm kids can learn about their favorite animals during feeding time. And every Saturday at 10:15am is Critter Connection, where kids can get close to a Wildwood animal during a short presentation.

Crabtree Nature Center Wee Wanderer Wednesdays
3 Stover Road, Barrington
Crabtree Nature Center offers an exhibit building that opens to to several miles of self-guiding trails where guests can explore nature habitats year-round. On select Wednesday mornings, bring your little naturalists for a parent/caregiver and tot program for children ages 2 – 6. Weather permitting, time will be spent outdoors, so dress for the weather. Space is limited and tickets are available on a first come, first served basis starting at 9:30am. See web site for schedule.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Free Thursdays
2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
Thursdays, admission is free for Illinois residents with a suggested donation. Get up close and personal with butterflies, search for stick bugs camouflaged on a twig, see small animals and walk along the outdoor nature path.

North Park Village Nature Center
5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago
This 46-acre nature preserve and educational facility offers trails that wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna. Kids can get hands-on with nature in the discovery room, handling natural objects and learning with interactive displays.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
Stroll through Lincoln Park Zoo and take in the brilliance of this annual fun, free, family-oriented holiday celebration, featuring luminous displays and holiday-season activities throughout zoo grounds. November 24–26, December 1–3, 8–23, 26–31 and January 1–7 with hours from 4:30 - 9pm.

Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza
November 17 - December 24 50 W. Washington Plaza, Chicago
Christkindlmarket Chicago is a holiday market that brings a cherished German and European tradition with international flair and local charm to Chicago. The unique shopping experience, typical German food and drinks, as well as diverse holiday entertainment make the Christkindlmarket Chicago a preferred and popular destination. Children can enjoy live entertainment and activities. Markets also take place in Naperville and at Park Wrigley this year.

Caroling at Cloud Gate
Millennium Park at The Bean, N. Michigan Ave. & E. Randolph St., Chicago
Fridays from November 24 - December 15. Bundle up and get ready to belt out some holiday classics at these festive events that are part concert, part sing-along as local Chicago choral groups lead hundreds of celebrants in song. Choral groups include Leo High School Choir on November 24; Merit Conservatory Choir on December 1; The Voices of Acme Choir (VOA) on December 8; and Broadway in Chicago on December 15.

Twelfth Night
Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Dr., Chicago
The title of the play refers to the "twelfth night of Christmas," and some historians believe the play was originally written and performed for the holiday. Twelfth Night takes the audience to Illyria, where a shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as a boy to work for the Duke Orsino. She promptly falls in love with him, who in turn loves the fair lady Olivia. Misunderstandings and misplaced love abound in this delightful comedy. This is a free production, with donations gratefully accepted. Reservations are recommended due to limited seating. Playing Thursdays – Sundays at 7:30 PM.

Home for the Holidays
Downtown Oak Park at Lake and Marion Streets
December 16, 11am - 3pm. Catch the old-fashioned holiday spirit in Downtown Oak Park! Celebrate the season with free horse-drawn sleigh rides, a visit from Santa Claus, and a special showing at Lake Theatre.Visit web site for schedule of the day's free activities.

Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park
337 E. Randolph St., Chicago
With the City's skyline as a backdrop, this ribbon of ice that winds through a rolling landscape provides an ice skating experience unlike any other. The skating ribbon creates a multisensory activity that is integrated into the landscape where skaters can experience "alpine in the city" as they follow a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. Complementing the ribbon are places to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and rent skates. Admission free, rentals $12 Monday - Thurs, $14 Fri-Sun and holidays. Open late November through March, see web site for exact dates.

Polar Adventure Days at Northerly Island
1400 S. Lynn White Dr., Chicago
Explore the outdoors at Northerly Island during winter and come face-to-face with birds of prey, huskies, and wolves; learn the science behind snow formations; discover native Illinois animals; create winter themed art and enjoy music from a local band. Snow permitting, try snowshoeing, and enjoy hot chocolate. Events take place December 16, January 20 and February 24 from noon-4pm.

Sledding Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor
601 W. Montrose Drive, Chicago
This is the hill with a view, right on the lakefront and offering vistas looking onto Lake Michigan and Montrose Harbor. It's a 360 degree hill, so kids can slide down whatever side they choose, which means more sledding and less waiting. Dress warm and use the restroom before you come, as there are no restrooms or warming spots nearby.

Sledding at Montgomery Ward Park
630 N. Kingsbury St., Chicago
This relatively new, cozy park is in the River North neighborhood right along the river at Erie Street and little ones can sled the easy hill here. You'll be close to plenty of restaurants in this neighborhood so you can warm up and fill up when you're done.

Sledding at Rotary Hill
441 Aurora Ave., Naperville
The Riverwalk Sled Hill at Rotary Hill provides fun for the entire family. Sledders should bring their own inner tubes or plastic sleds - wooden sleds and metal-runner sleds are not permitted. The sled hill is open until 9pm Sundays - Thursdays, and 10pm on Fridays and Saturday.

The Field Museum Free Days
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
There's a lot going on at The Field Museum, and you can enjoy it for no charge on special free days, where general admission for Illinois residents is free. Kids will enjoy the Museum's permanent and temporary exhibits and the Crown Family PlayLab, a place where kids can dig in, dress up, and explore and grow. Winter free days include January 3, 4, 15, 27, 28; and February 1-28.

Smart Museum of Art Free Family Programs
5550 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago
The Smart offers a variety of drop-in family programs featuring hands-on art activities, gallery games, and other fun projects. Each drop-in program features hands-on art activities and tours that encourage children and parents to engage in some creative looking. Winter events include Blankets, Banners and Flags on December 2; Dinner (and Tea) Party! on January 6; True Blue on February 3; and Color Fields on March 3.

Target Free Family Night at Chicago Children's Museum
Navy Pier - 700 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago
Thursday evenings from 5-8pm, families can enjoy free admission; and Sundays kids under 15 are free. The Chicago Children's Museum is a special place of education, exploration, stimulation and delight for children and adults. Some current exhibits include Snow Much Fun, Tinkering Lab, Skyline, Dinosaur Expedition, WaterWays, Kovler Family Climbing Schooner and more.

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington Street, Chicago
This building is breathtaking in beauty, and families can visit simply to take in the stunning mosaics, marbles and architectural wonders. Even more fun is a visit when there's great family entertainment taking place. The center hosts hundreds of artists, musicians and performers year-round, with activities not only for adults but for families as well. Visit the web site for a schedule of family friendly performances and activities.

The Oriental Institute Free Family Programs
1155 E. 58th St., Chicago
The University of Chicago's Oriental Institute offers a variety of low cost and free programs throughout the winter months. Free Family Programs this winter include What's Up King Tut? for ages 5-12 on January 20; and Persian Nowruz Celebration on March 10. Registration recommended for these programs.

Downers Grove Museum
831 Maple Avenue, Downers Grove
Step across the threshold of the Blodgett House for a glimpse of the past. Enter a bygone era when families rested on fainting couches instead of recliners, stored food in iceboxes instead of refrigerators, and entertained themselves with parlor games instead of cyber games. Kids will find a treasure trove of fascinating facts and fun, and can view the museum collections that include everything from buttonhooks to butter paddles, washboards to wedding dresses, and baby frocks to clocks.

Museum of Contemporary Art Family Days
220 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago
The MCA documents contemporary visual culture through painting, sculpture, photography, video and film, and performance. The MCA has brought back its monthly free family programs, with upcoming events on December 9 and January 13. Enjoy free admission while taking part in workshops, open studio sessions, gallery tours, and performances, all designed and led by Chicago artists. January 13 Family Day will feature workshops led by artists Billy McGuinness and William Estrada. Free for all youth 18 and under, and adults with children 12 and younger.

Des Plaines History Center
781 Pearson Street, Des Plaines
The Des Plaines History Center offers tours of the restored 1906-07 Kinder House. Kids can learn what a stereo viewer is, how to work a boot jack, and why 1907 light fixtures used both gas and electricity. The experience during this interactive tour features hands-on objects that kids can try out for themselves. Tours are available upon request during History Center open hours, Tuesdays-Fridays, 10am-5pm, and Sundays, 1-4pm.

Chicago Women's Park & Gardens Indoor Play Space
1802 S. Indiana Ave., Chicago
This free, indoor playground offers multi-level play apparatus, a toddler climbing wall, play house and other features to keep your little ones busy during the cold winter months. Open play hours available Monday - Saturday, visit web site for current hours.

Tree House Court at Northbrook Court
2171 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook
This play area is a great spot for kids to take a break after they've accompanied you on your errands. The big treehouse in the middle is a huge attraction, and kids can climb up the tree and then slide down the big slide. The play area is gated in so you can have a seat on one of the many benches and relax while your little ones run off some energy.

Gurnee Mills Children's Play Area
6170 W Grand Ave, Gurnee
This play space at the huge Gurnee Mills mall lets little ones run and play in a Chicago themed play area, with mini versions of some of the city's most famous landmarks and building. Kids can walk across the Michigan Avenue Bridge, check out the Willis Tower and even take a ride in a Chicago-style hotdog.

Crafty Sundays, Family Game Night and Pokemon
1112 W. Madison St., Chicago
Cat & Mouse offers a free drop-in craft event on Sundays from 10am - 12pm, taking place weekely starting December 31. Kids ages 3-8 and their parents can stop in to make something fun together. Tuesdays at 5:30pm is game night, where all are invited to play games from our library or bring their own games. Saturday mornings are beginner Pokemon lessons from 10-10:30am, followed by Pokemon League from 10:30am-noon.

Home Depot Free Kids Workshops
Home Depot stores
On the first Saturday of each month from 9pm - noon, Home Depot stores offer free workshops for kids ages 5-12. Kids will take part in fun projects like building toolboxes, fire trucks and mail organizers, learning do-it-yourself skills and tool safety. Participants receive a kid-sized orange apron and an achievement pin. Registration is suggested.

Mariano's Free Family Events
All Mariano's Locations
All Mariano's locations offer free weekend crafts and activities for kids, with events like cereal necklace making, Tales for Tots, and activities related to current holidays. Visit the web site and select your local store to see what free events are taking place near you.

Dave's Rock Shop
704 Main St., Evanston
Dave's Rock Shop has something for everyone, with more than just rocks. The shop is filled with all kids of stones and gems, fossils, crystals, shells, jewelry and Native American finds. Kids can visit the fossil museum in the basement, and entertain themselves at the rock table while you shop for unique jewelry (that part is NOT free!)

Abt Electronics
1200 N. Milwaukee, Glenview
You probably think of TVs and washing machines when you think of Abt, but they've collected an assortment of attractions to keep kids enthralled while parents shop. Check out the Bubble Machine, where one pull of the cord activates a huge ring that encases kids (or adults) in a huge bubble. The interactive butterfly attraction projects your shadow onto a screen where hundreds of "butterflies" surround you and land all over you. Kids will be entranced by the giant Mousetrap sculpture, watching a ball journey through an intricate maze with engaging sights and sounds. Plus there's a water fountain that dances to music, a 7,500 gallon fish tank with fish and eel, a large bronze sculpture of Humpty Dumpty and more.

Old Town Aquarium and Wells Street
1538 North Wells Street, Chicago
Little ones are easily entertained in this kid-friendly aquarium store, with dozens of tanks and displays. Your little ones can get up close to hundreds of beautiful fish and sea life, and see stunning corals, starfish, snails, sea cucumbers and many more exotic water residents.

Children's Storytime at Open Books Store
651 W. Lake St., Chicago
Stop by for a children's storytime for kids of all ages at 10 am every Thursday and Saturday for a storytime in the children's section of this West Loop store.

Sing Along with Mr. Singer
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
Sing Along with Mr. Singer delights young audiences with silly songs and tall tales every Wednesday and Friday at 9:15 and 10 a.m. at the Main Barn in Lincoln Park Zoo's Farm-in-the-Zoo. Join Mr. Singer as he performs original songs while the wee ones dance and sing along. This joyful jamboree features animal songs and dances for children ages 6 and younger accompanied by a caregiver.

Storytime at Webster Place Barnes & Noble
1441 West Webster Avenue, Chicago
The Webster Place Barnes & Noble hold story times on most Wednesdays at 10am and Saturdays at 11am. A Barnes & Noble bookseller reads new and classic stories and leads kids in some fun activities. Check the web site for specific dates.

Maker Lab at Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State Street, Chicago
The Maker Lab, Chicago’s first free and publicly accessible maker space, is on the 3rd floor of Harold Washington Library Center. The Maker Lab features introductory workshops and open shop for personal projects and collaboration. Visitors are encouraged to explore the full range of making, both high-tech and hands-on.

Living History Demonstrations
Isle a la Cache Museum, 501 E. Romeo Road, Romeoville
Experience history up close and personal! On the first Sunday of each month, you may find cooks, seamstresses, voyageurs, soldiers or craftsmen sharing their talents. The Isle a la Cache Brigade is a volunteer group of re-enactors presenting a sample of the 18th-century fur trading life. In February and March we offer new themed demonstrations - In February, the theme is winter transportation of the 18th century, and March’s theme is 18th-century fashion, with a fashion show at 1 p.m. Depending on the weather, this program is offered indoors or outside. Indoor facilities are accessible; outdoor activities may take place on uneven terrain.