A Free Evening at the Art Institute of Chicago with Kids


art institute free evening

Our family recently took advantage of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago on a free night and it was such a fun experience. We’ve visited other museums on free days and I’ve found these days to typically be overcrowded, making for a less than enjoyable outing. This night, however, could not have been more pleasant as the line to get in was relatively short and quick moving, along with plenty of room to roam and explore once inside.

European Art
We covered a good amount of ground during the 5-8pm window that is offered for free on Thursday nights. Our kids were excited to check out some of the artists’ work that they had learned about in school so naturally we started there. We headed to the Impressionism area to see some of the famous Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh pieces along with other European art.  It was neat to hear our kids eagerly share what they knew about different art techniques like pointillism and look at varying color hues and palettes together.

Other Collections for Kids
After covering most of the European art section, we strolled through several other different collections…Modern American, Asian, Greek and Contemporary. The kids were starting to tire at this point so we headed for the terrace to get a little fresh air and check out the amazing view of the city. Refreshed and rejuvenated, we headed to see the beautiful colors and patterns of Chagall’s stained glass windows and the Paperweights collection.

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Thorne Miniature Rooms Exhibit
We finished up our evening at the Art Institute at the highly anticipated Thorne Miniature Rooms. I remember also loving these dollhouse-like rooms as a kid! My eldest daughter has recently become interested in architecture so she was enamored with all 68 of the tiny rooms that were re-created after household interiors from centuries ago. It’s truly a unique collection of treasures to check out at any age, whether you’re a dollhouse enthusiast or not.

Family Programming for Kids of All Ages
For some reason, our trip to the Art Institute felt long overdue. We waited before taking our kids there until they were eight and ten years old, thinking that it would not offer enough hands-on activities for little ones like the Museum of Science & Industry and the Field Museum. Although it was definitely worth the wait, I can now understand how the Art Institute would also appeal to younger children. There are all sorts of workshops that range from toddler to tween age that sound wonderful. Keep in mind that advance registration is required for these and they are all offered on Saturdays during the day only (not on free nights).

Artist’s Studio for Kids
There is also an Artist’s Studio, where children can drop in and work on art projects to take home with them without any pre-registration. The Artist’s Studio is only open until 5pm daily so this is another option that is not available during their free nights. While children under 14 are always free, the regular admission rate for adults who are Illinois residents costs $22 per person.

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Getting There
Our method of transportation to the museum was to drive and park close to my husband’s work in the West Loop. It was a short Uber ride from there which the kids loved. You could also take the train into Union Station and hop in a cab from there, or just drive and park in a metered spot on Columbus Drive (a few blocks away), or in the Millennium/Grant Park garages.

Kid-Friendly Dining
We chose to go for a late dinner in the city after our time at the Art Institute, but if your family prefers to eat on-site, there are plenty of options. The most kid-friendly choice seems to be the Museum Cafe, which offers a kids menu, but there is also Cafe Moderno which offers quick soup/sandwich/sweets selections and also coffee/tea.

Helpful Links
For more information on planning a visit to the Art Institute with your family, click here. There is also a great Kidlist article about visiting with a toddler that you can reference here. For school-aged children who fall in love with the Thorne Miniature Rooms, we were recently given a book recommendation which ties in perfectly called “The Sixty-Eight Rooms” by Marianne Malone. Learn more about the book here. We are definitely looking forward to our next trip!

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Free Thursday Evenings
General admission to the Art Institute is free to Illinois residents every Thursday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. throughout the year.

About the Author

Jill Borkowicz
Jill is thrilled to be sharing her insight and knowledge of local fun on Kidlist! As an Oak Park native, Jill and her husband settled in La Grange Park in 2007 and couldn’t be happier with the community they call home. Raising two lovely daughters, ages 8 and 10, Jill is always on the lookout for cool things to do as a family. She is passionate about yummy food, an organized abode, creative entertaining, frugal finds, travel adventures, a healthy spirit, and overall family fun. Jill’s favorite wintertime activity with the fam? Ice skating followed by hot chocolate! Summertime family favorite? Long pool days with friends that end with a BBQ!

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