New Jane Goodall Exhibit + Your Guide to Visiting the Field Museum

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Visiting the Field Museum always feels like a large-scale adventure: walking up the huge white steps, leaving the lakeview and skyline to enter the echoing, impossibly tall main hall where hanging gardens and flying dinosaurs fill the air. Recently, we went to learn about a scientist known for her work studying chimpanzees in the wild (and someone my daughter idolizes!): Dr. Jane Goodall.

What to Expect at the Field Museum’s Jane Goodall Exhibit

Just off the main floor hall, Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall follows Dr. Goodall’s life from childhood, where a love of science grew when she observed hens laying eggs. Her original stuffed monkey and copies of books she enjoyed as a child are on display. It takes visitors through her study of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania and into the present day efforts of the Jane Goodall Institute’s activism and advocacy for the earth.

The space is dark and quiet with kiosks and structures built to resemble trees one might see in Tanzania and lighted dramatically. There are many low and touchable places with lots of video and audio recordings as well.

My kids were instantly touching the low-mounted learning materials which were easy for even my four-year-old to see. We all enjoyed comparing cast chimpanzee hands to our own and seeing a human skull and chimp skull side by side. There are touchable maps that tell the route Goodall took to travel from England all around the African continent by boat. There is even a full-size replica of her field tent, complete with supplies and a typewriter for documenting observations.

There are high-tech elements as well. The exciting find for us was an interactive “Chimp Chat” where we tried to communicate with a CGI chimp, learning different vocalizations and repeating them. We could see the sound waves we made and compare them to distinct chimp calls that mean anything from greetings to announcing a snake.

Throughout the exhibit, I saw multiple ways to learn. Signage and captions are posted in both English and Spanish. Most areas have push buttons with audio recordings of information. There are also many areas playing vintage footage from the sixties and seventies. QR codes posted throughout pull up additional information in Spanish.

Who Would Enjoy It?

The exhibition is absolutely for any age. Adults with more time will enjoy reading lots of material, including personal letters and interesting information on the individual chimpanzees Goodall studied as well as her personal life. I learned how chimpanzees build nests and wage wars against rival groups. It’s geared towards anyone who wants to learn about scientific field studies, chimpanzees, or Dr. Goodall’s life story.

I especially enjoyed discussing with my kids the sense of daring and adventure that a young Jane Goodall showed in traveling far from her home and creating a career and a study that had never existed before. My kids were interested in how she became passionate and adventurous.

The exhibit asks us to consider what a scientist looks like. It also asks children and adults to pledge ways to help the earth by reducing plastic or palm oil use or by walking outdoors. They enter their name and pledge on a giant tree where each leaf represents one pledge. I liked how that could inspire more talks with my kids and give them an achievable goal.

Price and Parking

As a special exhibition, Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall isn’t included in general admission so you’ll need to purchase either All Access tickets ($38 for adults and $27 for children ages 3-11 for Illinois residents) or Discovery Pass tickets ($32 for adults and $23 for children ages 3-11 for Illinois residents) to enter.

Parking is not included. It is generally easy to find but pricey at Soldier Field, or occasionally on the street. Keep in mind events at Soldier Field or Northerly Island can make it harder to park. The Metra Electric District Line to University Park is a great option for south suburbanites. It stops at the museum campus just a short walk away.

Family memberships to the museum are $150, but currently on sale for $135 online as of May 18, 2021. That is less than two visits for most families, so it may be a worthwhile investment to get the membership and enjoy free general admission and a big discount on special exhibits.

The exhibition opens Friday, May 21, 2021 and will run through September 6, 2021. The Field Museum is open Thursday through Sunday (Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with last entry at 4:00 pm. Beginning June 15, 2021, the museum will reopen those hours seven days a week.

We like to make a special day of visiting. Food carts and a lower-level cafeteria are available, but my family likes to take advantage of the museum’s policy to allow you to leave and reenter the same day and have a picnic in Grant Park or along the lakeshore. There is almost nowhere more beautiful to soak up skyline views of Chicago.

The museum has family friendly restrooms with family stalls and small and adult toilets, lactation/feeding rooms, lots of seating, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Coming Fall 2021: Biomechanics and Wild Color

This fall, Field Museum will open two immersive temporary exhibitions to share the natural world with Chicago. Biomechanics: The Machine Inside will return after a national tour to give visitors a peek at the biological engineering that lets animals jump, swim, and fly. Meanwhile, the museum will premiere Wild Color, which will highlight the science behind nature’s colors. Both shows are highly immersive and interactive, with lots of photo-worthy moments and experiences for museum-goers of all ages. 

Biomechanics, one of the Field Museum’s most popular traveling exhibitions that made its Chicago debut in 2014, will open on September 3. The exhibit gives visitors a closer look into how animals — including humans– move and survive against the crushing forces of gravity, the pressure of water and wind, and the attacks of predators. Visitors will learn through displays and interactives about how the bodies of the animals we love work like machines– for example, visitors can operate a pump to learn how giraffes’ hearts can pump blood all the way up their long necks. The exhibition also gives visitors a chance to learn about animals they might not have heard of before, like luna moths that use their antennae to smell a potential mate from 7 miles away. In addition to highlighting nature itself, each section of the exhibition showcases technological breakthroughs that were inspired by nature’s ingenuity, like Velcro, wind turbines, and chainsaws.

On October 22, Wild Color will transport visitors into an immersive experience with rooms dedicated to different colors of the light spectrum present in the natural world, starting with the colors of the rainbow. Visitors will discover brilliant gems and iridescent minerals, explore the startling hues of animals that glow under ultraviolet light, and learn about a “super black” bird of paradise. The show will include vibrant visuals, large-scale media projections, and soundscapes to create multi-sensory atmospheres, and visitors will be able to see examples of nature’s colors, like shimmering, radiant hummingbirds.

Tips for Visiting the Field Museum

A trip to the Field Museum has been a special treat throughout my life. I loved it so much, I spent two summers working there in high school and college!

It is a bit of a splurge for the average family to visit. Basic admission runs $80 for two adults and two kids and that doesn’t include parking. Family memberships are $150, which is less than two visits for most families, so it may be a worthwhile investment to get the membership.

When my family goes, we always make a day of it. We pack a lunch and have a picnic near the north entrance and enjoy the boats, runners, and quintessential skyline view. Food carts and a lower-level cafeteria are available, but we take advantage of the museum’s policy to allow you to leave and reenter the same day.

We always visit our absolute favorites and my top picks for kids: Sue the T-rex, the mummies, and the Pawnee Earth Lodge. The basement has private and quiet mother’s rooms.

Past Exhibit: Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

This article originally published on March 12, 2020 and was written by Charlotte Belsan.

The Field Museum features the viewpoints of the Apsáalooke or Crow people using a combination of newly created artwork, historical artifacts, drawings, sculpture, paintings, photography, and fashion in this exhibition. Together the works highlight people’s roles and explore what is sacred within this Native American society where women set the foundation and bravery is honored. It is a beautiful portrait of a culture.

What to Expect at the Exhibit

Coming in off the main hall on the ground floor, my children and I entered and began watching an animated origin story that nicely set the tone of our experience. As we walked through multiple rooms, we saw that pieces from the 1800s and modern day are presented near one another, showing the deep roots from which modern artists take their inspiration. My fashionable seven-year old was drawn to the intricate beadwork and clothing.

The final room features modern high fashion designs that beautifully reference traditional details like elk tooth embellishment and beadwork.

My three-year old did not understand everything he saw, but he liked the video and a few touchable items which were mounted at kid height. He also liked the war shields which are displayed and lighted dramatically. These have never before been displayed to the public. I found them beautiful. My big kid, an animal lover, was upset to see some preserved animal bodies and heads on the shields and other pieces, so other sensitive museum-goers may as well.

Who Would Enjoy Visiting

My daughter put in nicely when she said this exhibition “would be great for anyone interested in learning about a different culture.” While my preschooler found parts interesting, it was a large and dark experience with lots of text. He was tired and less enthusiastic toward the end. It might be most interesting to kids aged seven and up, but it is appropriate for all ages if your whole family visits together.

Visit if you or your children are interested in:

  • Native American life, past and present.
  • Women’s voices in art.
  • Warriors and ideas about bravery.
  • LGTBQ issues and gender expression. It explores a culturally accepted third gender, batee, also known as two-spirited.
  • Fashion and beadwork.

The topics covered are great starting points for family conversations about cultures, genders, norms, and values.

Price and Schedule

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors opens Friday, March 13 and runs through April 4, 2021. As a special exhibition, it isn’t included in general admission so you’ll need to purchase either All Access tickets ($38 for adults and $29 for children ages 3-11 for Illinois residents) or Discovery Pass tickets ($32 for adults and $23 for children ages 3-11 for Illinois residents) to enter.

A smaller companion show at the Neubauer Colleguim for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago is free and open to the public at 5701 South Woodlawn Ave. Chicago, IL 60637. It runs through August 2020. The companion show features one war shield and, while I haven’t seen it, I was told by a museum representative it includes some touchable and kid-friendly features. That would be a worthwhile visit if you’re in Hyde Park.


The Field Museum
1400 South Lakeshore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

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