This post originally appeared at ChooseChicago.com, where I am a contributing writer.
Take advantage of the following totally free perks for Chicago museum-goers. You'll save a dime, have a more enjoyable museum experience and extend your kids' learning experience. Before you go exploring Chicago's cultural institutions, see if you can get your hands on one of these family-friendly freebies.
Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago Ave., pictured at top)
On the first Wednesday of every month, from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., moms, dads and babies can take part in a free, guided Stroller Tour, an hour long, curator-led tour of the latest and greatest at the museum. This tour welcomes babies and toddlers traveling by stroller or sling, and you're bound to connect with the other parents as you enjoy an hour of uninterrupted art.
Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.)
The Museum of Science and Industry has a wonderful collection of online activities and free mobile apps related to current exhibits, perfect for extending learning at home post-visit. Watch a chicken hatch out of an egg in a time-lapse video, take a tour inside a beating heart and more. The Summer Brain Games program, an online guide to with weekly activities, games, and experiment ideas, is a great way to combat summer laziness; register atmsichicago.com/summerbrain and you'll receive a free ticket voucher to the musuem.
Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.)
Check out the Family Program Calendar and see if you can arrange your visit to coincide with a free drop-in Family Gallery Tour. You'll be guided through the highlights of the Art Institute's collection on this half-hour interactive tour, designed with both kids and parents in mind.
Admission for kids under age 14 is always free at the Art Institute.
The Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.)
The Crown Family Play Lab is a wonderful resource for parents visiting the Field Museum with kids ages 2-6. Free with basic admission, this interactive playspace encourages a child's natural curiosity with its array of hands-on fun: bang on an African drum, crawl through a log, or gather and sort interesting artifacts. Play house in a Pueblo, don a costume and transform yourself into your favorite animal, or examine and identify dinosaur bones. The art studio offers a changing menu of craft projects that can be tailored to fit the age and ability of every kid on your family.
Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.)
Get up close and personal with the stars, planets and constellations by peering into one of the Adler Planetarium's high-tech telescopes. Visitors have the opportunity to access these amazing telescopes with the help of Adler volunteers. Check the schedule of daily activitiesto see if you can schedule your visit on to coincide with a telescope viewing. Telescopes are accessible on a first come first-served basis and viewing is free with general admission.
Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.)
Make the most of your visit to the Shedd Aquarium by downloading a Ten Fun Finds Mapbefore you go. Each map gives an easy to follow guide to the ten must-sees based on age and interest, including a map for families with toddlers, a map focused on marine animals that specialize in camouflaging themselves, a shark centered map, and more.