Exploring the Crown Family PlayLab at the Field Museum

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

The curiosity of a child is boundless!  Preschoolers, toddlers, even infants are natural scientists.  They’re constantly observing and testing the world around them, finding unexpected pleasure and excitement in things most adults take for granted.  Here's a wonderful hands-on learning center that encourages those explorations and lets you share in your child’s creative play:  the Crown Family PlayLab at The Field Museum.


The PlayLab is an immersive environment created especially for children 2 to 6, with activities adaptable for children up to age 10.  It starts with a child’s innate curiosity and a family-friendly setting, adds real artifacts and specimens, and encourages young explorers to connect with a rich and diverse world.  The PlayLab is definitely not your grandfather’s “museum piece”; it provides endless opportunities for young visitors to express themselves, thrill to their own discoveries, develop new skills, and take on the role of scientist for a day.  It’s a place to rediscover your own sense of wonder, too, as you join your child in new adventures.

The Crown Family PlayLab is generously sponsored by the Crown Family.


The Crown Family PlayLab at the Field Museum - Pueblo

The pueblo caters to a child’s desire to learn through hands on experience.   Here, parents can first demonstrate how corn was made hundreds of years ago before children dive in and try it themselves. © The Field Museum



Designed from a Child’s Point of View
While adults come to a museum primarily to look at things, children are all hands-on—and we’ve designed the PlayLab with that in mind.  Everything in this 7,500-square-foot space is designed to be touched, picked up, sorted, moved around, climbed on, worn, or used in ways we grown-ups probably haven’t even thought of yet.  The PlayLab is a place where young children make tangible connections with nature and with different cultures, learn about themselves and their world…and have a blast!  It’s also designed with the environment in mind, using reclaimed and recycled materials wherever possible.

With a huge variety of open-ended activities, the PlayLab offers challenges that grow along with your child’s interests, and new adventures every time you visit.  For example, even little ones who aren’t walking yet love to discover hidden objects, crawl through a log, sit in a dinosaur’s nest, or bang on an African drum.  Toddlers will enjoy playing house in a pueblo, comparing their footprints to a dinosaur’s, clapping and dancing to new rhythms, and sorting fascinating objects by shapes and colors.  Preschool and older kids can dress up as an animal and star in their own nature play, or listen and learn to play a Latin beat.  They can examine butterfly wings and insects in amber, make fossil rubbings, dig a dinosaur bone out of a field jacket (just like our paleontologists do!), and develop their own creative projects in the art studio.  And that’s just the start.



A World of Learning, a Universe of Fun
The PlayLab is a young child’s gateway to the worlds of nature and human culture, touching on all the disciplines you’ll find throughout The Field Museum:  anthropology (people), botany (plants), geology (rocks and fossils), and zoology (animals).  Many of its activities link to exhibitions in other parts of the Museum, from the pueblo in The Ancient Americas to the McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Laboratory.

Of course, children don’t view the world through adult categories—  they just plunge right in.  And we’ve given them six different play areas to take that plunge.

•    An Illinois Woodland.  Step into a 3-dimensional woodland diorama! While your two-year-old crawls through a hollow log and discovers a nest of mice, his older siblings are donning animal costumes and putting on a play, complete with lighting and animal sound effects. 

•    The Pueblo.  In a recreated pueblo home and plaza, preschoolers make coil pots, grind corn the way it was done hundreds of years ago, and discover how families lived in different times and places.  Meanwhile, toddlers enjoy going in and out of doorways, picking corn, or trying out the sleeping mat of a pueblo child.

•    The Scientists’ Lab.  This area, like any real science lab, is devoted to looking closely, comparing, and asking questions.  Even the littlest children can pull out peek-a-boo drawers, and toddlers can sort specimens embedded in clear blocks.  Preschoolers and older children become junior scientists as they measure, sort, and draw at lab tables, or examine small objects at the magnification station.

•    The Dinosaur Field Station.  Dinosaurs are a perennial favorite, an interest that can grow along with your children.  Like pencil marks on a closet door, you can track your child’s development as he moves from playing with plush dinosaur puppets, to putting magnetic dinosaur figures on a wall, to examining dinosaur bones and identifying different species.

•    The Rhythm Section.  Clap, snap, jump, and dance—music is something children don’t just hear but feel.  Your child can play authentic percussion instruments from around the world and select, listen to, and imitate the rhythms of different cultures…or create her own.

•    The Art Studio.  Kids love to make things to take home with them, and here’s their chance.  Docents will guide children in creative projects that are inspired by nature and culture and change with the seasons.  For example, they might create a journal of nature rubbings, mold a clay pot, use toy dinosaurs and paint to stamp out a trackway, or decorate special binoculars to use in observing animals in the woods.  


Crown Family PlayLab at The Field Museum

Since music is part of every culture, the Rhythm Section gives children the opportunity to listen to rhythms from various regions and cultures. Kids can enjoy imitating rhythms or create their own on instruments from around the world. © The Field Museum



Accessible to Everyone
The PlayLab is designed to be a comfortable and pleasurable experience for all kinds of families.  While its focus is on children ages 2 to 6, activities are designed to be of interest up to age 10. Activity guides throughout the exhibition offer information to help adults deepen the experience for their child, and even learn something new themselves.  Children with learning disabilities will find that the PlayLab speaks to them as well.  All areas are accessible to wheelchairs, and the interactive elements accommodate children with a variety of physical disabilities.

The PlayLab has special areas designed for infants, and seating for weary parents to rest for a moment while the kids wear themselves out.  Also within the exhibition are amenities like stroller parking and family-friendly bathrooms with changing tables.  And staff is always on hand if you need help or information.

When your family is ready for lunch or a snack, you’ll find plenty of child-friendly food choices at the Corner Bakery, including mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and grilled cheese.  McDonald’s is right inside the Museum, too, with Happy Meals and all your other favorites.  Bringing your own lunch?  The Museum’s indoor picnic seating is on the ground level, just down the hall from the PlayLab.



Student Programs
Teachers seeking an education activity for their Pre-K to 2nd-grade students can register for one of the exciting new student opportunities offered in the Crown Family PlayLab.  Classes are thematic and include Storytelling through Music, Patterns in Nature, I Spy a Dinosaur!, Journaling through Nature, and much more.  Classes are approximately 50 minutes and are available Tuesday through Friday at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. for a maximum of 30 students.


Crown Family PlayLab Family Programs

The Crown Family PlayLab is open daily from 9am-4pm. Admission to the Crown Family PlayLab is free with general admission.  Call 312.665.7400 for more information about the following programs.

Free Family Programs

Kraft Story Time
Every Saturday/Sunday 11:30am and 1:30pm
Take a seat in the Crown Family PlayLab to hear a story and make an art project to take home—all in 20 minutes!
For families with children ages 2-5

Sponsored by Kraft Foods, Inc.


Kraft Morning Stories
Every Monday/Wednesday/Friday 8:30am
Take a seat in the Crown Family PlayLab and enjoy a story before you set off on an exploration of The Field Museum. Kraft Morning Stories is designed for families who would like to begin their day of exploration with a story.
For families with children ages 2-5

Sponsored by Kraft Foods, Inc.


Family Field Days
3rd Saturday of every month, 11 am to 2 pm
Take part in fun and free activities in the Crown Family PlayLab and in the rest of the Museum. You can also pre-register for a family workshop that is specially tailored for young audiences. Destination weekends are recommended for families with children ages 2-10.


Fee-based Family Programs

In the Spotlight
Once per quarter
Use the Crown Family PlayLab as a gateway to The Field Museum—we’ll explore animals, plants and cultures around the world through dramatic play and storytelling.
For families with children 2-4


Two of Us
4 Monday morning sessions, 10am
You and your little one will travel the world IN the Crown Family PlayLab. Participants will sing songs, hear stories, touch objects and make art projects. Ideal for homeschoolers!
For families with children 3-5


The Secrets of Collections
Once per quarter
Discover how scientists use museum collections and bring a collection from home to share!
For families with children 3-5


Whodunnit?: Solving a History Mystery
Once per quarter
Solve a natural history mystery! Using real artifacts and specimens from the Crown Family PlayLab as clues, families will team up to get to the bottom of a great caper.
For families with children 5-10



Crown Family PlayLab Student Programs

Teachers seeking an education activity for their Pre K – 2nd grade students can register for one of the following exciting opportunities offered in the new Crown Family  PlayLab. Classes will be available Tuesday – Friday at 10:00am or 11:00am and will be approximately 50 minutes in length. Maximum of 30 students allowed.


Pre K Student Programs

Journaling through Nature
See and feel nature in our Lab! Patterns and textures are used by scientists to identify objects, animals, and plants. Come and create a journal of nature rubbings to take home.


I Spy a Dinosaur!
From the stegosaurus to the mighty T-Rex, all dinosaurs have special features; through dramatic play and the Dino/Dino Not game, students will learn how to spot a dinosaur.


Seeing Spots
Learn about animal camouflage and spot animals hiding in their habitats! Also, take an up-close look at all of the patterns found in nature—from stripes to spots!


Tuning into Storytelling
Help us weave stories by clapping, humming and playing musical instruments. Storytelling will never be the same!



Kindergarten- 2nd Grade Programs

A Southwestern Harvest
Discover what life is like in a southwestern pueblo by harvesting and grinding corn. Make a coil pot for your corn!


Animal Adaptations
Uncover a few animals’ secrets to surviving by learning how they adapt to their environment. And learn how you can tell what different animals eat by the shape of their teeth!


Fossil Dig!
Come join us on a paleontology dig! Discover different fossil types and help dig out a fossil cast from a field jacket.


Through the Looking Glass
Become a scientist and ID objects in our Lab! With the help of magnification, you will look closely at different animals and objects to. Discover the wonders of magnification!



Admission to the PlayLab is free with general admission to The Field Museum ($15 for adults; $10 for children 4-11, seniors, and students with ID; no charge for children under 4).  Discounts are available for Chicago residents.  Visit www.fieldmuseum.org or call (312) 922-9410 for details.
To purchase tickets, call 866-FIELD-03 (866-343-5303), or visit the website.


General Information

The Field Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day.  Last tickets are sold at 4 p.m.  For general Museum information call (312) 922-9410 or visit our interactive web site. 

The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, on CTA bus lines #6, #12, and #146, and close to other routes and the Metra electric and South Shore lines.  An indoor parking garage is located just steps from the main entrance.  For more travel information, call the Illinois Department of Transportation, (312) 368-4636, or the RTA Travel Center Hotline, (312) 836-7000.


Feature photo: The Scientists’ Lab is full of real artifacts and specimens from the museums four major disciplines:  anthropology, zoology, botany, and  geology.  Children are able to examine trilobite fossils, a shark’s tooth, colorful textiles, animal skulls and fur. © The Field Museum 


All information and photos contained herein courtesy and copyright The Field Museum.