When planning what to do in Chicago with two kids (ages 3 and 7) I at first totally nixed the idea of visiting the Adler Planetarium. I visited the Planetarium two years ago and found it had only a few exhibits and not worth it if you were not going to also cough up extra money to see the shows. I remembered enjoying the history exhibits, but knew the kids would not appreciate them for the most part. However, when I head about the new Planet Explorers area for ages 3 to 8 I decided to give the Adler a chance.
In the Planet Explorers area there is a lot of hands on stuff as well as more of a staff presence than the other exhibits, so they can help guide you through enjoying the different hands on stuff. There are some really fun things and even parents and caregivers can have fun with the kids. However, it is a rather small gallery and the kids can easily get bored with it after 30 minutes to an hour.
The best part of the exhibit in my opinion is the Exploring Space area that includes a Mission Control and two story space shuttle exhibit. In this area you can pretend to be Mission Control. You can also pretend to go into outer space, which includes launching into outer space and docking yourself at the space station while sitting in a chair that vibrates and using a joystick.
The coolest part is the short Space Walk. The kids kind of freaked out doing this the first time because you cannot see where you put your feet in the dark room with a clear bridge. However, the little one actually ended up wanting to do it again and again later.
The Planet Explorers area also has Exploring Earth and Exploring Planet X areas. The Exploring Earth area is made to be like a home and has some beanbags and books to read as well as MiScopes you can use to look at different parts of you and other things. The Planet X area includes some rovers kids can move around, as well as a slide and tunnels to crawl through.
While the Planet Explorers area has some great stuff and really does make it worthwhile to visit the Planetarium with young kids, there is still not that much to do if you do not pay the extra for the shows. It does work well paired with a visit to the nearby Shedd Aquarium or Field Museum, which both can be true all day outing places to visit.