Our Favorite Spots for Brainy Birthday Parties

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All Captain Antsypants wants for his birthday is to whiz down an inflatable slide. But when it’s time to plan the party, you vow to think outside the bouncy house. Little revelers love to run around, but as long as you keep their minds busy, they’ll still get a rush. So to help you prepare for your kid’s next party, we sought out thoughtful, customizable birthday party ideas that engage kids’ brains and stir up tons of fun, in the process.

For the next Julia Child:

Pied Piper Parties & Playschool
It’s not a party at this Lincoln Park gem without food. The owners love cooking and seize any chance to share their skills with kids, whether it be teaching them to make pizzas from scratch or show them the delicious ropes of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. Start the party planning by choosing your theme (they’ve pulled off everything from hospital to perfume-making parties). Then figure out the menu. A popular example is a Dora theme, for which kids make their own quesadillas and salsa. All food is included in the package, and the owners will even make the birthday cake for you.


Cooking parties start at $450 for up to 12 children. Additional children are $12 each. Book your party by calling 773-472-8888.

For superhero fans:

Wishcraft Workshop
Your petite Picasso or mini Martha will cut loose at Roscoe Village’s colorful incubator for all things creative. While just about any kind of artful project can be the focus of a DIY birthday party, our favorite is Create Your Own Superhero. Kids ages five and older invent their own superpower and design a logo and hero name that represents that power. Then they create the logo on a cape (the capes are handmade in-house) and also make a mask that suits their power (think cool stuff like X-ray vision and animal abilities). Creative control is in hands of the kids, and imperfect costumes are usually the cutest (and most loved). We admire Wishcraft’s planet-friendly policies like no goodie bags (the projects kids make are the goodies), and the repurposing of water bottles and scraps for new projects.


Wishcraft Workshop parties start at $375 up to 10 people. Book your party by calling 773-348-9474.

For MacGyver types:

Robot City Workshop
If you have a tinkerer on your hands, book your party at Robot City Workshop. The buzzing little enclave sells robots, memorabilia and gear, and has a cool back-of-the-house private room for birthdays and small groups. Party attendees break the ice by creating a flying saucer circuit with electronic blocks that snap onto a clear plastic base (the saucers actually launch!). Besides learning about crackly electronics, little builders make their very own robot to take home, and personalize it with stickers. The real pop? The robot dance party at the end of the fete. Domo arigato, little ones.


Parties cost $40 per child and are available at 11:30 am or 3:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Book your party by calling 773-281-1008.

For science lovers:

Kids Science Labs
Slime. Bubbles. Explosions. It’s all in a day’s partying at Kids Science Labs. Guests put on white lab coats and make like Dr. Jekyll with hands-on science experiments. The guests of honor get the entire 4,000-square-foot “lab” all to themselves and their closest friends for two hours. At the Big Birthday Blowout, you can choose from exploring slime, bubbles or explosions. The best part is the grand finale: a “volcanic eruption” which consists of a thrilling chemical reaction. This party package also includes free indoor parking, science goodie bags for every guest and a real lab coat the birthday child can take home.


The Big Birthday Blowout costs $975 for up to 30 children ($20 per additional child, with a max of 40). Book your party online here or call 312-846-1426.

For future Oscar winners:

Emerald City Theatre Company

Let your Daniel Day Lewis-in-training act out (in a good way) with Emerald City Theatre Company, a kid-focused theater and acting school. At Theatre School parties, professional troupe members walk attendees through the steps of putting on a real play. The subject of the drama can be whatever your child desires, whether it’s the famous Simba-versus-Scar fight or a dreamy princess scene. At the end of the party, the kids put on a show and parents can watch. If your whole crew prefers to stay in the audience, Emerald City Theatre also offers a Birthday at the Show package, including discounted tickets, special theater announcements and signage for the star of the day.

Theatre School parties start at $525 and can be booked for up to 35 guests. Birthday at the Show packages start at $50. Book your party online here or call 773-529-2690 x20.

What’s your choice venue for brainy birthday parties?

— Sara Fisher