This fall, kids play grown-ups, grown-ups act like kids, and kids are completely themselves in theaters, museums, and parks throughout Philly.
Take next week's Aladdin, Jr., a quickie version of the Disney/Broadway hit starring a roster of local teens. Or consider October's Johnny Shortcake Show at the Kimmel, wherein a vintage-slick indie rocker demonstrates impressive preschool appeal.
New this season: a carnival from Mighty Writers, where the Philly-proud organization that teaches kids to think and write turns its serious mission into easy, outdoor fun.
The usual slate of Halloween happenings returns, including the reboot of Chestnut Hill's wizarding festival under a new, Potter-free name.
Thomas and Friends: Explore the Rails (Sept. 22-Jan. 6, Please Touch Museum). The immutable allure of connecting wooden track is somewhat peripheral to the purpose of this visiting exhibit — the point being STEM awareness, and Thomas' "really useful" message that aims to impart an early sense of purpose. But the train table is where the preschool set will head and stay, also the point. (215-581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org)
Disney's Aladdin, Jr. (Sept. 22-30, Walnut Street Theatre). The actors playing daring Aladdin, dauntless Princess Jasmine, evil Jafar, the goofy Genie, the silly Sultan, and all the characters in this book-turned-movie-turned-hour-long-musical are Philly-area students from the Walnut Street Theatre School, not industry vets. But they will be soon. (215-574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org)
MightyFest Literacy Carnival (Sept. 29, Aviator Park outside Franklin Institute). There's a lot for grown-ups at the new MightyFest (Sept. 27-30), from the nonprofit Mighty Writers. There are: a soul-music dance party on Friday night, a speech by MacArthur genius Nikole Hannah-Jones on Saturday night, and Sunday brunch with the Dixie Hummingbirds. But Saturday morning and afternoon are all kids at this free Parkway carnival. Expect cape-making, bookmark doodling, short filmmaking, sentence selfies, Scrabble, self-affirming sand art, and a dozen more activities. (mightywriters.org)
Trick or Treat at the Academy (Oct. 6-28, weekends only, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). Every October weekend is Halloween at the Academy, when creepy crawlers, live and dead, go on special exhibit and kids in costume score $2 discounts on top of their treats. (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
Boo at the Zoo (Oct. 13-14, 20-21, and 27-28, Philadelphia Zoo). Popular candy-gathering weekends give zoogoers added opportunities to don costumes, get lost in a hay bale maze, pose for loads of photos, and glimpse a gorilla or two. (215-243-1000, philadelphiazoo.org)
Vikings: Beyond the Legend (Oct. 13-March 3, Franklin Institute). Stuff kids like about Vikings: ships, Thor, war, and those horned hats, which, by the way, are not authentically Viking. Stuff they get at the North American debut of this exhibit: a full-size replica ship, hundreds of artifacts (helmets included), augmented reality, and loads of facts, such as: Viking kids played games! (215-448-1200, fi.edu)
Witches & Wizards (Oct. 20, Chestnut Hill Business District). The festival formerly known as the Harry Potter, now wrested of all official references to butterbeer and such, can't prohibit its wee faithful from donning their owl glasses and wide-striped scarves. Nor can Warner Bros. wrest the Hogwartsy charm from Belgian-blocked Germantown Avenue and environs. (Note that the street will not be closed to traffic this year.) For grown-ups, there's a Brews & Broomsticks Pub Crawl Oct. 19 — likely to sell out fast, so reserve ahead. (215-247-6696, chestnuthillpa.com)
Parkway Soirée (Oct. 26, Benjamin Franklin Parkway). The Parkway's community-centric centennial is reason to leave work early and stay up (a little) late. Live performances line the thoroughfare: Ballet X and Argentine tango at the Parkway Central Library, a BYO-picnic with century-old music by Drew Nugent at Sister Cities Park. No time to pack a picnic? Subsist on Night Market fare and free birthday cake. (parkway100.org)
Dia de los Muertos (Oct. 27, Penn Museum). The Mexico Gallery is closed for renovation, but Mexican culture thrives with painted-on skeleton faces, bright floral headbands, live music, and craft-making, all part of demystifying and celebrating a Mexican holiday honoring departed dears. (215-898-4000, penn.museum)
Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Oct. 27-March 17, Museum of the American Revolution). They know the lyrics, but do they know the history? A 5,000-square-foot exhibit looks deeper into the trending-est of Constitutional Conventioneers. School-age visitors get to load a cannon, design a coin, hunt for maritime smugglers, relive a duel, and dress up in 1790s garb for a selfie with George Washington. (215-243-1776, amrevmuseum.org)
The Johnny Shortcake Show (Oct. 27-28 and Nov. 3-4, SEI Innovation Studio, Kimmel Center) A parent might not necessarily let a dude dressed and coiffed like David "Johnny Shortcake" Sweeny alone with her child. But the greasy, funky, polyester-pants-wearing singer is so fun, groovy, and so G-rated in concert, he's become a Philly must-do. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Matilda the Musical (Nov. 6-Jan. 6, Walnut Street Theatre). Girl power — OK, "Naughty" kid power — is the point of this dark, energetic, Tony-winning adaption of the Roald Dahl novel. Matilda's family will make real ones cringe. MissTrunchbull will have kids shaking in their Skechers. But that only makes the happy ending sweeter. (215-574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org)
Charlotte's Web (Nov. 28-Jan. 27, Arden Theatre). If the Arden's recent spate of standout children's productions (Snow White, A Year with Frog and Toad) are predictive, the latest from director Whit MacLaughlin will bring laughter, warmth, and a wet eye or two. Also, great snacks at intermission. (215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org)