Click on to the land of Lincoln By Jane Huth

I grew up in a small town in Illinois, yet most of this state is unknown to me. I'm ashamed to admit that I was surprised when I looked at a map recently and discovered Illinois shares a border with Kentucky. My parents were educated in the East, so they didn't know or care much about the history and geography of Illinois. But I think it's a sad legacy to leave your children to be ignorant about the place they call home. So, as these three lovely months of summer stretch before us, my children and I are going exploring in our home state. Here are some Web sites that will help us. ILLINOIS BUREAU OF TOURISM A tiny dot on a map of "Top Spots" at this site represents the oldest building in Illinois, a fort built in 1753 by French settlers in Prairie du Rocher in southwest Illinois. Kids can click on parts of the map. Click on Cairo, for example, to learn about the city in the southernmost tip of the state where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. Sign up for a free subscription to Illinois Now magazine to ensure your family a steady stream of glossy Illinois tourism brochures filling your mailbox. The site also offers a calendar of events around the state for the current month, although a longer calendar would have been more useful for planning vacations. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES STATE PARKS Illinois was a vibrant place long before Abe Lincoln moved here from Indiana. Many state parks preserve Native American sites, where kids can learn about the history of the people who lived here before the white settlers claimed this land. Although I happen to loathe camping, we do plan to visit some of our many state parks, in part to see the historic places where Native Americans lived. This site will help kids locate every state park in Illinois. It includes maps, rules, hours and dates of operation, facilities, phone numbers, park history and anything else to know about camping and hiking in the state's plentiful and (judging by the photos) quite picturesque parks. ILLINOIS HISTORIC PRESERVATION AGENCY When I was a child, I believed that poet Carl Sandburg grew up in Sandburg Village in Chicago. I know now that he's from Galesburg, Ill. My children and I will visit his birthplace this summer. Kids and parents can learn about Sandburg's life on this Web site and see photos of the tiny three-room cottage where he was born. This site has information about 21 other historic Illinois places, all of which are clustered along the Mississippi River and in the southern and western two-thirds of the state. Here kids can read about the history of each site and find visitor information about places such as the well-known Lincoln home, a national historic site in Springfield. There are also hidden gems such as the Rose Hotel, a 150-year-old bed and breakfast in Elizabethtown overlooking the Ohio River in the southeastern tip of the state. The site includes a convenient link to the state's map Web site, routemap/index.asp, which has information about roads under construction. The site also lets kids download issues of Illinois History, the agency's magazine for young people written by students from around the state. There's also a useful 12-month calendar of events at the state historic sites listed by date and site. LLINOIS ASSOCIATION OF MUSEUMS I plan to trek my children through as many museums as they can stand this summer, so this Web site will be invaluable. (It's incomplete, only 400 of the 1,300 museums in the state. For the complete directory, write to the association, they'll send it to you.) Here you can find names, addresses, hours and phone numbers, as well as links to Web sites of the individual museums, such as the Chillicothe Railroad Museum in the old Rock Island Depot in Chillicothe. From the photo of a red train on the Web site, I know my son would love this museum, which we're sure to visit as soon as I figure out where Chillicothe is. ILLINOIS STATE MUSEUM EXHIBITS There are lots of exhibits about Illinois life and history at this Web site. My kids and I enjoyed "At Home in the Heartland," an exploration of Illinois home life from 1700 to the present. Three personal stories in this exhibition include a helpful dictionary for kids to look up unfamiliar words, such as "crossroads" or "Taj Mahal." In one story, Ella Oelke, who was 13 in 1927, must decide whether to leave home to go to high school, or stay on the farm to help her family. Kids can see photos of the unpaved roads that were nearly impassable in the mud in 1927 and the farm where Ella lives. Then, they can explore the dilemma she faces in an era when women were not expected to be educated. ILLINOIS GALLERY Even kids who don't read yet can take virtual trips all over Illinois by clicking on more than 350 photos or playing one of six videos at this site. (To watch the videos, you'll need the RealOne Player, which took me about an hour to download.) The photographs are gorgeous, but they need informative captions. For example, several shots show the interior of the Dana Thomas house in Springfield designed by Frank Lloyd Wright--although there is no way to know that from the Web site. The site includes links to five live webcams from the Thompson Center in Chicago to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale--the locations are chosen to provide a geographic representation of the state. Regardless, I find webcams akin to watching bread rise: there is action if you've got the patience. FIND IT! ILLINOIS I can't say I found this page particularly user-friendly, but it does include links to many sites about Illinois. If your child is interested in winter sports or you want to find out where to go wine-tasting, you can find information about it here. STATE OF ILLINOIS HOME PAGE FOR KIDS Kids visiting this Web page will learn the basics about the state's history and government as well as other bits of information about the current Illinois flag, adopted in 1969, and the state seal, adopted in 1868. Kids can learn such trivia as the derivation of the name Illinois, a Native American word meaning "tribe of superior men." I was particularly intrigued by the suggestion that kids plant their socks. Have them walk around in a brushy area wearing only their socks. Then plant the seed-encrusted socks in a shoebox filled with dirt, water it and wait to see what grows.


Jane Huth is a freelance writer living in the north suburbs with her husband and two children.

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