Oak Park's Wonder Works well for parents and kids

Tom Irvin, right, helps sons Lee, 4, and Luke, 8, build a tower at Wonder Works, a children's museum in Oak Park.   By Cindy Richards

Children can climb a tree, paint a picture, build a building, make a movie or just exercise their imaginations at the newly--opened Wonder Works children's museum in Oak Park.

The museum, formerly known as The Children's Museum of Oak Park, has been without a home since 1995. It bought the building at 6445 W. North Ave. in 2001 and raised $500,000 to renovate it and open the first four exhibits—the Great Outdoors, North Avenue Art Works, Build It and Lights, Camera, Action! A fifth exhibit, Farm to Market, will be modeled on a community farmers' market. In keeping with the museum's mission to educate as well as entertain, the exhibit will allow children to pretend to buy and sell produce as they learn about commerce, and pretend to milk a cow to learn about our food supply. That exhibit will open once museum officials raise an additional $45,000.

The 6,400--square--foot museum is purposely small scale, says founder Gale Zemel. Unlike the huge children's museums at Navy Pier and in DuPage County, it's easy to keep an eye on active children at Wonder Works. Parents can sit in one spot and see most of the museum. "It's manageable. You can find your kid," she says.

Board President John Harris says, "The key thing is this has got to work not just for kids, but for adults. They have to walk away and say 'I learned something' or 'I engaged with my kids.'"

Tom Irvin of River Forest was engaging with his kids, Luke, 8, Lee, 4, as they built a square tower out of oversized Tinkertoys. It was the second visit for the family, including mom Jayne and sister, Mae, 2. They came back, Luke says, because "it's fun."

Frances Bettis, 6, had so much fun at the museum opening that she convinced mom Demetrice to have her birthday party there. The 11 guests were having such a great time dressing up and play acting on the stage that they wouldn't even stop long enough to eat birthday cake.

The Oak Park museum is open 10 a.m.--5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.--8 p.m. Thursday and noon--5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5. Children under 1 and members are free. Mem--berships start at $50. For more information, call (708) 383--4815, or visit

--Cindy Richards is associate editor of Chicago Parent.


A family resource center in a museum

By Lara Krupicka My family loves the DuPage Children's Museum. We go there for the water table and the workshop, the Airworks exhibit and the bubbles. And we go to be pampered. My daughters enjoy sharing a big comfy chair with a volunteer while being read books and they test shelves of toys. In the meantime, I'm spoiled with time to search out books, magazines and helpful volunteers for answers to parenting questions.

Wondering what kind of "in" we have at the museum? It's the Family Resource Center and it's open to all museum visitors.

Located on the lower level of the museum near the math exhibits, the Resource Center is a welcoming place. A writing center, children's book area and shelves of toys and puzzles continue the children's fun and educational experience while freeing parents to browse a wall of parent resources. Volunteers are often on hand to help.

While the museum is geared toward pre--schoolers and elementary age children, the Family Resource Center helps parents with children of all ages. Binders contain brochures, articles, Internet sites and book lists arranged around topics such as "Children and Sleep" and "Coping with War and Disaster."

Here are two other parenting resource centers: Family Network, 330 Laurel Ave., Highland Park, (847) 433--0377, Hosts a parent/child drop--in center from 9:30--11:30 a.m. for expectant parents and children up to age 4. Tuesday--Friday. Supervised play rooms for children, bi--weekly speakers on parenting topics, parent room with lending library. Staffed by infant and early childhood specialists, as well as a social worker. Dual--language program on Thursdays. Also hosts Saturday morning open gym and monthly family dinner nights. Sliding scale fee for drop--in center.

The Family Circle, 219 W. Maple Ave. and 125 W. Church St., Libertyville. (847) 367--5991 ext. 14. Hosts Thursday morning drop--in, 9:30--11 a.m. for children birth to age 4, accompanied by parent. Social workers on hand for information and support. $6 per session, or five for $25. Monthly evening speakers on parenting topics. Childcare provided. $10/parent, $5/child. Also offers a 7--week "Systematic Training for Effective Parenting" course.

--Lara Krupicka is the mother of two girls and a freelance writer living in Naperville.

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