Mention the history of Chicago to a 4-year-old, and chances are he won’t listen for long. Ask that same 4-year-old to wiggle like an otter as a way to understand how the Chicago River fueled the city’s development, and you’re likely to get much further.
That’s the approach the Chicago Historical Society is taking with its six-week Yoga Explorers program aimed at children ages 4-7. The idea, say instructors Jean Feit and Argelia Morales, is to teach kids that Chicago history is both important and fun.
Each week, kids and their parents study one chapter of Chicago’s history, from the Chicago River to the Chicago Fire. Feit and Morales use children’s books, artifacts, crafts and yoga to reinforce each history lesson.
“They really are stretching their imaginations, no pun intended,” says Morales. “They create this world for themselves.”
Adds Feit, a public historian: “We’re sneaking in the history through the objects. Maybe they’ll walk away with an appreciation of the city we live in … and how far we’ve come.”
It worked for 5-year-old Harry Shapiro, according to his mom, Dawn. They discovered the program last fall and plan to return this year. Harry loved the program so much, he begged (and Dawn agreed) to have his birthday party at the Historical Society. “Jean really knows how to talk to kids and parents,” Shapiro says. “I was learning at the same time Harry was.”
Shapiro recalls vividly the day they studied the Chicago River. Morales began by reading a book about river otters. “Let’s be an otter,” Morales challenged the class after finishing the story. And become otters they did, lying on their stomachs and squiggling around on the floor as if they were rolling through the river.
Kids then traded animal pelts for fabric, lanterns and food as Feit told about life during the DuSable trading post days.
Shapiro says the lessons stuck. “Whenever we drive over the river now, Harry asks, ‘Do you see any otters?’” He can’t wait for the next series to start, though some of the lessons will be the same. “That’s OK,” Harry says. “I could always learn something more.”
Yoga Explorers runs 10 to 11:30 a.m. on March 5, 12 and 19 and April 2, 9 and 16. The Chicago Historical Society is at the corner of Clark Street and North Avenue in Chicago. Each session costs $15 for each child/adult pair, $12 for members and $10 for each additional child. For more information, call (312) 642-4600 or visit www.chicagohistory.org. Lorien Menhennett