June 22, 2006


 Green Family Fun at Garfield Park Conservatory

Very Hairy Caterpillars. Herbal Bath Toys. Cracker Jack Gardens. These may not seem like standard fare for a conservatory, but they are all part of Green Family Fun this summer at the awesome Garfield Park Conservatory. My preschool boys and I dropped in two weekends ago for some great discovery time and a fun craft in the Children’s Garden Discovery Area. It was a terrific place to spend a couple hours.

While the conservatory is a beautiful place to drop in on the spur of the moment, plan ahead if you want to take advantage of the special activities. We went to the Web site (www.garfieldconservatory.org) before we left to download a fun “I Spy Hunt” and to confirm drop-in hours. Activities are from noon to 3 p.m., with the special hands-on project from 1 to 2 p.m.

After exploring the Palm and Fern Rooms, where we pretended to be dinosaurs roaming the land, we had found the first four items on our “I Spy”, but the fun had just begun. The Children’s Garden was full of activities, including a dig for dinosaur bones, puppets, books and a discovery cart with things to look at, shake, touch and smell.

The staff can provide different treasure hunts for the conservatory, plus other games such as “The Circle of Life” for kids to earn prizes. After digging and playing in the Children’s Garden for a while, we still had some time before the craft was set to start so we made our way outdoors and played in the beautiful and spacious Outdoor Gardens. My boys could run, touch flowers and even see ducks on the man-made pond. On many weekends, family activities also take place outside in the Demonstration Garden Activity Area, although not the day we were there.

Then we went back to make our own “very hairy caterpillars.” The craft was fun to make and Kelly Katzmann, family activities coordinator, made it a great learning experience. She asked the kids all sorts of questions while they worked. My 5-year-old was eager to share his animal expertise but was happy to learn new things, such as the fact that a caterpillar actually has 12 eyes. I think it’s great that all their crafts are made with inexpensive and easy to find objects (old socks, buttons, rubber bands, soil and grass seed) and are simple enough to repeat at home for a great playdate.

The conservatory has expanded its family programming for the summer including Movies in the Park with pre-show activities, Monday Morning Glories activities for ages 3-6 and Sleuthing Thursdays, an evening scavenger hunt with prizes. Most of these programs are free and the beautiful surroundings just can’t be beat. Alena Murguia

Green Family Fun continues every weekend through Aug. 27. Garfield Park Conservatory is open every day. 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago. (773) 638-1766, www.garfieldconservatory.org.

 Eli’s Cheesecake Company Tour My daughters, ages 6 and 8, said decorating their own cheesecakes was the highlight of their tour of Eli’s Cheesecake Company, though I’d have guessed it was the close-up look at the cheesecake-making operations and, at least for my youngest daughter, the free hair net she took home.

The tour’s opening struck me as a little dry—an electronic slideshow on the history of Eli’s cheesecake, its founder and some big cheesecakes made for big cheeses like Hillary and Bill Clinton.  I was surprised when my 8-year-old seemed impressed rather than bored: “We could do a report on this place!”

Once we donned our hair nets, things got more interesting. Standing on the bakery floor, we watched cheesecake batter being mixed and poured from huge tubs. Workers hand-removed each cooled cheesecake from its pan.  Our tour guide did a nice job trying to engage the kids with interesting facts: the pure vanilla extract comes from Madagascar; the baking room hits 130 degrees in August. The experience felt more educational than entertaining—a summer “field trip” inside a factory and the hard work that goes on. Eli’s hosts a lot of school groups, Girl Scout troops and seniors.

We decorated our full-sized cheesecakes with a view of the professionals doing the same. Our supplies were adequate but not elaborate: two colors of frosting, two kinds of decorative bits. My girls were finished in minutes, and we ended up with more dessert than it’s advisable to have in your refrigerator. The Cheesecake Decorating tour, which runs $12.95 per person, also includes free slices of professionally decorated cheesecake.  I might take Eli’s less expensive “Sneak Peek” tour ($2 for kids ages 5-12; $3 for those older) and then treat the kids to dessert in the café, where there are choices beyond cheesecake.  Linda Downing Miller

The Eli's Cheesecake Company is located at 6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr., Chicago. Kids must be 2 years old and wear closed-toed shoes to tour the bakery area. Children may not be carried in certain areas of the bakery. No cameras or video cameras are permitted. (773) 736-3417, www.elischeesecake.com.


 Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture Through Popular Art

Totoro, one of the most beloved anime characters in Japan, greeted my family and me as we walked into Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture Through Popular Art at DuPage Children’s Museum. This new exhibit designed for children 12 and under and is open through Aug. 27. Located on the second floor of the museum, it greets children with vibrant colors and interactive play stations.

Altogether, the exhibit had a nice layout. Starting with anime (Japanese animation), going into woodblock prints and scrolls and ending with manga (Japanese comics), it had a great flow.

There is a recording studio at the beginning where I got to act out part of an anime and have it played back to me with my voice in it. I thought it was very interesting to have my voice in an anime clip. Being a true anime fan, I thought the museum should have covered more of a range of anime titles and its creators than just one, Hayao Miyazaki.

There is also an authentic tatami mat area where children can experience what a real Japanese meal is like. The kids loved this area and pretended to eat sushi with chopsticks.

We tried on Kimonos in bright colors with designs of flowers on them. Be aware that there are no adult-sized Kimonos for parents to try on and join in on the fun. I was disappointed because I could not try one on either with the lack of larger sizes.

Last stop is the manga area desk with images of manga character parts that we traced and combined to make our own characters and a table used to set up clips of an anime that we created and recorded using small figures and backgrounds. I thought this was very fun. I also learned how hard it must be to draw manga. 

Although there are directions near the different areas explaining how to work the technical parts of the exhibit, at times they were hard to understand and there were no museum employees around to ask for help.

I gave Jump to Japan an A- because although it is a great exhibit for younger kids it had very little for an adult or older siblings to do but sit and watch the younger children. There is also limited information about the history of the Japanese arts available. The exhibit was shorter than I had expected and did not have large areas open for the different topics forcing families to move past the areas that were being used. There were also very few titles of anime and manga covered. I wanted to see more.

My parents gave it a B because they think it needs more information about the history of the arts. They also suggested that the exhibit should have had a clip of someone making anime and then showing the final project. I think that’s a superb idea and it would give a greater amount of information for anime enthusiasts.

Altogether, it was an interesting exhibit, especially for younger children and it’s a nice way to introduce kids to Japanese culture. From what I saw, they certainly were enjoying themselves.  Samantha Weaver, 14

Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture through Popular Art. DuPage Children's Museum. Free with museum admission. 301 N. Washington St., Naperville. (630) 637-8000, www.dupagechildrensmuseum.org.

Product Test: Marshmallow gun fun

Marshmallow shooter Marshmallow Fun Co. LC www.marshmallowshooter.com $23.95 The marshmallow gun is a fun toy to play with for ages 8 and older. It requires kids to be 8 because you will need to be able to fire it, which does require some strength, and if you are really young then you might choke on some of the foam balls it comes with, which you can use instead of the marshmallows. 

The marshmallow gun is very fun because it is a gun that will fire delicious marshmallows. The only thing that I caution is to not shoot people in the face or the mouth. This toy is great for children when they have nothing to do—all you have to do is fill the gun with marshmallows and push the two levers together and then “pop”—out comes the marshmallow.

One thing that might happen to the gun if you fire it way too hard is the gun might snap it in half and break.

This item is something that I suggest you might think about getting. The marshmallow gun costs $23.95, so if you get one, you should try your hardest not to break it because it is a very fun thing to play with. You will have to buy a bag of small marshmallows to be able to use the marshmallow gun for its main purpose—FUN. Zachary Smith, 13


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