October 5, 2006


 Chicago History Museum debuts with creative Children's Gallery

Could those really be raucous giggles echoing down the halls of a history museum? The laughter originates from the Children's Gallery at the Chicago History Museum.

At the "Sensing Chicago" exhibit, children are encouraged to see, touch, hear and even smell the history of the city. According to Lynn McRainey, director of education, "Children will use all five senses to learn that history is all around them."

Formerly the Chicago Historical Society, the museum underwent $28.7 million worth of changes from building renovations and exhibit restorations to new additions such as the Wolfgang Puck cafeteria and audio tours produced in collaboration with the comedy troupe Second City. The result is a museum that is contemporary and family friendly.

Kids can ride an antique high-wheel bike or sit in seats from old Comiskey Park while listening to the sounds of the White Sox. In the sound room, children jump on multi-colored spots on the floor to trigger noises that coordinate with images from the city's past and present history. A "Smell Map" has them sniffing the scents of Chicago from prairies and onions to chocolate factories and the Chicago fire while learning their significance at the same time.

At another exhibit, my children loved hamming it up for the camera while watching themselves perform in several scenes including running in the Chicago Marathon, being blown by the wind through city streets, riding on the "L" or soaring over the skyline. Their favorite activity, representing the sense of "taste," was making themselves into Chicago Style hot dogs. It was quite comical watching my children take turns lying down on an oversized bun, while their siblings piled on toppings such as mustard, onions, tomatoes, pickles-all made of lightweight plastic perfect for kids to manipulate.

After leaving the Children's Gallery there was still much to see, but a reminder of appropriate behavior was in order. Other halls contained priceless artifacts and antiques which definitely require a hands-off approach. However, the curators have ingeniously positioned several hands-on activity stations throughout these areas to satisfy the curiosity of little ones. Especially popular was the Chicago Bridges station at which the children could manipulate tiny wooden bridges and boats into different configurations on the Chicago River. On our way out, they admired the 1978 metallic blue Chevy Monte Carlo low rider specifically commissioned for the museum, while I ducked inside the Dior exhibit to check out the designer dresses. Lisa Stiegman

The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St. Parking is available. For information visit their Web site at www.chicagohistory.org or call (312) 642-4600. Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. except Thursday when it stays open until 8 p.m. Sunday hours are noon-5 p.m. Admission is $12, $10 seniors and students (13-22) while children 12 and under free. General admission is free Mondays.


 The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales at Lifeline Theatre in association with Griffin Theatre Company

Lifeline Theatre, well known for adapting classic children's books for the stage, has now tackled a not-so-classic book with hilarious results. Using great actors, an inventive set and plenty of audience interaction, Lifeline once again has kids and their parents laughing, clapping and cheering for the unlikeliest of heroes.

The plots centers around Jack (of Beanstalk fame) who tries to use stories, friends and one annoying Little Red Hen to avoid being eaten by the Giant (played entirely on stilts by the talented Kevin Kingston). The original book was written by Jon Scieszka and all of his stories are subversive twists on classic fairytales like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin.

Over the course of 45 minutes, actors play multiple parts bringing these stories to life. Terrific actors and great costuming make each character so unique that it took my 5-year-old a while to catch on that it was the same person. Nicholas Ward is so wonderful as the Stinky Cheese Man that his terrific turns as a conniving frog and wily wolf come as a great surprise.

Jack gets the kids in the audience involved physically and verbally. We loved watching him climb through rows of people attempting to hide, especially when "helpful" audience members blew his cover with the giant. My niece was definitely impressed at the actors' abilities to respond to the audience even though she doesn't know the term "improvisation." One brave little girl even joined the cast for a turn as Goldilocks. You have to give the actors big credit for coaxing her to do their bidding.

In case the title doesn't give it away, parents should be aware that the word "stupid" is thrown around constantly through the show. My son was truly shocked to hear characters calling each other "a bad word." I was also a little taken aback by the amount of stage violence, especially between Jack and the Giant. Lifeline recommends the show for kids 5 and up, definitely guidelines to follow. Alena Murguia

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales continues through Nov. 26 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. Performances are Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call (773) 761-4477 for more information or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com.

 Fall down the rabbit hole

The new Alice's Wonderland exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum is a wonderfully interactive and fun exhibit for kids. The 3- to 4-year-old set seems to enjoy it most.

Kids can duck into rabbit holes, peer through peep holes in the Hall of Doors and watch their bodies grow and shrink in funhouse-style mirrors. Bright, primary-colored sets with passages from the book scrawled on the walls bring Louis Carol's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to life. Kids might not appreciate the display cases full of vintage editions of the classic novel, but parents can get a kick out of 3-D, Chinese and Australian Aboriginal versions and drawings dating as far back as 1907.

The best part of Alice's Wonderland is the interactive games that disguise learning as fun. The Crazy Croquet game is a subtle lesson in force and momentum, visitors can test their sense of smell at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party station and a microscope shows what various objects would look like if you shrank like Alice does. Kids can turn knobs to rotate a globe and find out where Alice would come out if she really fell through to the other side of the Earth, but they are often more fascinated by the spinning globe itself than the geological significance. 

Parents praised Alice's Wonderland for being smart and not too overwhelming for young children. "It's nice that they can do stuff by themselves and learn and explore on their own," says Becky Spacht, who brought her three kids from Bradley to see the exhibit. Her son Austin, 5, and daughter Isabel, 3, say Alice's Wonderland is "really fun" and they love the rabbit hole tunnel and spinning globe.  Katie Holland

Alice's Wonderland runs through Jan. 21, 2007 at the Children's Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave. at Navy Pier. Admission is $8, free for kids under 1, and the exhibit is included in admission. Visit www.chichildrensmuseum.org for more information.


Twister Dance DVD   Twister Dance DVD is a game that you don't have to plug in-you just put the DVD on and you put the mat on the floor. You have 4 mats, a DVD and instructions that come with the game.

It's really easy to get started-all you do is take your DVD remote and pick the language. Then you pick where you want to play it-for example, Palm Beach and downtown and places like that. Then you pick what song you want. There are baseball songs, hip hop songs and after you pass about three songs, the game combines the ones you just learned.

When you are first doing it, they show you each step over and over again until you memorize them. They do legs first and then you add in arms and little moves, like snap your fingers. Then you learn the song combined at the end which is fun, but hard!

I like it because I like dancing. It is fun to do if you have a lot of homework and you want a break. Once you start, you don't want to stop. I asked my sister to play and we played it for an hour and a half. You don't keep score, you just dance for fun. Boys and girls can do it.

The only thing I don't like about this game is the dancers on the screen don't have necks and it looks weird.

I recommend this game for ages 8-12 because it is a little tricky until you get the hang of it. If you get one for somebody as a gift, I'm sure they'll love to play it. Emma DeCarlo, 10, Darien

Twister Dance DVD by Milton Bradley, $29.99; www.hasbro.com

Kids Eat Chicago

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