February 1, 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Body Worlds 2
Body Worlds 2 was an eye popping experience for my family and me. In 2005, during Body World's first tour through Chicago, nearly 800,000 guests visited the controversial exhibit.This year, my Dad escorted Sofie, 9, Alek, 12, and me through the sensitive and sometimes overwhelming exhibit. There is much information to read and the recorded tour would be a wise choice. The exhibit is mildly inappropriate for young children. The dead, plastinized figures are real and totally naked. There are more than 20 full bodies and 200 human specimens that showcase things like the human heart, bladder and lungs. This experience is great for kids who are interested in anatomy and how their body works. There is a table located in the middle of the maze of bodies that allows you to touch some of the plastinized organs. We held a lung affected by smoking and a kidney that was surprisingly large. The bodies are great examples of how the locomotive, digestive, vascular and nervous systems work. Each one is named for the action the muscles are performing. There is a soccer player, a diver, a gymnast on the rings and even a camel. Overall, this exhibit gets an A, but I do think that the first Body Worlds was larger and more interesting, possibly because this time I already knew what to expect. Though you may leave with a queasy feeling in your tummy and the controversial topic still lingering in the air, the experience is worth your while. Kati Pedersen, 17 Gunter Von Hagens' "Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies" is on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry through April 29. Kids under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets are $23 with general admission and $12.75 for kids 11-3. For tickets and more information, visit msichiago.org or call (773) 684-1414.
Robots and Us-Where Nature Meets Machines
We visited the new "Robots and Us - Where Nature Meets Machines" exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum during its opening weekend on a cold, snowy Sunday morning. The exhibit has a nice layout, with a good flow-through, but I think on a more crowded day it might be difficult to navigate and the various stations could get congested. The first thing the boys tried was putting together a shape puzzle faster than a robotic arm could. This was interesting for a few minutes, but it didn't seem as if the robotic arm was working on the same puzzle we were, and the boys got frustrated with it. A table with a robotic bug with adjustable legs was fun as well - the boys took turns pushing the button to see if it could march over various obstacles - but parental help was required to get the legs on and off, so I ended up being more hands-on than them. One of the things the boys most enjoyed was a set-up of "floor" robots, similar to the automatic vacuum cleaners or Roombas that are on the market. The boys pointed flashlights to make the robots' light sensors move around the space and blocked them with foam blocks to make them turn. We also particularly enjoyed a computer simulation that allowed you to take basic skeletal structures, add "muscle" to them and then see if your creation could move on the screen. It took us a few minutes to get the hang of it, but once we did, it was really interesting to try the different shapes and see how they could or couldn't move. There were a lot of pop-culture displays around the edge of the exhibit, showing various robots depicted throughout advertising, Hollywood and scientific history. Grown-ups will probably find this more interesting than the kids, but they also liked looking at the "old-fashioned" robots. A 1930s cartoon of Daffy Duck visiting a Hall of Progress filled with robots also kept them interested. The boys were amazed to hear that people had thought of robots even "back then." Both boys (and grown-ups) felt that there could have been more interactive exhibits. There are several cases with everything from robotic legs and dinosaurs to a Robot-Tuna - but they are not automated. Each case does have a video of the robot in motion, but all four of us felt it would have been more interesting (and educational) to see the actual mechanicals moving. One thing about watching the boys try out the interactive displays was that I felt the kids' expectations were very high. Modern kids are accustomed to video games and computer programs that interact with them in really sophisticated ways and in comparison, some of these programs just weren't that exciting. I followed along, explaining how each exhibit represented something that was actually used in real life robotics (like a voice generation program used by scientist Stephan Hawking) but that was a little more abstract than the boys wanted to get. They really just wanted to see more interaction from what was right in front of them. There were also some kinks to be worked out-the robotic arm didn't seem to recognize our puzzle, and the ant colony had a sign on it that they were being hand delivered in a week from Arizona. That didn't exactly explain what they would be doing that was robotic, though. These seemed to be opening weekend jitters and should be smoothed out soon. As always, the Peggy Notebaert staff was friendly, available for questions and helpful. All in all, we spent a good hour in the Robots exhibit and had a good time. However, when I asked if anyone wanted to go to the Butterfly room to see the butterflies and look at the chrysalis, both boys immediately said, "Let's go!" and took off down the hall. It looks like nature DOES win out over robotics after all. Brownyn Wright "Robots and Us - Where Nature Meets Machines" is on exhibit at the Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, through Sept. 9, 2007. Tickets are $3, plus Museum general admission; $2 for Museum members; free for premier members. Visit naturemuseum.org or call (773) 755-5100 for hours and more information.
My Friend Flicka has been a favorite book for both me and my 10- and 8-year-old daughters, so we couldn't wait to see the movie. While movies based on books can sometimes be disappointing, this was anything but. "Flicka" was not only gorgeous to watch - what could be more beautiful than horses running through the western scenery - but the plot was wonderful and the acting superb.The story features Katy (played by Alison Lohman) as a teen who wants nothing more than to run her father's horse ranch. Unfortunately, Katy's parents want her to go to college and plan to have her brother Howard (played by Ryan Kwanten) run the ranch. Lohman does a great job as a rebellious teen who is determined to show her father that she belongs on the ranch, not away at school. Things get interesting when Katy sees Flicka, a wild mustang that she wants to capture and train. Despite the fact that her father forbids her to have anything to do with Flicka, Katy captures the horse anyway and decides she's going to train him behind her father's back. Much of the action takes place as conflict between Katy and her father (played by Tim McGraw) over the horse and over their disagreement on where she belongs. Lohman plays her part with great emotion - the scene where her father sells Flicka to a local rodeo and Lohman runs after the horse trailer sobbing is heartbreaking. The emotions of the movie, combined with the great scenery, made this a wonderful movie to watch. There are a few slightly scary scenes, such as when Flicka is attacked by a mountain lion and there's some blood spilled, so I'd recommend this movie for kids no younger than 8. The movie also has some great lessons about finding your place in the world and standing up for what you believe, even when everyone around you disagrees. The only drawback to watching Flicka on DVD was that some of the scenery would have been so much more powerful on the big screen. Aside from that, we liked everything about this movie. Liz DeCarlo
"Flicka" hits the streets on DVD Feb. 6. This film is PG-rated for some mild language.
Moonjar Money Bank
According to the company's press releases, "Moonjar Moneyboxes were created as a tool for children and families to incorporate strong financial values and practices in their daily lives." The release also says the goal of the product is "to encourage communication and empower the child with basic life skills." The product has been successful for our family in that it provides us with a weekly opportunity to sit down with our 7-year-old son and talk about money. The bank offers three jars - for spending, saving and sharing. It also comes with a band that holds the jars together and provides a passbook for writing down deposits and withdrawals.The Moonjar bank has been my son's first concrete introduction to the idea of spending, saving and sharing. This product provides him with an opportunity to visualize what saving really means. It has provided me with the chance to sit down with him once a week to talk about money. We've used this as a math exercise too - he adds up the coins and bills he'll be depositing into the three jars. The manufacturer also provides an idea primer to help parents get the financial dialogue started with their children. The standard Moonjar is made of cardboard-I am not convinced of its durability over time. We have not opened the box up yet to retrieve money and my concern is that the product will not last. They offer the Moonjar Classic Moneybox, made of tin for $24.95. For our needs right now, however, the cheaper version is sufficient. I would definitely recommend this product to other parents. It makes having a dialogue about money with your child very simple. There are similar products available to consumers - with separate banks for separate money needs. This one works well and comes with an informative Web site. The passbook that is included has been a wonderful addition to the bank. Money is a loaded topic, and in our society, the idea of saving appears to be a foreign concept to many people. The desire for instant gratification can lead to taking on too much debt. The Moonjar Bank has provided our family with the opportunity to discuss financial lessons on a weekly basis. My hope is that through using a tool like this, my children will become financially savvy and truly understand the value of the money and the need to save. Anne Ward, Libertyville Moonjar Standard Moneybox by Moonjar, $6.95; www.moonjar.com.