February 8, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
"Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Season" at Kohl Children's Museum
Kohl Children's Museum's new "Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Season" exhibit takes a delightful spin on many classic kids' activities. The richly interactive presentation lets children explore Japanese culture by playing dress up with kimonos, having a tea party with sushi and chopsticks and learning kanji letter-writing with paint brushes dipped in water. While the seasonal aspects of the exhibit were vague, the colorful and occasionally exotic displays held my kids' attention for longer than I expected. My group of 5- and 8-year-olds were drawn to every station in the exhibit, which invites hands-on play that requires little adult supervision. While initially the activities seemed young for the 8-year-olds - the exhibit is intended for kids 8 and under - even the oldest boy was sucked in by the opportunity to write, fish, photograph and play with a variety of foreign, yet familiar, toys. The older children particularly enjoyed using a still camera to take pictures of each other in front of a set of sliding back drops with different views of Japan's Lake Biwa. The little ones preferred banging on a ceremonial drum, hanging carp wind socks in front of a blowing fan and writing wishes with wax pencils on plastic tiles, called emas, which they hung on a Japanese wishing shrine. The children also enjoyed the many opportunities to produce Japanese art and brought home a stack of Japanese beetle etchings and cards stamped with their favorite zodiac animals. It was a fun afternoon that required little interference on my part to keep the kids entertained. Kohl Children's Museum does an excellent job of creating a space where even the smallest children can play, engage and learn, and this exhibit is no exception. While I'm not sure that my kids came away with any concrete knowledge of Japanese culture, they enjoyed themselves and learned a little about what's it's like to play familiar games in a foreign land. Sarah Fister Gale The "Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Season" exhibit runs through May 14 at the Kohl Children's Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd. in Glenview. Tickets are $6.50, free kids under 1. Parking is free. Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-noon Monday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information call (847) 832-6600 or visit www.kohlchildrensmuseum.org.
"The Search for Odysseus"
We highly recommend "The Search For Odysseus." Going to the Vittum Theatre is a great, all afternoon theater experience for kids. You won't just see a show - kids can also participate in a theatrical workshop, as well as a discussion afterwards with the cast. At the workshop, a series of stations mimicked the islands that would be visited by characters in the play and each one featured an art or activity project about something in the theater, such as set design, costumes or choreography. The kids completed each "island" and got rewarded with a prize. "The Search For Odysseus" follows Telemachus, a reluctant young hero who goes off in search of Odysseus, the father he never met. A tyrant is threatening Telemachus' mother and home. Telemachus is helped by Mentis, a mysterious girl who shows up out of nowhere claiming to have loaned Odysseus something at the battle of Troy. She also claims Odysseus ran off without returning the items, the first hint to Telemachus that his father may not be the perfect hero he created in his imagination. This play deals with some complex ideas and images. A dream/nightmare of a swordfight between Odysseus and his one-time best friend Achilles is particularly intense. Telemachus learns that although Odysseus has had many adventures and done great deeds, he has also lied, stolen and misled people. The entire ensemble cast was wonderful. Ricardo Gamboa and Vergia Siovhan were especially lively and funny as Telemachus and Mentis, keeping my son consistently interested. This play is more suited for kids 6 and up. Younger children may not be able to follow the many characters, and some images and situations are frightening. More adult themes (Odysseus' seduction of a foreign princess, for example) are toned down from the original Homer for younger viewers without being "dumbed" down. I think older grade school or middle school kids would be particularly interested in the exploration of Telemachus as he goes from childhood to maturity and how his relationship with both of his parents changes. After the performance, there was a discussion session with the entire cast. All of the kids asked questions about the play, as well as the process of how a play comes into being and talked about what makes someone a hero. This was a terrific way to spend an afternoon. Bronwyn Wright "The Search for Odysseus" runs though Feb. 18 as a part of Vittum Theater's Season for Young Audiences. Vittum Theater is located at 1012 N. Noble St. in Chicago. All performances include a post-show talkback with the cast. All weekend matinees offer a pre-show workshop designed to prepare the audience for the performance. Tickets are $15, $10 kids 14 and up. Pre-show workshop is $3, weekends only. For tickets and more information, call (773) 342-4141 or visit www.vittumtheater.org.
It's the Pits Bear
The product is an ice pack/heating pad designed especially for children. However, it can be used by all ages. The product has two parts: a cloth bag filled with cherry pits and the "skin" of a teddy bear that holds the bag. To use the bear as an ice pack, you must leave the bag of pits in the freezer (overnight was best for us). To use the bear as a heating pad, you microwave the bag of pits for no more than one minute. We were able to put the bag of pits directly into the microwave from the freezer, which was very helpful. This seemed to be the easiest way to make sure the pits would be ready for use immediately when needed. The bag of pits, taken directly from the freezer, was cool for alleviating the ouch and swelling caused by bumps and falls. It was, however, not so cool to the touch when zipped inside the bear. So, as an ice pack, the bag of pits worked better on its own. It might work in the skin for a feverish child to cuddle with during the night. As a heating pad, the bag of pits works much better in the bear. Left out, and used alone, the bag of pits was very warm to the touch. A small child might find the bag way too hot to use. I think the bag alone was a nice item to have in the house, but the bear was simply not necessary nor appealing for my children, ages 7 and 5. They thought it was cute. Overall, I don't think I would recommend this product to other parents simply because it's not something I couldn't live without. Cheryl Behland It's the Pits Bear by It's the Pits, LLC, $22; www.itsthepits.net.