Playing to learn
The Field Museum’s new exhibit has plenty of kid appeal
Friday, August 24, 2007
If You Go
Beginning Sept. 14, the Crown Family PlayLab will be open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Admission is free with general admission to the museum.
Young explorers’ dreams might just come true at The Field Museum’s new Crown Family PlayLab.
Almost everything in the PlayLab is related to regular exhibits in the museum, making this 7,500-square-foot educational play place especially relevant for kids 2-6 (with activities adaptable up to age 10).
"This is meant to be the gateway to the rest of the museum for families with young children," says Beth Crownover, public programs and operations director at the museum.
"We asked ourselves: What do we have to offer and how can we make it accessible?" Crownover says. "Scientific behavior comes naturally for children. Kids have no fear; they just jump right in and start playing."
The staff at the Field Museum put their heads and their hearts into this project. From the durable yet soft-edged climbing log made of a foam and flexible urethane mixture, to the dinosaur egg puppet with pop-out baby dinosaur, it is obvious this place was intended for children to be safe and have fun while learning.
Wondering what to expect from the new PlayLab? Chicago Parent got a sneak peek before the floors were finished in order to give you an insider’s look:
Entrance and washrooms
The east entrance is the closest to the PlayLab. Once there, you can park your stroller and herd your little ones inside. Conveniently located near the entrance are parent-friendly bathroom facilities equipped with changing table, water fountain and tot-size toilets and sinks.
Bethel Swift is an intern at Chicago Parent.
A hand-painted forest provides the backdrop for this interactive exhibit. Kids can climb up and through a log, dress up in a costume of their favorite wood-dwelling animal and put on a play. "This is the feeling of stepping into one of those dioramas," Crownover says. "There’s a lot of seek-and-find that’s interactive with the mural." The lighting dims for a nighttime feel and brightens for "daytime." Kids can also light up animal mounts and hear the animals’ sounds by pushing special buttons.
From woods to a sun-baked pueblo, a second mural helps supply the climate change for this 13th-century farm. Harvest and store corn, "cook" it and grate it with mano and metate, then use sand-filled fabric rolls to make coil pots. "Everybody needs to eat," says Cheryl Bardoe, senior project manager for the PlayLab. "So kids can relate to that, but at the same time they are learning about different environments and different cultures."
This area features two hands-on dollhouse displays of a modern-day Saharan Tuareg tent and an 1800s North American Pawnee earth lodge. The fully functional models are complete with people, livestock and furniture.
Play with real artifacts, including Plexiglas-encased specimens for younger kids to sort. Or examine small objects under a Lazy Susan type of magnification station that projects images onto a large video screen. "Peek-a-boo drawers" tilt out to reveal fun surprises like Chinese slippers or a Navajo rattle. Young scientists can sit at four lab tables and examine tools from diverse cultures, pressed plant life and animal skulls.
Dinosaur Field Station
Dig for bones (including a cast of one from Sue), examine, measure and identify them and even use them to build a dinosaur. Play in a dinosaur’s nest or create a "dinoscene," an ecosystem like the one in the museum’s Evolving Planet exhibit.
This quiet, cozy area is stocked with kids’ books on anthropology, history, botany, zoology and geology. While relaxing for kids and their caregivers, Crownover says the book section also promotes the museum’s objective to increase even the youngest child’s knowledge of scientific vocabulary, questions and curiosities. "It is part of our initiative on scientific literacy," Crownover says. "Our goal here at the museum is to make this the cornerstone of science education for children in the Chicagoland area."
In this room, listen to soundtracks of respected artists playing three distinct traditional instruments: the Taiko from Japan, the Sabar from Senegal and the Cajon from Cuba. Play eight different instruments (including the three heard on the recordings) to create your own music.
Displays of fish, leaves, even a replica Stingray, decorate the walls of the art area. Counter space and cabinets accommodate a variety of nature projects led by docents and facilitators. Activities change with the seasons and may include crafting a clay pot, making a journal of nature rubbings or decorating a pair of binoculars to use for observation of creatures in their own neighborhood. Kids can complete a project to take with them or receive a take-home sheet to do at home.
Three "padded infant zones" let caretakers keep an eye on the scientific exploits of their older kids while simultaneously caring for their youngest children as they crawl around.