The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn has always been a wonderful
place for children to play in and explore. Even when it was located
in a tiny park district outbuilding, the staff and exhibits made it
a worthwhile destination. Memories of my young boys in that small
space were so sweet, I wasn't sure what to expect from the greatly
It turns out all that creative energy has been set loose in a
beautiful state-of-the-art facility with stunning results.
And if you think your second- or third-grader is too old for
that, think again. It's rewarding to watch these "big" kids release
their inner toddler as they pour sand and splash around.
As much fun as my kids had for the first half hour on the first
floor, the second floor is where they discovered the true glories
of this museum. It's like entering another world, where everything
is built to child-size scale. My boys stopped immediately at the
Safe Haven Animal Shelter, complete with a variety of stuffed
animals from large dogs to tiny horses. They weighed, measured,
treated and shampooed to their hearts' content.
The museum also houses a Build It! woodworking shop complete
with real saws, hammers and hand drills. Because adult supervision
is required, its hours are limited, as are the number of kids
welcome at any one time. But it's worth the wait if you find it
There's nothing like really sawing through a piece of wood or
connecting pieces with nails to give kids a sense of satisfaction.
Plus, they can keep what they make. My 7-year-old proudly showed
his creation to Dad that night and declared himself a "real
The same "make-and-take" policy goes for the museum's art
studio, which was well stocked with more than just paint and paper.
Although most kids took advantage of the paint-filled spray bottles
for an activity, the studio offers plenty of cutting, gluing and
modeling options. I could have easily spent an hour in there if
there weren't so many other things to see.
Surprisingly, my kids were drawn to a dental exhibit complete
with a dentist's chair and smocks. My 5-year-old patiently played
patient while his older brother used a gigantic set of teeth to
model good tooth-brushing practices. It was part of a Health Quest
section in the museum that has a large Teddy bear with removable
organs for operating and a really cool drum that beats along to
It was really fun to see my sons let their imaginations take
over in the museum's play-based exhibits. They shopped the
well-stocked grocery and then prepared, served and cleaned up after
a delicious home-cooked dinner. After watching other kids put on a
puppet show, they invaded the stage and performed a medieval skit,
complete with knight costumes, battles, a dragon and a court
After the show, they discovered the Treemendous Tunes Treehouse,
a combination nature and music exhibit. A rock band was instantly
formed with kids of all ages, jamming, singing and dancing. This is
also where I discovered parents taking advantage of well-placed
benches to enjoy not only their children at play, but the light and
warmth from the museum's large windows.
Exhibit designers did an excellent job of finding ways to engage
children's curiosity. Colors are bright without being garish. Each
exhibit feels fresh and inviting, allowing kids to maximize the
idea of playtime while still imparting lessons in science, health,
art and manners. The museum is large enough to occupy kids for a
few hours, but small enough that parents with multiple kids don't
feel like anyone will get lost.
Alena Murguia is a contributing writer at Chicago Parent and
mom of three boys.
Alena Murguia lives in Berwyn, Illinois along with her husband and three growing sons.
See more of Alena's stories here.
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