Building and learning for Chicago kids

When it comes to things that kids like, Kohl Children’s Museum knows its stuff. That’s why it has a mini grocery store (now a Whole Foods!), a nursery populated by baby dolls, stuffed animals in the vet’s office, and trains and cars galore.

And now with the addition of temporary exhibit “Built It!,” they’ve introduced another staple of childhood: building blocks.

An exhibit of blocks might not sound that exciting to adults, but the tinier visitors might disagree. Dave Judy, senior director of marketing& public relations at the museum, says he’s been surprised by the amount of time kids are able to spend in the exhibit, cycling through multiple activities that all reflect a building theme.

We’re not talking about plain old wooden blocks, either. The sheer variety of blocks, from foam to cardboard to those bristle blocks of yesteryear with a decidedly modern spin, is surprising (and may inspire those still brainstorming holiday gifts). My nephews, Aidan and Jackson, set up camp in the area with Imagination Playground’s large foam building blocks, creating tunnels and forts and easily navigating the oversized blue blocks (and probably scaring away a few littler visitors).

We also enjoyed the “Sweet Home Chicago” section, where kids can build some of Chicago’s famous skyscrapers (including Aidan’s beloved “Serious Tower”), learning what role the keystone plays in holding together an arch, trying out some new Duplos (they’re always better than your own!) and experimenting with Magnatiles on a light table.

I can’t tell you exactly what they learned, but I trust the experts at Kohl know what they’re talking about when they say the exhibit teaches mathematical concepts like measurement, numerical awareness and part-to-whole relationships. All I know is that the boys clearly were having a lot of fun while they built and played.

Some signage in the exhibit explains to parents and caregivers the seven distinct stages of block play: discover, stack, bridge, enclose, make patterns, name and symbolize using blocks. Judy says the museum plans to bring the exhibit back so that kids can grow along with the exhibit. And while my nephews were clearly past the first few stages, it will be fun to see them progress to more dramatic block play in the future.

After all, blocks, along with dolls and trucks, are just another way for kids to use their imaginations. And don’t worry, while we were there, we made sure to take advantage of all the childhood favorites Kohl has to offer.

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