Saturday, November 17, 2007

Crown Family Playlab at the Field Museum

Here is my sister Nancy and me at the Field Museum in the late sixties.

I don’t remember this day, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t touch those huge stuffed elephants or the other neato things we saw. The mummies, the sparkling geodes, the shiny beetles stuck on pins, all remained safe behind cool planes of glass.

The Field Museum’s new Crown Family Playlab, a permanent exhibit just for kids, offers a place for children to experience close up the endeavor and thrill of natural history. Touching the installations in this part of the museum is encouraged and welcomed.

The Playlab is the first exhibit you'll see if you enter the Field Museum via the east entrance. You and the kids will find a well-stocked art room complete with kiln, an invitingly raucous music space and a woodland scene where a child can dress up as a bat or crawl through a hollow log. For the tiny ones, there are cozy enclosed infant corners with soft walls and toys.

On the day of our visit, enthusiastic museum workers hovered nearby to engage the kids in a book and encourage the young artists.

Mia and Eleanor had the most fun picking and repicking their own ears of corn near the pueblo.

We found that a visit here was a great way to enhance the museum experience, but you might have a hard time tearing your little ones away to see the upstairs exhibits. Not that there isn't plenty for the grownups to consider in the roomy space. On the walls and inside easy-open drawers are fascinating artifacts: Musical instruments, tiny dolls, dog skeletons, an ornate cradle from India adorned with red paint and tiny bells. While the girls dug for dinosaur bones, I was engrossed in fossils of Jurassic era plants.

Once we did get upstairs, I got a new thrill out of revisiting those musty glass boxes of stuffed and posed animals in the nature exhibits. It was creepy, yes, trying to delicately explain to the girls that they were looking at corpses of once warm and breathing mammals. But how else will we be able to get face to face with the extinct dodo or the passenger pigeon? I looked at the display of birds with its typewritten descriptive cards of their last days and felt a chill. There's a necessary lesson about the delicacy of life within these stone walls, somewhere past the case with the man-eating lions of Tsavo and just beyond the huddled mummy we pass with a brief glance.

1 comment:

Tracey said...

We just went to the Field Museum a few weeks ago. We also loved the Playlab. Might I suggest going there LAST, as this is when it was really empty for us and also, the kids needed to TOUCH something by then!

I have a hard time tearing myself away from the mummies, actually. In a gruesome way, I suppose, but they intrigue me... They never guessed that their earthly remains would be on display for millions to see... how completely against their traditions and beliefs this is... Incredibly rude of us, actually, don't you think?

I always give them several moments of thought... respect? A bit...