The NEW Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn

| August 28, 2009 | 2 Comments

shannon

Chicago Southland children and their parents have a new reason to get excited: the opening of the brand-new  Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn!

The facility, located just west of the intersection of Cicero and 95th streets and next door to the Oak Lawn Metra station, is a bigger and very much improved version of the old museum facility (reviewed on Chicagonista here).  The 9,000 square-foot, two-story museum is the result of five years of planning and fundraising, and the effort really shows.  Put simply, this place is awesome.

Adam Woodworth, the Executive Director of the museum, explained to me that all of the exhibits were designed around the Illinois Learning Standards.  “It enables us to truly be an extension of classroom learning,” he said.

After your easy and completely free parking experience, you enter the first floor of the museum and immediately begin your multi-sensory learning experience.  The first stop is the Air Maze, in which children can experiment with the push and pull of air by watching balls and scarves travel through a maze of tubes.  Next up is the Move It! transportation table, which is possibly the best train table I’ve ever seen.  (And believe me, I think I have seen every train table in Illinois.)  If  you can pry your little one away from the trains, you come upon The Race is On!  Here children send three vehicles down a ramp and through a sensor that tells the speed of each car.

Another big draw is Water Adventure, a water table with various containers, sea creatures, boats, and pipes.  Cross the pebble path on the floor and either take a break in the canoe or head over to Beachcomber Island, a sand table where children can dig for various buried items.

And that’s just the first floor!  Up on the second floor, the activities are geared more toward children’s role-playing.  There’s the Safe Haven Animal Shelter, where children play veterinarian or groomer to a variety of stuffed friends.  The Friendly Market and Cafe is a large pretend grocery store, kitchen, and restaurant where kids can participate in every step of the food-preparation process.  The Dream a Dream theater is a stage and puppet theater in which kids can don a variety of costumes and put on a show.

Step onto the artificial grass of Camp Take-a-Break and spend some time in a tent with your flashlight and lantern.  Or climb the climbing wall into the Treemendous Tunes Treehouse, which has instruments on the first level (the coolest is the xylophone that looks like a hammock) and little wooden dollhouses on the second level.  (A bonus with the treehouse is that it provides an awesome view of the trains going by outside.)

The center of the museum’s top floor houses a special area for children 4 and under, with interesting mats to encourage tummy time.  This area also includes toys, puzzles, and a small play structure geared toward the younger set.

Children of all ages will love the Build It! area.  Currently the area includes a variety of building-block toys.   (My favorite were these Toobeez, with which I built a really cool fort.)  Opening soon will be an area where children can hammer, nail, saw, and drill as they safely complete construction projects.

No children’s museum is complete without an arts and crafts area.  Oak Lawn’s Explore Art Studio does not disappoint.  Kids can either complete the current craft project being spotlighted, or use their imaginations and come up with projects of their own using the museum’s ample art supplies.  An especially fun feature of the art area is the ability to paint on a large pane of glass and then clean the paint off with a spray bottle and squeegee.

The Health Quest exhibit includes sections devoted to medical, dental, and eye care.  There’s an extra-large Operation game, as well as a bear whose innards are exposed.  Children can sit in a dental chair or take an eye exam.  There is a large set of teeth and an oversized toothbrush to practice brushing.

Strewn about the museum are various other activities, such as physics-based activities with gears and ramps, and a light table with transparent colored blocks.  There are also a couple of different playhouses.  And every single exhibit includes a selection of books that relate to that exhibit.

I appreciated that in spite of the vast number and variety of activities, the entire museum was housed in two large, open floors.  This layout makes it easy for parents who are supervising multiple children in different areas  (or just one child who is a bit of a flight risk).  Additionally, each exhibit contains an extensive amount of materials, yet the museum does not in any way feel cluttered.  The toys are all clean, and museum volunteers frequently come around to straighten up exhibits.

Admission to the museum is very reasonable, just $6 per adult and child over one year old.  Ample free parking is available on the top floor of the Metra station parking garage next door.  And you don’t have to get back in your car and wrestle with carseats in order to find someplace to eat; there are numerous food options all around the museum.

You can get a membership to the museum, which gives you unlimited admission to Oak Lawn and over 100 other children’s museums nationwide (including many in the Chicago area).

Birthday party packages are available.  The museum also offers opportunities for field trips.

The museum also needs volunteers!  If you’re interested, click here.

Overall, I am so excited to have this new museum in the Chicago Southland.  It’s educational and fun.  It’s extensive without being overwhelming.  Every aspect of the museum experience, from the easy parking to the friendly volunteers, made for a pleasant day.  This place totally understands kids, and their parents, too.  (I forgot to mention the ample comfortable seating for parents around the exhibits.)  I plan to visit again and again, and I encourage other Chicagoland families to visit as well.  With this kind of fun indoor entertainment available, I might even be looking forward to the winter.

Category: Featured, See & Plays

About the Author ()

Joining Shannon Capanna in Home Sweet Homewood are her professor husband, toddler son, and giant cat. Career-wise, Shannon worked as an elementary school teacher for three years before becoming an editor for math textbooks. She quit that job to try to achieve that elusive work-life balance, and she is now trying to cobble together some kind of career as a writer, editor, and mom. Shannon enjoys swimming, watching quality television, and cat-watching.She also blogs at Chicago Moms Blog, and at her personal site, Boringtown's Closed.

Comments (2)

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  1. Shannon,

    Thank you so much for the write up. I am glad that you enjoyed your visit.

    Adam Woodworth
    Executive Director
    Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn

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