Chicago Children’s Museum tinkers with new exhibit
Inspired by the nationwide do-it-yourself maker movement, the Chicago Children’s Museum opened a new permanent exhibit Feb. 5: “Tinkering Lab.”
Designed as an open studio outfitted with real tools, material and open work space, “Tinkering Lab” invites visitors to ask questions, play around with their own ideas, and fail or succeed — both outcomes offer all kinds of learning possibilities.
As museum staff brainstormed ideas for refreshing/replacing the long-running “Invention Lab,” “We started coming up with an idea for an exhibit that quickly morphed into this idea of what would happen if we really had an open studio that allowed our staff and our visitors to determine themselves what kind of problems they wanted to solve, what kind of inventions they wanted to make, what kind of experiments they wanted to do,” said Jennifer Farrington, CCM president and CEO. “And the tinkering studio was born.
“Really, the challenge became less about what kind of exhibit could we develop that would teach x, y, z and instead what kind of space would offer us the most exciting possibilities, the most interesting opportunities for our visitors,” she continued. “And we came upon this idea of a tinkering studio, which is really created as a place that is highly flexible to give our visitors places to create their own experiments and test their own ideas.”
To get those creative juices flowing, a Peg Board Challenge greets visitors at the exhibit entrance. Visitors can move gears, balls, chutes and other loose parts to create their own cause-and-effect puzzle.
Wood — and what to do with it — is the first focus of the “Tinkering Lab.” The open workshop space features a tool bar equipped with hammers, power drills, screwdrivers, saws and more — including safety equipment such as protective goggles. Materials will change, Farrington said, to keep the space fresh and challenging for returning visitors. So a few months down the line, staff will add materials that allow visitors to create things that fly or launch.
“The key areas in the exhibit will really be the open-ended space,” she said. “That’s where our staff will really have the opportunity to sort of curate a kind of exploration.”
Along with constructing things, visitors also will be able to deconstruct things.
“You can learn an awful lot by the process of re-engineering or taking things apart,” Farrington added. “Sometimes destruction is as fun, interesting and informative as the process of creation.”
And museum staff plans to oversee science activities in the “Tinkering Lab” too, like having families figure out their own recipes for gack and goo or making a spinning top.
Farrington figures the exhibit will be of special interest to tweens — “This is the age where kids want independence, they need independence,” she said — but the museum hasn’t forgotten its youngest visitors either. The lab offers young inventors a safe, protected space in the Early Learning Nook, which boasts interactive wall panels, touchable tools, found objects, shakers and other items designed to spark creativity.
“We really want this to be an experience about lifelong learning,” Farrington said. “When you think about pursuits like cooking, sewing, gardening, woodworking — you have to start somewhere. I see this as very much the same kind of process.”
♦ Fall in love with nature during the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s first Family Valentine’s Day Dance from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9. Cost for the “I Love Nature” dance is $45 for adults, $15 for kids and $5 for kids 3 and younger. Price includes dinner, “mocktails,” a swag bag, two raffle tickets and activities such as dancing, decorating cookies and making cards from recycled materials. The museum is at 2430 N. Cannon; register at www.naturemuseum.org or call (773) 755-5100.
♦ Facets Multi-Media offers Second Saturday Screenings Feb. 9 at 1517 W. Fullerton. On tap are “Best Buddies” at 9:30 a.m. (for kids 7 and younger) and “New Friends” at 11 a.m. (for kids 8 and older). Cost is $9 for adults, $6 for children. Call (773) 281-9075, ext. 3011, or visit www.facets.org.
Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.