Stay-At-Home Dad: Bronzeville Children’s Museum not typical
By Howard A. Ludwig April 18, 2013 9:04AM
Peter Ludwig (right) and his pal Marty demonstrate their art skills at the Bronzeville Children's Museum. | Howard A. Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 22, 2013 6:14AM
Museums commonly are associated with learning. Exotic exhibits open our eyes to objects of historical significance. Well-thought-out displays teach onlookers about different cultures or scientific breakthroughs.
Children’s museums don’t play by the same rules.
I’ve been to countless children’s museums, and they are really just indoor playgrounds. Children are unleashed into a world of grocery stores stocked with plastic food, make-your-own-music stations and splash-ready water tables.
The climate-controlled museums are a godsend during inclement weather. The hands-on displays keep kids busy and engaged. I don’t know how much learning goes on, but that’s not my reason for visiting.
I thought all kids’ museums operated this way until last week when I visited the Bronzeville Children’s Museum.
The little-known children’s museum at 9301 S. Stony Island Ave. in Chicago sticks to a strict script. Guests are given guided tours that include making crafts and one-on-one instruction. The hourlong tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $5 per person.
I visited the museum with my 5-year-old son, Peter, and his pal, Marty.
Strangely enough, the museum isn’t in the Bronzeville neighborhood. It was built in Chicago’s Pill Hill neighborhood in 2008.
We arrived just as the 11 a.m. tour had begun. The doors were locked as we scurried through the rain to the main entrance. I rarely see cars in the lot. So I briefly theorized that the locked museum was just a sham.
Our host dispelled my suspicion by answering the door. We joined a dozen day care children already on tour.
Tours stop in various rooms within the museum. There’s a short lesson, followed by an activity. One of the stops included a presentation about Chicago’s role in the Great Migration. The children then colored a picture of the “Sole Man.” This statue in Bronzeville depicts the migration of blacks from rural southern states to northern cities.
Our group moved on to watch a movie about some of Bronzeville’s prominent residents. It was followed by the typical children’s museum attractions, only with a twist. These activities all had strict oversight. Adults were placed at various checkpoints.
First, there’s a kiddie bank (a standard feature in many children’s museums). But the kids can’t just grab handfuls of play money. They must fill out a withdrawal slip, asking for $10. A supervisor from the day care was assigned the role of bank teller.
From there, the kids went to the grocery store. Each item cost $1. They could only put 10 items into their carts. I volunteered to work the register. Many kids came to check out with more than $10 worth of phony food. I made them return the excess items before running their purchases over the pretend scanner.
The strict approach didn’t seem to hinder Peter and Marty’s enjoyment of the museum.
In fact, I think it may have helped them learn a few things along the way, including the biography of Lewis Latimer.
The black inventor is credited with improving carbon filaments used in light bulbs. As we sat down for dinner, Pete turned on the lights and shouted in the same voice as our tour guide, “Lewis Latimer!”
So while I’m all for free play, structured playtime also has advantages.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.