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Baby-on-Board Review: The Crown Family Playlab

By Elizabeth Shapiro in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 25, 2007 4:20PM

2007_09_Playlab.jpgThe recent debate over the Chicago Children’s Museum’s relocation has overshadowed the opening of a new hands-on kids area at The Field Museum. The Crown Family Playlab, opened on September 14, is 7,500 square feet of wonderfully messy interactive history.

Separated into six different themes, the Playlab aims to make the highlights of the Field Museum accessible to a younger audience. Kids can become a part of two dioramas, donning a coyote costume to cavort in the Illinois Woodland or grinding corn with a mano and metate in a makeshift Pueblo. Our toddler enjoyed banging away on a sabar drum in the soundproofed music room and growling at dinosaur egg puppets while sitting on a T-Rex nest. 2007_09_Drums.jpgAt a year old, he was a bit too young to make use of the adjacent Dino Field Station, where you can dig for bones in prepared field jackets, or the richly stocked Art Studio, but the Science Lab entranced our whole family by allowing us to explore real animal skulls and fossils.

Your trip to the lab is covered by basic museum admission ($10 if you provide proof of city residency, free for kids under 4). The Playlab is made possible by gifts from the Crown Family and the Siragusa foundation (this guy, not the Goose). These grants also allow for the Playlab to be well staffed; even on a packed Saturday afternoon, docents kept kids entertained and contained. We’ve always been impressed that the Field Museum was one of the only places in the city to offer private rooms specifically for nursing moms, but the Playlab’s family-friendly bathrooms take this convenience further to include miniature toilets, stepping stools for their sinks, a couch and a space large enough for roaming toddlers and even the most SUV-type strollers.

Check out the museum’s website for kid-centered podcasts featuring Nili Yelin (The Storybook Mom), special October workshops focused on mummies and skeletons, interactive on-line “exhibits,” opportunities for hosting what would probably be the world’s coolest birthday party, hours and more information.