I have been back in Chicago, visiting friends and enjoying being in a city, for a week now. It’s been a bit of a culture shock, particularly as my eyes adjust to the color green again (and Chicago isn’t even all that green!). In some ways, everything is the same as the city I spent so many years wandering around, but in other ways I see things in a new light now. For example, the Field Museum.
The Field Museum rocks. It’s a natural history museum with tons of really well-done exhibits, the kind where you can see cool stuff but also watch great video and read interesting captions that help you learn. It’s got the dinosaur bones, but it’s also got the evolutionary process leading up to them. I went there this week and the whole time I was walking around, the only thing I could think was, man I want to bring kids here.
It can be really hard to make social studies come alive for my kids, because they have so little world experience that almost everything feels like a fairy tale with bits and pieces missing. The bits and pieces are usually because I can’t find enough pictures or videos or models to show them to fill in the gaps left by lack of background. But here’s the Field Museum’s Native People of the America’s exhibit. It’s fabulous! It’s got maps to show where the civilizations were exactly, artifacts to show what they made and used, videos to explain how people came to live there, even fictionalized stories written in the second-person to help you feel like you’re there: “You wake up one morning to find…” (Incidentally, the Southwest room felt very familiar.) What I wouldn’t give to spend a whole day there with kids, guiding them through the exhibit so they could have a fuller understanding of a group of people which, by the way, includes themselves.
The other exhibit I was salivating over was the Evolving Planet. It is laid out like the best timeline ever, walking you through the evolution of the planet in order, showing the important geological events and mass extinctions and also the evolution of different animals. Throughout, there are some of the best animated videos illustrating scientific principles that I have ever seen. Plus it’s got the wow factor—it’s shiny and new and bright colors. There’s a similar idea in the Natural History museum in Albuquerque, which we took our kids to, it’s just…worse. This one gives an amazing clear picture of some of the biggest overarching scientific mindsets of our time, in a way kids can understand and also enjoy.
I went to the Field Museum because I remembered it being a great museum, and it turns out it’s even better from a teacher perspective. But when I was there there were also lots of camp groups there, ranging from 3-year-olds (which, really?) to high schoolers, and all of them were just rushing through, pushing buttons and poking things. I was so frustrated! Here is this absolute treasure, this amazing resource I would LOVE to be able to share with my kids, and be able to do it right, making sure they really get a lot out of it. And these camps throw their kids in without explaining things or walking them through it or even really supervising them so they don’t stampede screaming through the halls. I almost wanted to grab a group of kids and say, “Listen! This is really cool! Let me teach you about evolution!”
I didn’t, because that would be weird and creepy and also vaguely pathetic. I mean, it’s been all of 5 days without me teaching a group of kids, what am I, an addict? But still…this museum could be SO GOOD. We don’t have this kind of thing in rural New Mexico, or even in Albuquerque, really. I just wish I had the opportunity to bring my kids to a place like that.