Today we had the great pleasure to attend the grand opening of the Tinkering Lab at the Chicago Children's Museum. Matt happened to meet the CEO of the museum at a think-tank-like conference he recently attended, and she passed along an invitation. So we packed up the van the night before and left home slightly before the crack of dawn to attend the opening. Our kids got to be the first in the exhibit (not counting the media soft opening yesterday), and got to play with some of the enthusiastic and awesome people who worked to create this exhibit. The donors and creators seemed to enjoy watching our kids explore the new space. And explore they did, because
it. is. awesome.
For those of you familiar with the museum, the new lab has taken the place of the large vertical conveyor belt exhibit, next door to the dinosaurs. Upon entering, you pass through a room with pegboards on the wall, and all sorts of balls, tubes, pegs and funnels to play with. There is a baby area with more balls, scoops and tires. Beatrice loved the bike tires on the wall that had keyrings attached to the spokes. They make a great sound when you spin them. When you enter the main room, you see tables and lots of shelves full of stuff. Bits of wood, hammers, saws, screw drivers, screws, nails, corks, beads, batteries, tape, old electronics...just stuff. Stuff that is begging to be made into cooler stuff.
By far the best thing about this exhibit is that everything is real- not a toy hammer in sight. As the director said, "Pretend tools are great for pretend play." But this place is all about the real thing. Violet was particularly excited that she got to drill REAL holes in a piece of wood using a real battery-operated drill. Then she got to pick out screws and nails and hammer and screw them into the holes she made. She also got to see the inside of a princess wand (from the gift shop), and using an old Christmas tree light battery tester, she found a live battery and connected the wires from the wand to make it spin and light up. She had obviously never considered HOW this kind of toy worked, and she was fascinated. And when the battery ran out of power and it spun but would no longer light up, she was equally fascinated.
Matias enjoyed using the REAL miter box and saw to cut REAL wood. He also had fun with the hammer, tongue sticking out in concentration all the while. He only thwacked his finger once, and then decided that perhaps having me hold the nail for him was the way to go. Um, no thanks! He figured it out after a few tries. He also had a great time working on a spinny-toy-duct-tape-motor-wood-string-bead electronic contraption with one of the men who was there. It was, at any given time, a rocket, a weed-eater, a super spinner and an airplane. He could have worked on it for a very long time (and really, in kid-time, he DID...he spent at least half an hour on this thing).
We will definitely be heading back to the Tinkering Lab soon...and perhaps investing in a few real tools of our own, and a couple of electronics from the thrift shop to take apart. It is always fun to discover that your children are capable of more than you thought...and ours certainly proved today that they can make REAL things with REAL tools.
There is a great article about the Tinkering Lab over at The Maker Mom today...she attended the media opening yesterday, and also had a lot of nice things to say about the lab. She has a ton of great pictures...I was a little preoccupied helping my little ones use REAL tools to snap too many pictures.
I hope that any of you who make it into Chicago soon can visit the Tinkering Lab. It is a great new addition to an already great museum!