Museum of Science and Industry Chicago: A learning experience for me and my tween

Museum of Science and Industry Chicago: A learning experience for me and my tween

We recently took a family trip to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The MSI offers thousands of fun and interactive exhibits and experiences to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. While I was fully prepared to get my science on and have a good time, I was surprised at the parenting lessons and reminders that I took away from our day among the atoms, coal mine and tornadoes.

My daughter and I used to frequent the MSI when she was little. As she got older, we moved farther away, visits became less frequent, and it had been more than a year since our last trek to the MSI. In that time, my daughter became a full-fledged tween. It was fun to see her new self in an old environment, and meant that I had to make adjustments.

1. Follow your tween's lead.

trans_gallery_476The Museum of Science and Industry is a BIG place, and I was used to leading the charge around the exhibits like I did when she was little. After an hour at the museum, I stopped to pull out the map when my tween said, "Let me lead, Mom!" and took off.

I needed to let go, and she needed to take the helm. I'm working on that. Tweens can read maps and really, there aren't any bad places to visit in a museum. There is probably no better place to turn over the reins to your tween.  I'm ashamed that I didn't do so at the outset.

2. Never pass up free information, help or parties.

You don't always think of seeking out one-on-one experiences at museums, but at the MSI, they're there, and they're great, especially for tweens.

One of the first places she went was the chick hatchery in the Genetics section. Nearby there was an activity stand staffed by a museum employee. My Live Science at MSItween looked vaguely interested, but only vaguely. He spent several minutes with her explaining basic genetics in a way that was perfect for a 10 year-old - not juvenile, but not over her head, either. His use of my attached earlobes to explain recessive traits would have pleased Gregor Mendel, I'm sure. Me talking about genetics and earlobes would've bored my tween. This guy, though, made it fun.

Similarly, we went to the Happy Brr-thday Party, one of the free live science events held daily that celebrates the birthday of a scientist with balloons, noisemakers and tasty treats all activated with liquid nitrogen. My tween loved it. Afterward, I talked with the lovely museum employee in charge to thank her and ask about her background. She then talked to my tween about how she majored in biology in college and that girls in science rock. Priceless.

My tween passed on that opportunity to dissect a cow eye (for kids 10 and older), but we did hit the Atom Party. It wasn't as engaging as the Brr-thday Party, but then again, there was ice cream at the Brr-thday Party.

Check out the website to see what activities are available each day - many  are designed to engage your tween.

3. Don't let your tween's attitude win.

We went to the MSI to see Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit, an exhibit showcasing the wonderful world of Snoopy, 2_Charlie_Brown_0125Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang and that of their creator, Charles Schulz. The exhibit showed how Schulz revolutionized the comic strip and affected cartoon history with his dedication to the art, wit, and wisdom of Peanuts. It runs through Feb. 18, 2013, and is absolutely worth the trip.

My husband really liked the recreation of Schulz's studio. I loved seeing the focus on Schulz's take on the holidays. My tween liked the statutes of the characters, and was surprised to see how they evolved over the years.

At the end of the exhibit, there were tables where you could draw your own characters, with helpful hints on the wall, as well as completed pieces by museum guests of all ages.  My tween and I were waiting there as my husband finished up. I asked my tween if she wanted to draw, and she was not about to lower herself to color in public. Please. I shrugged and sat down and started to do my own version of Lucy. While I'm willing to follow her lead around the museum, I'm not willing to let her attitude take away from my fun.

My tween got tired of standing there and sat down. In time, she picked up a crayon. And then there was no getting her to leave. She was into her drawing and producing some decent workDSC01111. There was a chance to draw a color a strip of pictures and watch them come to life through a giant zoetrope. Nope, I'd never played with a zeotrope before this, either, but it spins the pictures to make them look animated, and we all thought it was pretty cool.

When tweens see you having fun, they're more likely than not going to join in. Eventually. And even if they don't, you won't resent that they kept you from having fun.

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