Chicago’s Museums — Masterpiece Playgrounds
Born and raised in Chicago, I felt I was a lucky child. Some of the greatest museums were on school field trip agendas. Plus, I fondly recall many outings downtown with my mom. We’d take the elevated train, and The Art Institute was just a few blocks from the “el” stop. It was so enormous. We could go several times a year, and still not see everything.
Not too far south from The Art Institute were the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. Then, many a kid’s favorite was the Museum of Science & Industry. Before the popularity of children’s museums, this place was a Disneyland for a child of the 60s. It was always teeming with school groups. Around the holidays, there was a display of several dozen uniquely decorated Christmas trees representing a different country. Even back in the the days before technology, this museum was a real treat.
Yes. I was fortunate, I felt.
Looking back on my childhood, I figured anyone NOT living in the Chicagoland area was somewhat culturally deprived. Of course, I had heard of a few museums in those rare cities that were even greater, in my child’s mind, to Chicago. But, overall, I suspected kids my age not living in Chicago would be jealous of the mammoth institutions we could easily visit.
Over the years, I’ve lived in other countries, and traveled extensively. While I cherish museums, I recognize — and can be jealous of — kids that find their own museums in nature. Especially in those places with no stoplights, no movie theatre and no toy store. There may be a lack of entertainment and education as we perceive it, yet there’s great creativity and resourcefulness.
I marvel as I watch these kids play, unchaperoned. Their childhood is filled with a freedom to explore nature, naturally. Completely different from a guided tour using the buddy system, or walking behind stanchions and around glass casings. Don’t get me wrong. I still love museums, and feel so fortunate every time I find a new one.
However, some kids that might be limited from visiting museums, have unlimited access to nature’s museums, aquariums, and art institutes. The best books and schools, typically, don’t ingrain an appreciation for nature, nor the need to be creative and resourceful, to the level that living it does.
For example, in Belize, each day as I read my books from a folding chair on the beach, I smile seeing kids enjoying nature’s museum. Some, just barely out of diapers, are playing in the sand. Climbing trees. Plucking flowers. Splashing in the shallow water.
There are no parents within view shouting them warnings. No sunscreen or insect repellant. No floaties. No water bottles. No towels, umbrellas or beach chairs.
So different from many of today’s kids in the U.S. Our society tends to hover over our kids, protecting them from the many real dangers.
In this small town in Belize, I have no concern for the kids’ safety. They aren’t really alone. There’s always one slightly bigger kid to look out for the next. Plus, within earshot, there have to be plenty of villagers manning their outdoor kiosks, boats, or pushcarts. Most likely, everyone knows where the little ones live, and who their parents are.
Similarly, I witness that same sense of joyful play in Costa Rica. At one part of the beach, there are the hard-core surfers defying the dangerous Caribbean tidal waves. Watching the spins, flips and flying boards are a bunch of tough-looking guys. Possibly the wanna-be hard-core surfers, or friends of the gutsier guys braving the sea.
Around the bend, I take a seat atop a stone ledge. Listening to the sounds of the waves, and enjoying the tranquility, I notice youngsters at play. I guess they are big brother and little sister. Their creative play is darling. They find makeshift toys. Tell make-believe stories. Bark like dogs.
Again, like in Belize, these two kids look completely unchaperoned. In the 45-minutes that I’m waiting for sunset, there is never the voice of a parent telling them to be quiet. No one yelling to get closer to the shore. Even though they never escape the shallow waters. Nobody tells the older boy that he is too rough, or obnoxious, with his sister.
Actually, I get the feeling she would tell him, herself, if that were the case. As the sun begins to set, a handsome man with an athlete’s build appears at the shoreline with a surfboard above his head. He prances around with the kids in the water. Then, they follow him joyfully to a young lady who’s been near me the whole time. Apparently, she’s the mama. What strikes me most is how she never hovered over the kids, but let them just have fun in nature’s playground.
Kids should be kids. Have fun in their own back yards. So now, who’s jealous of whom? These children may not have the latest in smartphones or gaming devices. They don’t need them. They have much better ways to play, learn and communicate with one another.