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TODAY

Sunday, February 17

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Airbags

Sometimes you actually feel as though you've run out of things to do in the city. (If you see that dolphin show one more time, you are going to scream.) Or maybe you are tired of going to the same places over and over again. (Really, if you see that dolphin show one more time, you are going to scream.) Then it hits you — one of the great things of living in Chicago is that there are many hidden gems just outside of the city waiting for you to discover; places you've never been to (where there are probably no dolphins anywhere!) One of those places is the DuPage Children's Museum.

Larger than Wonder Works but smaller than Chicago Children's Museum, the DuPage Children's Museum, located in Naperville, is a place just the right size for you and your child to spend a few hours without getting overwhelmed or overtired. According the museum, their mission is to "stimulate curiosity, creativity, thinking and problem solving in young children through self-directed, open-ended experiences... and the child-adult learning partnership." Well I'm down with that, so we grabbed the kid, got in the car and headed off to the DCM.

Looking like a Lego fun house brought to life with its red and yellow facade, the building itself is hard to miss. It is off Ogden and Washington in downtown Naperville. And while the museum looks quite large from the outside, with three levels, it has just one level of exhibits. The top level of the museum holds administration and the basement contains the party rooms, labs and a snack/vending machine area. The main exhibit level is divided into four parts: the museum store, the main hands-on exhibits, the art room and the air and water room.

The Explorer Store, the museum store, sells the usual museum items: science kits, balls, blocks, art supplies, stuffed animals and a large assorted of educational and natural toys. The Explorer Store is open to the public, so no entry fee is needed to shop there.

We started our visit with a snack in the vending area. DCM doesn't sell food, but you can bring your own food and eat there. A microwave and vending machines with drinks and snacks are available. Considering how busy the museum was that day, the snack area was kept very tidy and everyone seemed to clean up after themselves. There were several families, each quietly enjoying their lunches they brought in coolers from home. Not really planning on eating there, I managed to fish some shortbread and a clementine out of my purse, and enough change for microwave popcorn, a juice and (for the husband, not the kid) a two-pack of frozen White Castles.

After our snack, we headed to the main level. A small mirrored maze is one of the first items you see. For adults it's not much of a challenge, but for a 1-year-old it can spell trouble. Beyond the maze, there are desks and small tables set up as work stations with puzzles, crayons and paper, blocks and other activities.

Near the desks lay the The Young Explorers area designed for children under the age of 1. With building blocks, crawling mats, rattles, balls and simple puzzles — plus interaction with other infants — pre-walkers can be entertained in a safe, playful environment where they can explore on their own. Adjacent to the Young Explorers area was the art studio. The Art Studio at the DCM features daily activities for visitors; included in admission, children can work on the art project of the day and take their work home with them. The day we visited, the featured project was "Make Your Own Puzzle."

The rest of the area held a dress-up section in one corner, and in another a table display all about prisms complete with a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon poster. Next to that was a music room where children can bang on various xylophones and drums made from usual items. There was an inviting reading area, an exhibit that teaches children about colors and 3-D, a sound and movement area complete with a disco ball that had kids dancing and jumping. One of the coolest sections of the museum held two giant Lite Brite-type games, where the pegs were as big as sticks of dynamite.

And you'd think with all the books and paper and pegs available the place would be one chaotic mess, but it wasn't. Just as they did in the snack area, both parents and children straightened up after themselves, which really freed the staff to interact with the children. One employee sat and actually colored with a little girl, all the while chatting about horses and how her holiday went. It was genuine, which was nice.

After almost an hour and a half in the main area, we felt Vincent had had enough so we never made it to the Air and Water Works Neighborhoods, which were packed but looked interesting. Fountains, waterways, boats and sprinklers were everywhere and children were offered plastic aprons to put on. The air works section had wind tunnels showing children how wind affects the environment around them. A good idea would be to bring a change of shirt if your child loves water, but if you forget you can probably have them stand in one of the wind tunnels afterwards.

The DCM is very accessible by Metra (take the BNSF line from Union Station, get off at Naperville and it is literally across the street) so you don't necessarily have to drive out there. Parking was a bit of a pain — the lot is quite small — but then again we went on a post-holiday day so it might have been busier than normal. The admission price is reasonable, only $7, which is a bargain considering other places in the city charge up to $20. *coughSheddAquariumcough* So on those days when you've had enough of the city, venture out and see what else is out there. You might be pleasantly surprised.

The DuPage Children's Museum
301 N. Washington St.
Naperville, IL 60540
630/637-8000

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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