Monday, August 23, 2010

Planetarium Visit Eclipses Expectations

There is a familiar pattern to many of our weekend family outings.  First is the initial excitement about going to the zoo/museum/aquarium/etc. Second, we arrive at our destination and reality sets in.

Our worst experience was earlier this year when we went to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier for Kai’s birthday.  Within five minutes, he was screaming to leave.  Between admission and parking, it was the quickest loss of $60 since I tried my hand at craps years ago.  Kai couldn’t articulate why he was so upset, but we think the environment was way too overwhelming for him. 

Not all outings are this bad, of course.  At Lincoln Park Zoo, he can usually tolerate things for about an hour before he wants to leave.  Though, there, his interest is more in the few rides they have than in seeing the animals. 

That we continue to periodically go on outings like these is probably due to three things:  1) forgetfulness (similar, I’m guessing, to women wanting to have another baby after memories of giving birth fade) 2) inherent optimism, and 3) an endless desire to give our child a fun learning experience.

Kai has really been into planets and the solar system in recent months.  On our weekly dad-and-son visits to our local public library, he invariably picks out a book or two on the topic.  This week’s choice is Jupiter, by the way.  And, with mom’s permission, he even created a solar system in his basement playroom using balls of various sizes for the sun, planets, and moons, and drawing the orbits of each on the carpet with chalk (hence, needing mom’s permission).

So it was that we decided on a visit to the Adler Planetarium this weekend.

Our visit got off to a good start when I found a metered parking space right in front of the planetarium.  These spots are still on the old system where you need to feed quarters into a meter (rather than the new boxes in the city that accept credit cards).  I initially put in four quarters.  One hour, that should do.  Oh, let’s be really optimistic and put in enough for two hours.

Inside the planetarium, we first caught the One World, One Sky show for kids ages 8 and under.  It is in the Definiti Space Theater which features comfy, La-Z-Boy type seats that recline back until you are virtually horizontal.  You feel like you are outdoors looking up as you see the sky above as well as 360 degrees around you. The show is for younger kids with Big Bird and Elmo coming out and talking about stars, constellations, and the moon. I think my son would have been able to handle more information, but he enjoyed the show and setting nonetheless.

Next, we saw a very cool, little exhibit called the Atwood.  There is room for no more than eight people, so we shared a cart ride with another family to the inside of a 15-foot sphere that darkens once you are inside.  You then see the Chicago night sky all around as it was when the Atwood was built in 1913.  An enthusiastic young guide is with you and, for about 10 minutes, he points out constellations and answers questions.  We were very fortunate to be there when the planetarium was not crowded, so our wait for the Atwood was minimal.

It has been years since I visited Adler and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the rest of the planetarium had plenty of things for younger kids to see and do. Kai loved the large planets hanging from the ceiling and also enjoyed the hands-on exhibits that give kids a taste of what traveling to space would be like.

We had so much fun that we lost track of time.  When we finally left and got back to the car, I had a bright orange parking ticket waiting for me.  We had overstayed our meter limit. 

While no one likes to get a parking ticket, as the price for an unusually successful family outing, this is one that I won’t mind paying. 

To learn more about Adler Planetarium, visit their website.

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