By highlighting the goings-on in the community of Joliet, The Joliet Area Historical Museum scans the entirety of American history from the perspective of the town's inhabitants. Housed inside the former Ottawa Street Methodist Church, multimedia exhibits artfully assembled from audio-visual displays, touch screens, and life-size models illustrate the stories plucked from the eventful timelines of the town and its people. Occupying two full stories, permanent exhibit The Soaring Achievements of John C. Houbolt honors the life and work of former resident Dr. Houbolt, who had a primary role in NASA's race to the moon. The exhibit's life-size Lunar Lander even allows guests to step inside and glimpse the accommodations and controls, revealing a control panel more complicated than a single button labeled "Go to Moon." In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also keeps an active calendar full of special events; check the schedule for a complete list of programming.
Across two floors and 6,700 square feet, KidsWork Children's Museum's prompts hands-on play with scores of new exhibits. A table-top interactive computer, or SMART table, stimulates kids' brains with interactive puzzles and games. A weekly music class on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. invite kids to make some noise with instruments made from recycled materials. Interlocking wooden builder boards encourage open-ended play; there's also a floor piano, an interactive ATM, and story time at 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings.
The museum welcomes field-trip groups and birthday parties to explore its innards as well as special-needs families, members, and walk-in visitors.
While large groups are welcome, each child is celebrated through hands-on play. Just look at the gigantic, three-dimensional Pinscreen exhibit, a jumbo version of the classic toy that uses sliding pins to create a 3-D impression of whatever you press into them—in this case, your entire body. Along with the Lincoln-Way North Key Club, the Frankfort Fire Department helped construct the three walls by painstakingly inserting nearly 200,000 pins by hand. Their effort resulted in one of the museum's most popular interactive displays. More than that, it reflects the sense of community, curiosity, and creativity that the museum strives to engender in its patrons.
Throughout the Halloween season, mad scientists overrun a section of SciTech Hands On Museum to construct a haunted laboratory.
The 20- to 25-minute, ghoul-infested journey hijacks 200 of the museum's interactive exhibits and exploits the brainpower of the museum's Fermilab physicist founders to create an experience as terrifyingly educational as a pre-calc class taught by a wild boar. Adults and older children brave enough to step across the spooky threshold will encounter wispy tendrils of smoke and fluttering strobe lights winding up and down the museum's two floors. Bubbling beakers, freakish goblins, the George Foreman Grill, and other byproducts of experiments gone horribly awry loom in the museum's shadowy corridors. Once troops have braved the Haunted Museum, the main museum awaits, where guests can interact with noncursed exhibits or slip into the gift shop or café.
In 1987, Louise Beem and Dorothy Carpenter were early-childhood-education specialists. Based on their combined experience—gained from teaching preschool, founding the College of DuPage's early-childhood-education program, and being grandmothers—the two friends felt that traditional methods of teaching youngsters were less than optimal at the time. Their brainchild, the DuPage Children's Museum, began that same year. The pair designed the museum's colorful exhibits to incorporate interactive and open-ended elements, which they believed more closely matched the way kids learn and naturally process information, a discovery they say has now been corroborated by findings in neuroscience research.
In that vein, the three-story museum engages young neurons with interactive art, math, and science-themed attractions. Giving little hands the chance to explore, the AWEsome Electricity exhibit bridges the gap between the electric-powered gadgets and lights families use every day to where all that nonbreakfast-based energy comes from. Kids learn how electricity gets from one place to another and what its basic units are while at play in the museum's signature hands-on spaces. Elsewhere, the Young Explorers exhibit is designed for children aged 2 and under, who develop math skills by learning concepts such as sorting and patterning and express their creativity by experimenting with color and light.
In 1969, a group of history lovers saved the Civil War-era St. John's Episcopal Church from demolition, and in so doing gave birth to Naper Settlement, an outdoor history museum that preserves a slice of 19th-century life. Over the decades, more and more buildings have been restored and moved to the settlement grounds, building up a massive testament to times past and earning dozens of awards in the process.
Size: 30 historic buildings spread across 12 acres
Eye Catchers: the staff, who don costumes and take on personas from the 19th century
Permanent Mainstay: Brushstrokes of the Past?3,500 sq. ft. of art, artifacts, photos, and other relics that chart Naperville's history
Crown Jewel:Martin Mitchell Mansion, a 12-room celebration of 19th-century luxury and one of the settlement's original buildings
Hands-On Activities: try on clothes from the past or build a cabin with Lincoln logs
Pro Tip: use Naper Settlement's app to explore the grounds and baffle those who've forgot what century they're in
In 1961, 30 artists banded together to form the Naperville Art League in the hopes of nurturing community appreciation of arts and culture. The optimistic, determined bunch gathered in the basement of the First National Bank of Naperville and held art classes in their own homes, not annexing an official space until 1978. Today, a group of painters, photographers, and sculptors carries on the tradition of interartist camaraderie and education in better-equipped digs. A spacious gallery hosts art shows, as well as a monthly exhibit of members' work created around a theme, such as Fabulous Fakes or Changing Lanes. Artists also infect the community with a passion for the arts by teaching classes for adults and children. In addition to traditional styles such as oil painting and pen drawing, artists acquaint groups with esoteric art forms such as mosaics, needle felting, or collaging shredded bank statements.