NORTH LAWNDALE — West Side neighborhood groups are planning a children’s museum for a mixed-use commercial development being built in North Lawndale.
The children’s museum is being spearheaded by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and Sinai Chicago, the safety-net hospital that will anchor the forthcoming Ogden Commons development being built on mostly vacant land in the 2600-2700 blocks of West Ogden Avenue.
Ogden Commons was envisioned as part of the North Lawndale Quality-of-Life Plan as a project to increase access to clinical health care while improving the neighborhood conditions — like a struggling local economy and few food options — that lead to chronic illness. In addition to an outpatient medical center with wraparound social services, the development will have affordable housing units, public art, a grocery store, restaurants and retail space.
By giving neighborhood kids an accessible place to learn and play with their friends and families, even the North Lawndale children’s museum will play a role in improving overall community health, said Leslie Mitchel Bonds, a board member for Sinai Chicago who is leading the creation of the museum.
The museum will have six exhibit areas that will emphasize STEM and social-emotional learning, Bonds said, and all exhibits will promote physical and mental wellness among children.
“These exhibits, while they are playful and they are fun, they are addressing the social determinants of health, so it has an opportunity to be transformational in many, many ways,” Bonds said.
The installations being developed are an infant and toddler center with climbing and crawling areas, a Building Our Future construction zone exhibit, a child-sized grocery store, an art studio and a Kids in the Kitchen exhibit to promote healthy eating. A music, dance and theater exhibit will allow children to experiment with recording songs and other performances that would be projected in the play space, Bonds said.
Organizers are designing the exhibits to be culturally relevant and reflect the community of North Lawndale. The museum’s Cozy Corner literacy area will prominently feature books written and illustrated by Black and Brown authors so children will be able to see people like themselves embedded in the museum, Bonds said.
The Pretend Pediatrician’s Office exhibit will allow children to learn about health and wellness through play, while imagining themselves in medical careers.
“If you’re a child in the pediatrician’s office, you’re going to see photos on the wall of different health care providers, and they will be Black and Brown health care providers,” Bonds said.
While the museum is geared towards children, all exhibits will be designed to also engage parents and caregivers so they can “learn about healthy foods, learn about eating the rainbow and things like that so parents and children can be interacting when they’re together,” Bonds said.
Besides the exhibit areas, the children’s museum will have a multi-purpose room to host community events and wellness activities, such as yoga classes. The museum’s green roof will have a nature space to promote environmental stewardship and a small sports court for outdoor activities.
Development of the children’s museum is still in the early stages, Bonds said, but the designs will include input from residents and West Side organizations so the facility will be “community-based and community-led.”
Lawndale residents and organizations interested in helping plan the museum can email Lbond526@mac.com to get involved. Partners who will help to bring the museum to life include the Chicago Children’s Museum, Open Books, UCAN and the North Lawndale Employment Network.
“Children deserve to have a safe place to play,” Bonds said. “It’s how they learn. It is their work. It’s how they learn socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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