Kohl's interactive 'Nature Cat' exhibit brings outdoor exploration indoors
Children can follow in the footsteps of Fred, the house cat turned wilderness explorer who stars in the PBS Kids animated show "Nature Cat," at the new exhibit "Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond," which runs at the Kohl Children's Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.
The exhibit was designed through a partnership between Kohl, Chicago PBS station WTTW and Spiffy Pictures, the production company behind "Nature Cat."
"We've been working with WTTW for a few years now on math and science programs and we thought 'Nature Cat' was tailor-made for an exhibit," said Stephanie Bynum, vice president of programs at Kohl Children's Museum.
The exhibit is organized into four interactive learning areas, each representing different outdoor environments: a backyard garden, a forest, a cave and a marsh. Each is filled with activities that encourage kids to actively explore and play. In the backyard, they can take flowers from a red cart filled with planters and create a garden by putting them in pots, tires, stone frames and even hanging boots. Bilingual signage teaches kids the different parts of a plant and they can press buttons to release floral scents.
The backyard also features a doghouse decorated with pictures from the show along with information about the precipitation cycle and how to stay safe during a storm. Safety messages are also found in a cave area, where kids are encouraged to don a hard-hat before venturing in to look at glittering geodes and glow-in-the-dark worms.
"Our goal is for kids to have fun and also respect nature," said Tim Russell, vice president of community engagement for WTTW.
Kids can also dress up in hand-sewn costumes based on the show's characters and stand next to graphics from the show for photo ops. Other interactive elements include a tree filled with surprises like acorns and woodpeckers, a fallen log kids can crouch behind and use as a stage to put on a show with various animal puppets, and platforms made of springy turf meant to replicate the feel of walking in a marsh.
"We like the different ecosystems," Bynum said. "We really wanted to focus on a variety of different things so the children can explore things they're familiar with and things they're not familiar with."
Each area references specific episodes, with little touches like a flying disc belonging to Fred's dog friend Hal, who lost his toy and had to look for it in a cave, and a puzzle showing a scene from an episode where the selfish cat Ronald built a waterslide and wound up hurting the animals in the nearby marsh by diverting all their water.
"Kids are really excited about 'Nature Cat' and love the TV show, but if you don't watch a lot of PBS it might be new to you," Bynum said. "We wanted an exhibit that you could still engage with if you didn't know 'Nature Cat' and his characters, but there are a lot of fun hidden things in here if you do know the show that are really exciting for the superfans."
"Nature Cat" launched in November 2015 and Kohl was one of the first places where WTTW ran an event to promote the show. Now many more hands-on activities will be integrated into the exhibit such as "Beaks as Tools," which teaches kids how birds use their beaks in different ways, and a lesson on how kids can identify animal footprints outside. Families can also follow their visit by going to pbskids.org/naturecat, which offers a wide variety of DIY activities like making a bird feeder or composter.
"Both the show and the exhibit encourage kids to go outside," Bynum said. "Children learn when they're active."
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"Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond"
Where: Kohl Children's Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, (847) 832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; through Jan. 26, 2020
Admission: $13, $12 for seniors, free for kids younger than 1