Museum workers give us the scoop on bottom-breathing turtles, human-sized hot dogs and hidden bathrooms.
Kids say the darndest things. No one knows that better than a security guard or guest-service specialist. Staffers at three museums dish on the crazy questions kids ask (and why they love it) and give us answers to adult queries, like where the heck’s the bathroom?
Christine Chirchirillo, presentation specialist at Shedd Aquarium
What does your job entail?
I do online mike presentations, including for the Fantasea show. I am the introduction and closing—a 45-second speaking part. I answer a lot of questions after the show.
What kind of things do kids ask? What does it eat? Does it play? Children take what they’re doing in their daily lives and compare it to what the animals do. I think 80 percent of questions fall into that category.
What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever heard?
A three- or four-year-old with his grandfather asked me point-blank, “Do turtles breathe out of their bottom?” And yes, I told him that some turtles absorb oxygen through their colon—it’s called cloacal respiration.
Have you ever had a question you can’t answer?
Someone asked me about our beluga whales’ blubber—is it thicker or thinner than the whales’ in the wild? I had no idea. I went straight to the marine mammals department. I don’t think there is a solid answer on that. But I want kids to know: That’s what scientists do—they become experts by asking those questions.
Mindy Curtis, senior coordinator for the guest experiences team at Museum of Science and Industry
What’s the guest experience team?
We’re a group of ten; we bring science—any way we can make it fun and easy—to museum guests.
What are some of the fun things you do?
We run slime science, where guests can combine two liquids to make slime, a solid—which really amazes kids. In “You! The Experience,” we facilitate Mindball—it’s competitive relaxation. Two contestants are pitted to see who is more relaxed.
Any tips on winning?
[People say] I’m thinking about sleeping, water dripping. Once someone said, “I was thinking about chicken.”
Speaking of water dripping, any advice on finding the bathrooms?
Look for the yellow stairwell on every floor—that’s where they are.
Barbara Hawkins, security at Chicago History Museum
Have you had any interesting interactions with kids?
I was working in the “Bertha Honoré Palmer” exhibit [in the Costume and Textile Gallery]; I had these fifth graders come in and admire the clothing. I gave them a little tour. One young lady asked “Where’s her pants?” I said, “Honey, young ladies did not wear pants back in those days. Even when I went to school, we did not wear pants.”
What exhibit do kids flock to?
They enjoy the hot dog the most in “Sensing Chicago.” Kids can lie in a hot-dog bun and put a rubber foam pickle and onions on—it’s a Chicago dog. “Sensing” also has smells, so they say “eww!” to the onion scent.
Is there a place where kids can wind down?
They love the El car in the “Crossroads” gallery. They think no one is watching and I see them pretending to ride the car.