By Stacey Sauer
Education Coordinator, Rockford Art Museum
If you are anything like me, you look for any way to save a buck. My Swedish frugalness won’t let me spend a lot of money (unless it’s on an awesome pair of shoes). That’s why my penny-pinching self enjoys the fact that Rockford has so many fun and free (and educational) things to do. It’s a little-known fact, but each museum here in town offers at least one day a month with free admission to the public.
Sundays, 2-4 p.m., stop by the Ethnic Heritage Museum. Local history comes alive at this museum, which is housed in a home built in 1850. Here, you will be able to explore six galleries devoted to the primary immigrant groups—African-American, Hispanic, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian and Polish—that settled in southwest Rockford. Examine early maps of Rockford, everyday items, vintage clothing and more to help them learn about Old-World traditions and customs.
Monday, Aug. 9 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) visit Burpee Museum of Natural History. See Jane, the 21-foot long Tyrannosaurus rex, then head downstairs to check out the Dean and Nancy Olson Specimen Viewing Lab, where Homer the Triceratops can be found in and just outside the lab. If you have time, head to the First People exhibit and climb inside a real dugout canoe.
Mondays are also Donation Day at Khlem Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Khlem has an assortment of plant life unlike any other natural area in the United States. The combination of native plants and those from around the world make this a hidden gem. Visit one of their eight gardens between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., including the Nancy Olson Children’s Garden, built specifically for kids to explore the wonders of nature.
Interested in art? Every Tuesday is Donation Day at Rockford Art Museum, with free admission all day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Stop in and check out the feature exhibition, Alchemy and Image, with work by T.L. Solien, Fred Stonehouse and John Wilde. If you haven’t had a chance, now is the perfect time to view the new exhibits from the RAM Permanent Collection, including one featuring Robert McCauley, former chairman of the Rockford College art department. Don’t know much about art, but would love to learn? Take advantage of the new Free Tuesday Tours and walk with a docent (tour guide) through the exhibition.
Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens was built by Robert Hall Tinker in 1865, and is one of only a handful of Swiss-style homes remaining in the United States from the 1800s. This local treasure offers free tours Tuesdays at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.
Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., explore Midway Village Museum and learn about life at the turn of the 20th century. This Victorian village has 26 historical buildings filled with artifacts from the era as well as several beautiful 19th-century gardens that depict life in the Rock River Valley from 1890 to 1910. Have a thing for sock monkeys? Love the movie A League of Their Own? Stop by the main museum building to check out the exhibits that reflect Rockford’s history and culture, including The Missing Link: Socks, Monkeys and Rockford’s Industrial Past and, my favorite, The Girls of Summer: Rockford Peaches of the AGPBL.
Want to get the kids out of the house? Thursdays, 1-7 p.m., during the summer, bring them down to Discovery Center Museum for their free afternoon. With brand-new exhibits Tot Spot, Baby Spot and Ag-Zibit, Discovery Center is more fun than ever. In the Ag-Zibit, kids can use levers, pulleys and machinery to move grain, learn how to milk a cow and study a real live beehive. And, really, what kid doesn’t want to pretend to drive a tractor?
If you are looking for something more relaxing, Anderson Japanese Gardens offers a Donation Day from 9 a.m. to sunset on the third Thursday of each month. This award-winning Japanese garden boasts beautiful plant life, foot bridges and waterfalls. It is the perfect place to pass away an afternoon in quiet thought or with a good book. If you are looking for a Zen moment, this is the place in town to find it.
For more information about each organization, please visit their Web sites: andersongardens.org, burpee.org, discoverycentermuseum.org, ethnicheritagemuseum.org, klehm.org, midwayvillage.com, rockfordartmuseum.org, and tinkercottage.com.
Contact RAM Education Coordinator Stacey Sauer at email@example.com.
From the Aug. 4-10, 2010 issue