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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Category: Museums

I love watching the kids in Leo’s class interact with science and art experiments. Some kids, like Leo, dive right in and get messy, wet, and dirty without a second thought. Others carefully roll up their sleeves, insist on wearing a smock, and carefully examine their messy options. One girl in Leo’s class refuses to touch anything and is easily upset with messes and wardrobe changes. I think that it is great for kids to express what they need in a safe setting. But I often wonder how this is going to play out as they get older and interact with many different opportunities in their world.
I got to see their traits in action when the Mobile Marine Lab came to school last week. I was so excited for this event. We had such a great time last year and Henry was able to join us because the elementary schools are out. The basic set up is this: the marine animals arrive in containers on a truck. The truck pulls a 4-sided water table with all sorts of pumps and contraptions to keep the water cold and salinated. Before the kids come out to the parking lot the animals are placed in the water table along with seaweed, shells, and other sea props.
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It is quite a set up. The owner of the lab goes to a beach every morning to collect the creatures and then returns them in the evening. I totally geeked out asking him questions about tides, water temps, and habitats. We even had a conversation about the east coast tide pool creatures vs. the west coast tide pools. It made me long for Maine. I was enthralled…but enough about me.
Leo and Henry had an amazing hands-on experience with sea stars, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers, to name a few. At the beach, I have a hard time convincing them to touch any creatures that we encounter, but at the Marine Lab, the boys were elbow deep and completely engaged. Leo couldn’t get enough of the sea stars (I call them starfish). The kids held the sea stars and used seashells to gently pour water over the animals. With patience and water, the kids could get the sea stars to relax and suction onto the palm of their hands. Very cool.
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Henry was surprised by the texture of the sea cucumber. I was proud of him for touching, since he usually shies away from icky stuff (unlike his brother). All the kids in the photo below seem to be surprised and excited!
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We even saw creatures that looked like hairy aliens. This crab uses bits of seaweed to disguise itself from predators. I wonder what kinds of questions Sid would come up with about this crab!
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We could have spent all afternoon at the Mobile Marine Lab. Long after Leo’s class went inside for lunch I was out there chatting with the owner while Henry splashed around. He needed a complete change of clothes when we got home. I got in the car scheming about hiring the Mobile Marine Lab for Henry’s next birthday party. It would be so much better than that place with “Cheese” in the name.
If any of the creative folks at Sid are reading this…please do a show about marine life! I think it would be amazing for the Sid gang to visit an aquarium or even go to the beach. Think of all the science investigations you could dream up!
Do you kids enjoy hands-on experiences with animals? Is your kid a messy scientist or a lab coat professional?

I am so lucky when it comes to museums. Throughout my life from childhood through mommyhood, I have lived in cities and towns that provide amazing educational and family experiences through museums. Growing up in the Boston area I was able to explore the Boston Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. In college I hit the museum jackpot in Washington D.C., where the Smithsonian was a simple metro ride away. As an adult I have visited museums in London, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Cincinnati (to name a few). I had parents who encouraged a love of museums and my own natural curiosity about what those big buildings have to offer. I still dream of someday visiting Paris, Istanbul, Cairo, Beijing, and all the great museums of the world.
But when it comes to kids I still need to think locally, not globally. That’s why I made sure (thanks to my best friend Susan) that the boys and I visited the California Academy of Sciences on our recent trip to San Francisco. Susan has been telling me about this museum for years and I was always like “Yeah, yeah, I am sure it’s great.” I try and take the kids to museums often so I felt like I had “seen it all.” Oh boy, was I wrong.
I fell in love with Cal Academy. It was a day I will remember for a long long time in the way that the museum captivated all of us and kept the boys engaged long after the usual melt down window. We started with the glorious rain forest biosphere where the boys got to experience a tropical climate where vibrant birds and butterflies flew at arm’s length. There were exhibits with tree frogs, snakes, and giant spiders. We were in another world in the middle of Golden Gate Park.
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Cal Academy also houses a stunning aquarium. I don’t know where else in the world Leo and Henry could see an ALBINO alligator named Claude. So cool.
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My favorite kind of museum is an aquarium. At one point in my tween years I dreamed of being a marine biologist, international diver, and renowned dolphin linguist. Yes, it’s true. Instead I became a writer and a mom who finds peace, beauty, and infinite opportunities for learning about science and community in an aquarium. We learned about seahorses and the males who care for baby seahorses. The boys stared for what seemed like an eternity into a tank containing rare sea dragons only found in Australia. I could literally see their imaginations and knowledge swimming at the same time.
We could have sat for hours in front of the huge marine tank, the centerpiece of the museum. We followed the fish, sharks, rays, and other creatures as they circled around and around.
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When it was time to leave, I literally had to pull the boys out. It was getting late but even I was reluctant to leave. We had all learned so much and we don’t live close enough to drop in regularly. Those of you in the Bay Area are very lucky.
However, it is not my intention to just write a review of this particular museum. This day is just a reminder to me of how much I love creating these kinds of memories and experiences with Henry and Leo. For a long time I was afraid to go to museums with my little cute monsters. I was worried about the crowds, the tantrums, and the daylong negotiations. But my boys continue to surprise me. Be it the Boston Museum of Science or the tiny Gulls Wings Museum in Oxnard, CA, Henry and Leo rise to the occasion. Like Sid and his buddies, they are happy to explore a place that is tailored to learned with interactive exhibits, engaging science to look at, and a mom who loves to experience it right along with them.
Museums don’t have to be an expensive day or even an all-day event. Many museums are located near pubic transportation and have free days on the calendar. Discounts and free tickets are often offered through your local library. AAA, local magazines, and many web sites also post coupons and discounts. Even a yearly membership to your local museum will allow you entrance to thousands of other museums for free.
So, get thee to the Science Museum! I want to hear all about your adventures. Tell me about the museums in your area. What do you kids love to see? Happy exploring!

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo
 

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