One super smart thing we did right before we left for our big trip was to buy a membership at the Shenandoah Discovery Museum. This was a big win because it is part of two reciprocal programs–the Association of Children’s Museums (half price admission at LOTS of museums around the country) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The latter was the real win, as it grants free admission to a ridiculous number of amazing museums. The only catch is they have to be at least 90 miles from our home, which basically everything is.
The membership more than paid for itself in the six weeks we were gone, and it’s good for the whole year.
The first place we used it was at the Carnegie Science Center, in Pittsburgh. I hadn’t been there in ages, probably not since I was in middle school. Obviously, they’ve made a number of changes and improvements over the past twenty years. Some of the things I remember loving as a kid, like the erosion water table with crushed walnut shells to move around and create landforms just to watch them disappear, and the elevator chair that let you use various pulleys to lift your own weight, are gone, but they’ve replaced them with other great material.
I’m pretty sure that the robot exhibit is still largely unchanged from the mid-90s. They still have the basketball-playing robot that I remember from my childhood, as well as a pretty fun collection of robots from TV and movies.
Petra enjoyed playing with the sensors exhibit, learning about how the robots can tell where she is. Silas was more interested in pushing buttons that made robots do things.
The life sciences section was where Petra really got focused and refused to be pulled away.
In the area with all the fish, amphibians, and reptiles, she went to each tank and carefully located and identified the specimens.
The section about optical illusions intrigued Silas. I remember doing a science project on optical illusions when I was about his age. I’d like to find a book on those for him.
Petra keeps insisting that she’s not interested in space (as a topic of inquiry) because, and I quote, “Space is about the future. I’m interested in time long ago.” And yet, she definitely enjoyed pretending to be doing things on the ISS and wanted me to take her picture as an astronaut, so…
We also went into the Cold War-era submarine they have in the river. Silas was kind of fascinated that 80 men would live in such close quarters for months at a time. I sometimes forget how sheltered my kids are from the realities of war. They were looking at this submarine, with its torpedo bays and everything, and Silas just kept saying, “But why would these guys spend months under the water to maybe kill some people?” He’s interested in super hero battles and fantasy, but the reality of what war means was kind of new to him. Raising Mennonites, I guess.
Meanwhile, I kept noticing how much of the design for Serenity, the ship in Firefly, was clearly based on naval vessels of this era.
One thing JC and I discovered on this trip is that we are in a whole new phase of parenting. The kids are big enough to have a meaningful interaction with the exhibits and ask intelligent questions. We even (more on this later) took them to a few museums that are not designed for children, and they did FINE. It feels like a minor miracle. Parenting is suddenly a lot more fun than work, after eight years of being the other way around.