18 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Museums of Northern CA

I have returned from a whirlwind trip to northern CA, where they have – within a 1 hour drive of Palo Alto – several fabulous, hands-on, interactive science and art type museums.  We tested them with four children aged 6.5 to 4 and three adults.  I am jealous!
But I am also energized.  What we are doing has a sound model.  It DOES work.  I am convinced that there is much out there that we can build over here.
Here’s a quick synopsis:
San Francisco Exploratorium:  This – the granddaddy of them all – was still impressive and still attracting and enlightening a wide range of ages (from toddler to elderly, including that elusive group – the teens and young professionals).  They have so much on the floor we only saw perhaps 2/3rds of it, and interacted with even less (and STILL stayed 4 hours!)  A quick note – most visitors to museums, zoos and aquariua find museum fatigue sets in after 2 hours.  They did lots of interesting things with sand and smoke.
Some of the things we enjoyed the most included playing with sand that had naturally high iron content and a very strong magnet (the grains of iron stuck together like tiny trees).  Sand on a vibrating table made neat shapes.  Smoke emanating from a floor grate could be spun, when children run around it, into a tornado shape.  People working a bellows could blow smoke rings towards the ceiling.  And much, much, much more.
San Jose Children’s Museum:  This was quite a surprise!  Although they were clearly a children’s museum as they had a lot of imaginative, role-playing and dress-up opportunities, they also had some excellent hands-on science and art type experiences.  Some were exhibits we had seen at the Exploratorium, just lower and more colorful for smaller children.
Examples included light sensitive cloth on a continuous vertical roll with a light on a horizontal slider across it.  As children moved the light, they could see waves forming on the scroll as it slid by.  They had a flat, spinning disc about 3 feet across which visitors were invited to roll smaller wheels (4 inches or so) on.  In a water room, they had a constant whirlpool that visitors could throw balls into, to watch their motion as they were sucked in and spit out the bottom.
California Academy of Sciences: This is still a Natural History Museum.  It is a wonderful experience (we enjoyed the Steinhart Aquarium tremendously), but there was little that I could see that was hands-on.  One of the few was an interesting high-tech attempt to teach children about bugs, but it was sorely misunderstood and the participants kept trying to stomp on the images of the bugs they were supposed to be luring into traps.

I have returned from a whirlwind trip to northern CA, where they have – within a 1 hour drive of Palo Alto – several fabulous, hands-on, interactive science and art type museums.  We tested them with four children aged 6.5 to 4 and three adults.  I am jealous! But I am also energized.  What we are doing has a sound model.  It DOES work.  I am convinced that there is much out there that we can build over here. Here’s a quick synopsis: San Francisco Exploratorium:  This – the granddaddy of them all – was still impressive and still attracting and enlightening a wide range of ages (from toddler to elderly, including that elusive group – the teens and young professionals).  They have so much on the floor we only saw perhaps 2/3rds of it, and interacted with even less (and STILL stayed 4 hours!)  A quick note – most visitors to museums, zoos and aquariua find museum fatigue sets in after 2 hours.  They did lots of interesting things with sand and smoke.  Some of the things we enjoyed the most included playing with sand that had naturally high iron content and a very strong magnet (the grains of iron stuck together like tiny trees).  Sand on a vibrating table made neat shapes.  Smoke emanating from a floor grate could be spun, when children run around it, into a tornado shape.  People working a bellows could blow smoke rings towards the ceiling.  And much, much, much more. San Jose Children’s Museum:  This was quite a surprise!  Although they were clearly a children’s museum as they had a lot of imaginative, role-playing and dress-up opportunities, they also had some excellent hands-on science and art type experiences.  Some were exhibits we had seen at the Exploratorium, just lower and more colorful for smaller children. Examples included light sensitive cloth on a continuous vertical roll with a light on a horizontal slider across it.  As children moved the light, they could see waves forming on the scroll as it slid by.  They had a flat, spinning disc about 3 feet across which visitors were invited to roll smaller wheels (4 inches or so) on.  In a water room, they had a constant whirlpool that visitors could throw balls into, to watch their motion as they were sucked in and spit out the bottom. California Academy of Sciences: This is still a Natural History Museum.  It is a wonderful experience (we enjoyed the Steinhart Aquarium tremendously), but there was little that I could see that was hands-on.  One of the few was an interesting high-tech attempt to teach children about bugs, but it was sorely misunderstood and the participants kept trying to stomp on the images of the bugs they were supposed to be luring into traps.

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