Guest article by Dana Minney
Aristotle said, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”As different as children can be, one thing they share is curiosity. We observe it in their expressive faces, wide eyes and (sometimes endless) questions. Luckily, in Austin there are many ways for kids to learn, have fun and stimulate their curiosity!
1/ Free Museum Day at Texas Memorial Museum
First things first. Get out your calendar right now and mark Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 as “Free Museum Day,” an event organized annually by Austin Museum Partnership. At Texas Memorial Museum on The University of Texas campus, you can bring your found objects, such as fossils, bones and/or rocks, and have them identified by local paleontologists on Free Museum Day.
“Kids can talk to a real expert from the Paleontology Society of Austin on Identification Day (taking place on Museum Day), or a trained UT student any other Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, year-round,” says Associate Director Pamela Owens.
Texas Memorial Museum opened in 1939 and is the oldest museum in Austin. You may remember when admission was free, prior to the museum losing its funding from UT in 2014. Now there is an admission charge, but it is nominal ($4 and less). Other changes since 2014: the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays (except on Museum Day, which falls on a Sunday this year).
Other highlights at Texas Memorial Museum include the dig pit, gallery talks from experts on topics like saber-tooth cats, group rates and take-home lessons for homeschoolers. Lastly, also mark your calendar for Fossil Day on Wednesday, Oct. 12, when admission is free once again.
2400 Trinity St. – Website
2/ Texas Museum of Science and Technology
From the oldest museum in Austin, we move to one of the newest, Texas Museum of Science and Technology, which opened in March 2015. This learning center is in a temporary location in Cedar Park until it can secure a permanent home. One of the most prominent features is the planetarium, a 360-degree, dome-shaped theater. Just about every hour on the hour, you can comfortably view a movie or slideshow about stars and constellations, the history of the telescope, or the moon and space travel, to name only a few of the topics.
Visitors will also enjoy lively and interactive displays showing how the senses work and different aspects of physics. Many of these exhibits are contributed by the Exploratorium, a partner of the non-profit museum. Between these exhibits, the planetarium and a Timewalk starting from the Precambrian Era, complete with actual dinosaur replicas, you will have plenty to learn and do! Texas Museum of Science and Technology’s mission is to raise public awareness, interest and participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
1220 Toro Grande Dr., Cedar Park – Website
3/ Science Podcast for Kids
In our tech-savvy city, opportunities to learn and enjoy science aren’t limited to the museum setting. Austin is the home of Tumble Science Podcast for Kids. Lindsay Patterson, one of the producers and narrators of Tumble, says that although she had a career in science radio, her love of science didn’t come from what she learned in school. “In my 20’s, I finally understood that science is not a set of facts, but it’s a process. Understanding this process helps us to solve real-life problems.”
Becoming a mother and working with her husband inspired Patterson’s mission for Tumble, to “produce values-driven podcast content that kids and adults can enjoy.” Tumble does a great job of showing the process part of science, as each episode starts with a question or hypothesis. Then kids go on to explore and learn about the topic at hand. The episode about Harry Potter’s famed invisibility cloak certainly captured kids’ attention! You can listen to the podcast on iTunes.
4/ Hill Country Science Mill
Visiting Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City involves a trek, but it’s well worth it. Budding scientists will enjoy every kind of exhibit imaginable. Here, kids can:
- Learn about computer coding by programming animals to hiss, growl or pounce
- Explore the flow of energy and electricity
- Conduct chemistry experiments
- Study irrigation models
- Take a mental discipline challenge where they must push a ping pong ball with their mind
The architecture and layout of this unique space sets the tone, as it looks like something out of a giant laboratory. You can enjoy indoor and outdoor activities, and many of the exhibits are contributed from some of the best museums around the world.
Hill Country Science Mill exhibits all emphasize preparing young scientists for STEM careers. Each visitor creates their own avatar and carries it with them throughout the museum. Creating a profile, scanning their avatar at each exhibit and taking a selfie with it at the end are just some of the ways this interactive museum provides timely and fun ways to learn about the role of technology in science.
101 S. Ladybird Lane, Johnson City – Website
5/ Austin Nature & Science Center
What started as a junior nature program at Zilker Park in 1960 has become a 15-acre campus, which includes a Visitors Pavilion, pre-school housed in a historic homestead, live animal enclosures, permanent indoor natural science exhibits and interpretive nature trails. Austin Nature & Science Center, in collaboration with Texas Memorial Museum (mentioned above), also created one of the main draws for kiddos: a giant outdoor dino pit, complete with all kinds of digging tools.
Upon entry, you are greeted by an Art in Public Places installation, and then you proceed to the Visitor’s Pavilion to learn and plan your visit with the help of informed and friendly staff members. This is a frequent destination for scout troops, field trips, traveling exhibits and home to Science Experimenters’ Club.
Visiting Austin Nature & Science Center is free and it’s open year-round with a few scheduled exceptions. Groups can book an on-your-own tour for a small fee per person.
2389 Stratford Dr. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you been to any of these science learning spots? If so, what’d you learn?
Dana Minney is happy to have finally found sanity as a single mom by having fun, together time with her kids. Learn more on her website.
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