The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 30, 2001


Museum Review The Discovery Museums
177 Main Street, Acton, MA, 1-978-264-4200

It's an early-release school day in Carlisle, but not in Acton, so I'm just about the only parent around with a child over five. At first I'm frustrated by the press of toddlers and the close spaces of the Children's Museum. I'll feel much more comfortable when we move up the hill to the Science Museum for older kids. Yet I remember when I came with toddlers that the home-sized rooms packed with activities and other minichildren were just the ticket for our family.

That's the advantage to these two museums. They are constants that fitted families over a period of twelve or more years. Visiting here could become a regular part of your family activities. They are close by, endlessly interesting and engaging for your children.

These museums are not driven by exhibition schedules. Instead, they balance visitors' needs of familiarity and novelty. The Children's Discovery Museum (ages up to five or so) maintains its stand-bys, the Chain Reaction and Bubble Rooms, and the Restaurant. For new exhibits, there are the Woodland and Safari Rooms, and the just-opened Train Room. The Science Museum has larger spaces and fifty or so bite-sized exhibits. It focuses on school-aged kids, and all of the exhibits support state curriculum mandates. Each module addresses only one or two concepts, but encourages comparison and experimentation.

In both museums you may find your kids need to run through and try every gadget before they'll settle down to learning any of the concepts. Others won't make it past the Children's Museum's Chain Reaction Room, or the Science Museum's magnet or pendulum before it's time to leave. Don't worry. Spend time on what interests your child and leave excited about what you'll explore next time. Burn them out once in a museum and you will fight that battle for years!

Don't be shy about getting help in the Science Museum exhibits. In an art or history museum, I can be my own guide, but here I'm out of my depth. The museum explainers make all the difference. Recent research on learning-in-museums has shown that teaching the whole family is far more effective than just talking to kids and assuming parents can keep up. If the parents get the concept, they can then reinforce what their children learn. Then a museum visit becomes a family event, not just a child's lesson. On a quiet day a while ago, we were adopted by a Science Museum explainer. It was fascinating for us all and it guaranteed a return visit.

These museums are busy. "Art in the Afternoon" is a regular Wednesday program in the Children's Museum at 3 p.m. In the Science Museum they may be creating an experiment, taking apart equipment, or exploring scientific principles of light, energy or gravity. The new Discovery Classroom, a separate building, is busy with workshops and presentations. Most programs are free with admission; some have a small fee. Check the Museums' calendar or call the office to see if a program is scheduled.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito