Museum confessions

I have to make a confession: I’m really not into natural history museums or even science centres.

On Sunday, Reid and I spent a couple of hours at the Ontario Science Centre while Aunt Karin sat on the grass and tried to feel better. We spent all of our time in the KidSpark – punny, eh, with a good double entendre. There was an enormous, and noisy, sculpture that required the kids to help move some of the balls along their paths and Reid did so repeatedly at a couple of places. Rather than testing process and discovering that it worked consistently, like when she was little and the spoon dropped from her highchair always fell down to the floor, the balls had a few variations of what they would do. There were signs explaining about the probability of various outcomes but Reid enjoyed the observation exercise without the statistics. Once into the kids’ zone proper, Reid went confidently from exhibit to exhibit, exploring each as long as her interest was held. I noted this particularly because Reid tends to like to evaluate a new situation or person before jumping in. At museums, though, she hurries to whatever catches her interest in her little wiggling half-run that sets her ponytails swinging.

My favourite activity was the panels of pins that you can press a body part against and then see the 3-D version on the other side. Reid really enjoyed the stage and pretend guitars. She liked seeing herself on the tv monitor and the differently shaped guitars. The biggest hit for Reid was probably the mini Market (like Loblaws or Zehrs) with President’s Choice products, plus meat, fish, fruit and veggies that she could shop for and then check out. She got to be the cashier once her basket was full and I was the customer. I was also the one who was the stock boy. I wonder if other parents were thinking, “Wow, this is good product placement.”

I’m happy that she had fun at the various stations but I’m not sure what she is learning at most of them and I don’t know what conversation that I should have with her to help her understand what is happening. Maybe it’s my fault, I did drop science after grade 10. Maybe it really is all about me.

On Monday, we went to the Royal Ontario Museum. As soon as we walked in, we saw three dinosaur skeletons on a wall. Or at least once we cleared the security check, which included a bag search, we saw them. Reid had a big smile on her face but the guard cautioned us that there weren’t many more. I thought they were better displayed than at the Canadian Nature Museum. We visited the reptiles display because it was between the elevator and the kids’ zone. Aunt Karin commented that there were too many snakes for her but she looked at a lot more of them than than I did. Stuffed dead animals creep me out a bit and since I have no warm and fuzzy feelings toward reptiles …

We spent a long time in the hands-on biodiversity gallery. Reid looked intently at the butterflies pinned to the board, the little stuffed mice, squireels and what not. She asked no questions about their “deadness” but was delighted to see them up close. Her enthusiasm was infectious and, when combined with my determination to be a “good mom”, this helped me to slow down. I thought of the scene from that movie about the President of the US where the tour guide leads the group around the White House saying, “We’re walking, we’re walking.” But I didn’t say it. Does anyone remember what movie that was? There were some old school discovery cases (remember I put myself through university working in museums and so I notice these things). Reid spent lots of time with these – looking at plastic bugs with a magnifying glass, smelling cinnanmon and other things, looking through devices that simulated how bees, dragon flies, and other creature things, etc. I’m going to make a mental note to have Reid smell more things at home and will be putting a magnifiying glass and plastic bugs on her birthday wish list. I was impressed by Reid’s ability to focus on each of the boxes for an extended period of time.

After awhile, we went into the kids room (I can’t remember if it had a cutesy name). Reid and I “dug” for dinosaur bones in some fake sand using paintbrushes. She was very interested in this activity. Her daycare has had dinosaurs as the theme for two or three weeks and so the special exhibit at the zoo and the dinosaur dig and skeletons on the way in really resonated with her. We cuddled and read a few books but only How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?“>How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends? by Jane Yolen had a link to any of the displays. I was starting fall asleep and so didn’t protest when Reid decided to go play with a tea set. Aunt Karin did lay on the bean bag couch and I’m pretty sure that she managed a nap. Reid has been getting her naps in but Aunt Karin and I haven’t managed any. Reid tried on a chainmail hood and I tried on a metal helmet but I couldn’t talk her into posing for a picture. We may end up with nothing to prove that we were both in Toronto together. (Not that I want a lot of photos of me but one of us would be nice.) Reid was playing with some plastic dinosaurs when a little girl touched CareB and Reid decided it was time to go. I didn’t let her knock the little girl away but we did leave quite soon. Aunt Karin and I were tired enough to jump on the excuse to leave. We’d been there about 3 hours and on our feet throughout. Reid was fresh but she is young, rides in a stroller and naps. Quick, call a waanh-mbulance!

Other than the creepiness factor, an I was as pleased as Reid to be able to get up close to the lion, cheetah, bear cub, moose, etc. I still didn’t know what to say about most of the exhibits or what she is learning, though. Hmmm, I sound a bit like a control freak, don’t I? I *did* finally figure out what the difference was between a cheetah and a leopard because there was a stuffed one of each. The cheetah’s spots are smaller and solidly dark while the leopard’s spots are bigger and have a light centre.

I think my ambivalence stems from not knowing what learning is happening in natural history or science centres. I think that they’re good as an alternative to amusement parks or street. As someone trained in history and who worked in historic sites, I’m much more comfortable in history museums, even those with content that is outside of knowledge base. I know the how and why of these museums. ┬áIf there was some sort of guide for parents at the museum or science centres, I’d read it. Maybe I should do some Web research …

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