We found such a treat when we visited Mobile, Alabama!!! The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is an incredible children’s science museum (that isn’t just for kids)! We went on a week day in January; there were a few small school groups when we arrived, but after that we shared it with just a few families, and several adult couples (who were enjoying it just as much as our tribe was!).
The museum has it’s own IMax Dome museum (one of only 50 in the world); you sit in steep theater seating, and the screen wraps around you, from down to the floor in front, up and around both sides, and curves over the ceiling above you. We watched Flight of the Butterflies; it was so interesting!!! The 45 minute film was all about the migration of the Monarch Butterfly: We learned about Fred and Norah Urquhart who spent nearly 40 years researching and learning (discovering really) the migration pattern of the Monarchs – how they range from all the way up in Canada to all the way down into Mexico where they winter (the ultimate snowbirds!). Through the Imax, we learned that there are several generations of Monarchs every year, and the normal length of life is 2 months. Except for the generation that will begin the migration journey – that butterfly will live up to 8 months in order to be able to complete it’s long journey (explain that with evolution!). The film was great – we all learned a ton about the Monarch migration, and even Caleb stayed enthralled the entire time as all those huge butterflies flew around him! 🙂
(Flight of the Butterflies shows through May 4th, and a new show, Space Junkies begins to play in alternate time slots starting on April 4)
Next, we visited Hands On Hall and the…
The museum has recently completed some very extensive remodels – from updating areas to completely revamping whole sections. One of these remodels is the addition of a Kids’ Lab. The Kids’ Lab is a bright, open, fun room where the museum puts on science experiments and lab demos! The museum has monitors under the experiment counter so you can see the work in progress blown up (pun intended), and bench seating for the audience.
While we were there, one of the staff, Bree, did some experiments for us; she was great! For her first demo, she had 3 empty plastic cups (not see through), and she poured some water in one of them. She would then switch them around quickly and ask the kids which one had the water in it. The kids would guess and she would turn over that cup and repeat – soon all 3 cups were turned upside down with not a drop of water in sight!!! I won’t tell you how she did it, since I don’t want to ruin the surprise for when YOU go to the Exploreum, but it was fun, and Bree then showed the kids how she did it and explained why the demo worked the way it did.
She also blew up a coffee can for us! 😀
In the Kids’ Lab room, there are several tanks with live reptiles in them (an albino bullsnake named Gandalf, a spiny tail lizard, and the most adorable baby alligator! – among others).
The kids really enjoyed meeting the lab’s Bearded Dragon…
Right next to the Kids’ Lab, in the one of the main floor wings, is Wharf of Wonder.
I have to say that I was smitten with Wharf of Wonder! LOL!
Wharf of Wonder is The Cutest and most imaginative toddler area we have come across! Use is strictly limited to ages 5 and under (so littles can play in an environment free from competition from older kids) – there are other areas, very close, that are more appropriate for older kids.WoW is a themed, walled off area, with a child-proof gate (parents must still be in the area with their littles). Designed to mimic a wharf, it includes a fishing boat, the SS Crichton, for the kids to pilot through the surrounding sea of water (blue and green ball pit!).
There are dozens of sea creatures in the water
There is also another part of WoW, this one on solid ground, with toys, activities, and a table and chairs for puzzle time.
WoW has activities/toys for babies through K-5, and provides a Nursing Nook for breastfeeding moms. I had a hard time getting Caleb and Molly out of here – in fact, I finally left them there for another half hour, with Beth (our 18yo), to make sure that the others didn’t have to miss any of the museum! LOL!
Also in Hands On Hall, there are some fun activities, like these big blue blocks. Made of dense foam, they actually have channels formed into them to build giant ball runs (like marble towers).
Course, my kids weren’t creative enough to build a ball course, instead it looks like it’s a fort with guns for us (par for the course at our house). Glad we were the only kids here at the end! LOL!
this warped reflection screen was really popular with Daniel and Joel…
and the whole hall rest of the hall was full of fun exhibits that the kids could manipulate to prove certain scientific facts. On this one, Peanut and I raced these metal wheels down identical tracks…
The wheels had sliding weights in them that you could position near the center, or slide out near the edge. We got to experiment with how the position of the weight affects the speed that the wheel will turn, and therefore how fast it will travel down the ramp. Peanut put her weights near the middle, while I slid mine out closer to the edges. Guess who’s won! Peanut’s. 😉 *and if you look beyond Peanut, in the picture, you will see a harp. This harp is not your usual, everyday stringed harp like Beth plays. Instead, it is a laser harp!!! You can’t see the strings, but they are lasers and you play just as if there were strings there! As your fingers ‘pluck’ the strings (break the laser beams), the corresponding note plays!
Near every activity is a sign of some sort that first explains the activity (what to do), then tells you why you got the results you did…
This area was all hands-on experiments/discovery stations. We saw several couples (possibly snowbirds), in checking them out and trying them! I thought this would be a fun place for a date! 🙂
For this activity, you would lift a bowling ball to the top of a cylinder, and let it slam down. The air below the ball is then forced into a small tube at the bottom, across the display and back up into the tube to the right. In that tube is a tennis ball that is forced up and shoot up out of the tube all the way to the ceiling (if you let the bowling ball fall with force) where it would be caught and guided back down to it’s place in the tube. It was a great display of air displacement!
The next activity was probably the most popular with my group, in this area.
It is a great show of how levers and leverage work…
The kids would get on opposing sides, and have a tug-o-war. Notice how the ropes are attached to the lever at different lengths from the base. The length from the fulcrum (base) to the force makes a great difference as to how much energy (force) is needed to move the lever. The kids had fun learning that the farther you are from your base, the less force you need to do the same job. The kids would split up, with one or two going to the side that was attached near the end, and all the rest pulling at the rope closest to the fulcrum. One of the bigger boys, on the side with more leverage (farther from the fulcrum) could out pull all the rest of the kids with their shorter span of leverage. Needless to say, learning basic physics principles in this fashion leaves quite an impression. 😉
In the other wing of the main floor is an incredible new exhibit! Called
this area is dedicated to helping people understand how their body works. It was all done in a very classy manner, and with tact, and was incredibly educational! I loved it!!! We spent over an hour in this exhibit alone, and had a blast with all the hands-on activities here.
You could manipulate a 3-D image of a heart with your hands, and the littles all loved the stations where you would place your hands on the hand patterns on the counter; the templates would pickup your heartbeat, and read it – it would amplify the sound, and the little heart shape on the display would beat red every time that your heart beat…
There were all sorts of activities that measured your physical fitness…
And the girls got to go grocery shopping and learned how to read food labels! 😉
The whole area was all about health and making wise food and health choices (no food pyramid here, from what I saw it was just basic common sense!) 🙂
The kids learned about diabetes (which was a very popular topic with my tribe since it included a space-like video game 😉 ), and Emma took a bike ride with this handsome gentleman…
He would mimic her pedaling, going fast if she was, slowing down if she was. It was very interesting to get to see how your bones work together as you move.
In the middle of the room is a large techy looking room; when you go inside, it is full of displays that talk about intensive/invasive health care. Things like being able to watch heart bypass surgery being performed…
and getting to do other activities, like one that simulates what it is like to do an endoscope! The Exploreum is in the process of completing the last finishing touch in this section – one corner of the room is being remodeled into … a kitchen!!! Called the iHealthy Lab, this area will feature a demo kitchen that will feature a health conscience cooking lab!
Upstairs, we headed to the Scratch Factory. The Scratch Factory is a big room that is just full of stations stocked with supplies. At each table there are the directions and supplies for one or two projects. These open-ended science, math, technology, and/or engineering projects each have clear instructions, but the kids are encouraged to ask their own discovery questions and then experiment to find out the answers!
The kids’ favorite station was the parachute making table. Complete with 5 air tubes nearby, of various air speeds, it was a fun place to build, and test, your parachute models. The kids were given basic instructions on how to assemble their parachutes (tho half mine didn’t read them…), but they were able to build a couple of different parachutes to experiment with various specs.
They tried different lengths of string to see how it would affect flight, and they tried the different parachutes in each wind tube to see how wind speed affected each one.
Caleb loved this station once he realized that he could fly parachutes just like the big boys – using only a coffee filter! He put on the miles running after that coffee filter as it would shoot out of the wind tunnel, then float down to the ground – Caleb would pick it up, take it back over to one of the wind tunnels, where he would do it again. Over and over again. <3
There were over a dozen different hands-on projects in the Scratch Factory to do. All had the supplies on hand and stocked, and then told how to use your creation, and asked some questions based on observations once your project was completed. The kids were welcome to take home their creations.
There were other hands-on activities upstairs as well, like the Marble Coaster – a wall full of peg board, then bins full of pieces parts of small PVC, connectors, wall pegs, and marbles. Kids could spend hours, just here, building elaborate marble mazes!Peanut loved this huge ‘light bright’! The lights behind the holes really didn’t show through, until she would slide the colored shafts in, then then light would shine through…
In addition to the fabulous updating the museum has undergone, their website is also being remodeled; it will be completed soon, but promises to be easier to use and a more interactive experience. Check out the Exploreum Science Center website (link in last paragraph) and check out the exhibits, and the current IMAX film and schedule.
During our travels, we have been to a lot of incredible places! It is very seldom that we get kicked out by a museum closing, but I’m afraid that we heard the final call for guests to leave the Exploreum! LOL! The kids requested that we go back the next day. The exact wording, I believe was this:
Me: You guys have 5 minutes!
“You have got to be kidding me!” (Peanut, who else!)
Joel: Can we come back tomorrow?”
Joel: Well, we definitely have to come back here next year!!!
That’s high praise from my group of nomads who enjoy checking out the next adventure! LOL!
The Exploreum is open 7 days a week – you can check the hours on the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center website. Admission prices are also found there (they are ASTC members, so if you have a reciprocal science-technology center membership, admission would be free), but I do want to mention that the museum is running a Carnival Combo (has to do with Mardi Gras) from now through March 1 – you get admission to the museum AND to an IMAX Dome movie for $10! If you have ever been to either an IMAX movie, or a science museum, you know that is a great deal! Also consider liking the Exploreum Facebook page – they are great about putting up updates, and notices for their specials! It would be a great reminder if you are putting this center on your list of stops!
We loved our visit! <3