5 Benefits of Local Science Museums & Nature Centers { BONUS :: Win a Family Pass }

When we travel as a family, one of the things that is always high on our itinerary are local science museums and nature centers. These local venues provide an intimate look at the natural world and ecosystems of the region. The perfect way to familiarize ourselves with the natural history and wildlife of the local area.

Science Museums & Nature Centers

First to mind are typically our National Parks and large-scale science museums like the Smithsonian, OMSI (in Portland, Oregon), or the Exploratorium (San Fransisco). The smaller museums are often overlooked for the educational opportunities they provide because they don’t have the advertising budget of larger venues. I want to encourage you to seek out these small, local museums and science centers.

Today, I highlight five benefits of local science museums. Best of all – I’m giving away one free family pass to The Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California.

science museums exhibitsHands-on Exhibits

You are likely already familiar with the hands-on exhibits, IMAX and planetarium shows that explore the wonders of science and the universe that are provided by science museums around the country. However, science museums provide so much more!

The mission of museums today is to stimulate curiosity, creativity and learning through fun, interactive exhibits and programs for children, families and school groups. Whether your visit is a family outing or a part of a school experience, the hands-on exhibits are the keystone of the museum.

Field Trips

The learning opportunities at science museums include field trips and school programs. Often, entrance fees are significantly reduced if visiting the museum in a large group. Consider coordinating an outing for your local homeschool community.

Perhaps your local science museum offers in-house classes or educational experiences with a trained volunteer or staff member? Reach out to your local museum education staff and inquire about their field trip programs. If they do not have programs in place, they may be happy to customize options to fit the needs of your class or school.

Adventure Tours :: Museum instructors and volunteers guide students through activities at the museum using the exhibits, grounds and classrooms.

Festivals :: Multiple stations are set up in and around the museum featuring hands-on activities and opportunities for learning. Students and chaperones explore in small groups.

Self-Guided Field Trips :: Some museums offer a self-guided field trip whereupon school groups pay a reduced admission rate and teachers and chaperones are admitted free.

Self-Guided Learning Expeditions :: Many museums offer materials which provide a focused course of exploration during your museum field trip. Developed with local teachers, each includes pre-visit activities which are built upon during the field trip and completed through post-visit activities in the classroom.

At larger museums often the education programs meet the Next Generation Science Standards as well as the Common Core Standards for Literacy and Math.

science museums festivalsCurriculum

Staff and volunteers of science museums often collaborate to develop education materials and public outreach for their visitors. These materials are often available online with the goal of increasing science literacy across the full spectrum of education, both in the classroom and in daily life, for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Discovery Classes :: Some museums offer classroom based programs that can either be held at the museum or at your school.

Traveling Trunks :: Traveling trunks are a great way to extend the learning experience and bring it back to the classroom. These curriculum-based learning units are designed to enliven classroom learning through authentic materials and hands-on lessons.

Look for ways you can expand upon what was learned at the museum by visiting local historic sites as I shared in my earlier post, Bonanza! Gold Rush Experiences.

Professional Development

Many science museums offer a range of professional development courses and workshops designed to strengthen teacher expertise and integrate hands-on science activities into the classroom. Many also offer formal classes and labs for students of all ages, professional development support for science teachers, and a broad range of formal and informal learning opportunities for visitors.

Teacher Training :: A variety of training programs are offered throughout the year for educators of grades kindergarten through 12. The sessions are designed to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of the region’s arts, culture, history and natural sciences.

science museums summer campSummer Camps

If you’ve been to camp, I’m sure you can list off numerous benefits of summer camp. But if you didn’t go to camp as a child, you may not realize just how good the experience is for children. Unplugging from devices, spending their day outdoors being physically active, making new friends, developing life skills, and growing more independent are just a few of the positives.

There are a multitude of summer camps sure to captivate kids of every interest—and your secret desire to enhance their education—from digging for fossils to programming robots, learning how to sail a boat or navigate across varied terrain with only a compass and a topographical map.

Here are just a few examples of camps available at science museums in California and Oregon:

Lawrence Hall of Science :: Lawrence Hall of Science camps are a great place to spend the summer. Where else can you build a wobbling robot, see how a chinchilla takes a bath, and visit the stars? Campers get inspired to explore, build, and create with new friends and cool tools!

OMSI :: Did you know Olympian swim suits were modeled after a shark’s skin? Look at nature differently as you build bio-mimicry challenges around a coastal campfire.  OR …Try your hand at everything from archaeology to web design this summer with brand new tech-based classes and junior overnight adventures.

High Desert Museum :: Offering a wide range of summer camps exploring animal science, astronomy, geology, and photography through fun and interactive activities and hands-on experiments.

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Lawrence Hall of Science :: Field Trip

One of the greatest joys of homeschooling is our flexible schedule.  Because we are not tied to a school schedule, we are free to join the kids’ father when he has conferences and work out of town.  Recently, a business meeting brought him to Oakland and we tagged along.  This not only ensures we get to spend quality time together – but it also allows us to explore new areas that we may not otherwise get to see.

On this trip, we ventured off the freeway via the local streets to take in the container ship port (from afar) and Chinatown.  After San Francisco, Oakland’s Chinatown is relatively small but we were able to browse several markets and bring home a box of moon cakes for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Thereafter, we drove up to the Berkeley campus to explore the Lawrence Hall of Science.  The Lawrence Hall of Science is UC Berkeley’s public science center.  It has been providing parents, kids, and educators with opportunities to engage with science since 1968.  Read on to discover a sampling of the science activities in which we were engaged.

Design, Build and Test

Numerous exhibits allowed us to explore the science of engineering and solve real-world challenges. Here are just a few of the activities we enjoyed:

  • Create our own flying machine and test it in a wind tube
  • Explore what it takes to get a roller coaster over a hill or through a loop
  • Make balls over in midair using the power of air pressure

Explore the World of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is used by engineers and scientists, and it’s also used in the fabric of your jeans, the fur on your teddy bear, and the smartphones in your pocket!  The nanotechnology exhibit provided us with a chance to:

  • Zoom in and see what our favorite everyday objects look like magnified.
  • Find out how tall we are in nanometers.
  • Play with smaller and smaller magnetic materials and watch how they act!
  • Discover how geckos stick to walls and how gravity affects tiny objects.
  • See how a butterfly can produce a beautiful color on its wings without pigments using natural nanotechnology.
  • Learn about people who work in the field and how they got interested in the science.
  • Explore how nanotechnology and nano experiments can affect our future.

Explore Forces That Shape the Bay

In this exhibit, we were able to experience the geologic forces that shaped—and continue to reshape—our home, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire bay. The activities in which we immersed ourselves included:

  • Riding a earthquake simulators
  • Set erosion in motion at a hands-on erosion table
  • Scoping out the bay with powerful telescopes
  • Controlling the water flow from the simulated Sierra Nevada
  • Learning how the San Francisco Bay has developed in 10,000 years
  • Look closer at all kinds of rock with the exhibit rock guide