Saturday, June 16, 2012

New Museum

Well, we're officially on summer vacation now. This means a lot of going out to zoos, parks, libraries, farms and museums. I'm also scheming to get the kids into factories and plants and other such places where we can see how things are made and processed. I personally enjoy visiting places like those, even more so than historical sites, which - I'm sad to admit- usually send me into a coma. Perhaps it is the science person in me - I get energized by Hows and Whys more than Whens and Whos. And I am excited that this year, even Kate is cognitively and behaviorally old enough to participate in such adventures - just a year ago she seemed like she was still a baby that needed entertaining/distracting while the older kids got involved in the actual goings-on.

One of the places on our to-go list was this engineering museum for kids. We chose to wait till all three girls were out of school before making our first visit. 

How cool is it that there exists a hands-on engineering museum for kids? Not just a Science museum whose emphasis is diluted between the life and physical sciences but a place that is gloriously Physics-centric?

None of us knew what to expect, really, when we turned up. It was intimate enough not to overwhelm the kids but sufficiently exciting so that we spent 5 hours there (excluding a lunch break) before my energy level began to wane. The kids weren't ready to leave, of course. 

Here are some of the in-house and traveling exhibits -



(which reminds me that I need to make some pulley systems at home soon, using old video spools and wooden beads),

structural engineering 

at which display I snapped a photo of this fun chart for future cardboard inspiration,

and kinematics.

I loved watching Jenna hold her own with kids twice her age. And -albeit not to stereotype -did she even notice that none of them were in pink, wore tiaras or had Cinderella on their shirts? I bet not.

Other exhibits (no photos) included a sound engineering booth, an earthquake station, an air harp and all manner of bridge- and dam- building /strength-testing displays. It took all my self-control not to let the Physics teacher beast  in me ruin the fun by making everything explicitly educational. I wanted the girls to come home and fall over themselves to be the first to tell their Dad what they'd learnt that I didn't teach. I tried to limit myself to just a few strategic facilitating questions but -oh, it was hard. I gave in a couple of times and whipped out notepaper and actually made mini-worksheets. For shame. Bad mom. Bad mom. 

In addition to the exhibits was the Design Lab - a work area where kids could build things to take home. It was like crafting for geeks. We absolutely loved it. 

These make-and-take projects change quarterly. For one of our projects that day, the girls experimented with magnets and made compasses. I only wish there'd been an iron-filings tray so they could have observed the effects of magnetic poles and field lines - what an awesome visual! But I guess it would've been messy and dangerous, which would terrify parents, huh? 

The other project was a simple car:

The girls built them, decorated them,

tested them for symmetry, stability and balance

and raced them
(and I didn't once mention the phrase "gravitational potential energy". Big pat on back ;) )

My training was in theoretical and applied Physics (not engineering) which sounds awful and vague and celestial and affiliated with absent-minded professors who dabble in time travel and nebula clusters and forget their meals. Therefore, I'd always secretly held real engineers in high(er) esteem for their organized minds and practical contributions to society and the common man. 

So - 
I say amen to that.

We are so going back again!


  1. I just LOVE the way you educate your girls! I can't stand mums which educate their girls to be always cute. Your girls are very cute but you encourage them to develop interest in many areas. More mums should be like you! Keep it up!

  2. Looks like a fun spot. As a former structural engineer, I love that chart too!

  3. That looks like a fascinating place to visit!

  4. we've enjoyed this museum, too :)
    but 5 hours !?! wow !
    (my husband & I are both engineers ~ maybe we should get t-shirts made with that saying... or maybe not)

    1. I thought of the SAME thing! And then had the same hesitation, largely because I'm NOT an engineer (the husband is, though). I think I might get myself one of those scientist Tshirts with "Bohr. Rutherford. Einstein." on it, although that's sorta two-thirds Chemistry. Or make up my own with my favorite smart guys - Heisenberg, Schrodinger etc. So geeky. Hey! Maybe we could make and sell the freezer-paper-stencil fabric equivalent that say, "Butler. Jones. Ross. KIELY." on the front. Ya think?

  5. I was kind of watching the show about factories on the Nat geo channel the other day they had episodes on Coca-Cola and /Lego factories. I have plans to take my daughter to Pendelton Woolen Mills this month to see how the fabric is made

    1. Argh! I checked it out - it's in OR!!!! Wrong state. We can't go. Must find other factory-tour spots to take my girls. But we DO have a Pepsi factory down the road - will see if they do tours. Excited!

  6. wow. It looks great ! Thank you for sharing. Another place to visit soon !

  7. For UK peeps (Wales specifically) there is a similar place called Techniquest
    really cool place to play, experiement and learn.

  8. That museum looks amazing!!! Jealous....

    I had to laugh at the image of you drawing up mini worksheets - I'm sure the girls found them highly entertaining :)

  9. The Works looks like 2much fun! & learning! I want to go to MN! Mall of America, Archivers, Zoo, Great Lakes Aquarium, & The Works! My grandd and I visited Explora! in Albuquerque, & had a great time amongst their hands-on interactive exhibits. We esp loved the creativity room filled w/ recyclables, glue, & scissors to make a memory to bring home. Mahalo for sharing your summer adventure at The Works.

  10. Put a cow magnet--not a joke, it's fed to cows to sequester metal junk they may eat--into a soda bottle with iron filings. 3-D force lines--awesome!

    Ag supply store or online. Powerful enough for lots of cool experiments.

    1. D Louise: Actually, there was a cow magnet at the magnet station, with a bottle of iron filings, just like the video. Unfortunately, the bottle walls were not clear enough to see through, and sorta defeated the purpose, and all we saw were random (foggy) spikes. Great concept, though - just a pity about the visibility.

    2. It becomes a DIY project if you can come up with the test tube, which is genius. We tried it minus tt, and it was messy and got foggy as you described when handled. I did it with high school kids, and all I had to worry about was breaking of the glass if the magnet was thrown in too hard (mostly by exuberant teenage boys.)

  11. HI! I don't know where you are, but another super cool science museum is The Exploratorium in San Francisco. (There's also a Tech Museum in San Jose, but I've never been, so I can't say much about it.)

    I loved bringing my daughter (now a 19 year old) to the Exploratorium.


  12. As a civil engineer who is currently a SAHM, I am so jealous of that museum! I wish we had something like where I live. Have you seen the idea to fill a plastic bottle with cut up bits of pipe cleaners and run a magnet along the outside? Not nearly as neat as iron filings, but fun nonetheless.

    You might check out It is a list of factories offering tours, organized by state. I had thought of taking my daughter to the post office, but when I asked our mailperson about the possibility of a tour, he looked at me like I was nuts. With security such an issue these days, I image it is out of the question.

  13. Thanks for the review! I had no idea it was there. I think my kids will love it.

  14. Where is it?? (cow magnets can be found at Fleet Farm, btw) My kids (2 boys, one girl) are all fascinated with how things work/are made/ used to be! We've toured the Summit Brewery in St. Paul, and almost all of the MN History sites within an hour of the Twin Cities!

    Yeah Science!

  15. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea there was an engineering museum in our neighborhood! My dad will love it.


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