Boston’s outstanding Museum of Science is among the best in the country, and generations of New England children have marveled at its exhibits. But the region also has a number of smaller, closer-to-home museums that can give your kids just as full a day’s immersion in science and technology. Here are four we’ve had trouble tearing our kids away from at closing time.
In downtown Dover, the Children’s Museum takes full advantage of the Cocheco River that flows just below it, exploring both its natural and industrial history in a multifaceted Cochecosystem exhibit. Kids can try their hand at using a loom as they discover how the falls once powered fabric mills along its banks, and they can see the river from a bug’s or a beaver’s perspective and learn how Native Americans fished for alewives. They can step aboard a Piscataqua River gundalow to help load and unload cargo or “navigate” the boat down the river.
The interactive “Music Matrix” helps them make their own tunes and “Sound Watch” lets them see what different sound waves look like. They can challenge siblings or parents to play Mindball, a biofeedback game based on EEG technology that monitors brainwaves. But the all-time favorite for our kids is “Build It, Fly It.” Here they discover some truths about aerodynamics as they build their own flying machines from different shapes of interlocking foam. If it doesn’t make it on a test flight, the exhibit helps them redesign it until it flies.
The interactive exhibits in this downtown Bangor center explore not only the worlds of science, nature and anatomy, but of art, music and even literature. “Mission Discovery” explores gravity, acceleration and space through hands-on experiences; “Body Journey” explores how the human body works; and, in “Dino Dig,” kids dig up and identify fossils and learn about dinosaurs.
Nano introduces nanoscale science and the “Karaoke Studio” explores sound as kids perform or compose their own tunes. “Nature Trails” guide kids through Maine’s many ecosystems to discover its wildlife. “Artscape” gives kids the inspiration and tools to build, draw and create their own masterpieces.
Everything in the beautiful riverside science complex is meant to be examined, used and touched, from the air-powered labyrinth to the lab for creating their own optical illusion toys. The museum’s 125 exhibits challenge kids to make soap bubbles bigger than themselves and to understand what makes motion pictures move by making their own. Cog boards reveal the secrets of how machinery operates and “The Light Around Us” explores the color, reflections and physics of light as kids bend light rays, change the colors of familiar objects and separate white light into colors.
In the “Discovering the Natural World” exhibit, kids find details they never noticed as they examine insects, bones, plants and feathers through a microscope, assemble animal skeletons, solve botanical mysteries and use their powers of observation to complete an animal scavenger hunt. The purpose-built building is part of the exhibit, with exposed construction supports and color-coded ventilation ducts. Nature trails explore the 110 acres of grounds alongside the Connecticut River just opposite Hanover, N.H.
In downtown Burlington on the shore of Lake Champlain, the center helps kids — and adults — examine the lake’s natural and human history through interactive and live exhibits. The live exhibits reach far beyond Lake Champlain, including one on frogs that features examples from six continents (one of them is the world’s most poisonous, safely behind glass).
In “Before the Basin,” kids travel back in time to uncover the geology of the lake’s formation and try their hand at eroding rocks or building a mountain, and they can explore a life-sized recreation of a shipwreck, a vessel that sank right here in 1876. In the aquarium they will see all varieties of lake fish, plus urchins, turtles, newts and mudpuppies. A specially designed theater presents 2- and 3-D National Geographic films daily, and “Champ Lane” engages children under age 6 in science, using all five senses and science tools for the first time.