In times of yore, after racing through exhibits at the Natural History Museum at my son’s breakneck pace, we’d pass the rest of the day in the Discovery Center. That was his free playtime and my rest period. Our last trip to NHM was different.
It turns out the newest, most exciting part of the museum is The Nature Lab. There is still a semblance of a Discovery Center, but the real interactive and innovative fun for kids now lies in a large indoor/ outdoor interactive experience that focuses on Los Angeles wildlife in all it’s glory.
Located on the bottom floor of the museum near the cafeteria, the nature lab gives kids all the hands on, free playtime they used to have in the Discovery Center, coupled with more technology and a big outdoor experience as well. There are still live animals and fish to experience and a Critter Club full of insects, but there are also now multiple technology experiences kids can partake in.
Banks of computers with all kinds of statistics and stories and images are available inside of the lab. These interactive exhibits, both digital and mechanical, offer more and deeper stories than the old Discovery Center did. And that’s not all, behind the computers there are big glass walls that invite kids to run outside and experience what they’ve been hearing and reading about.
Turns out that was the plan. “Basically, when we started doing renovations, we realized we had a big resource in parking lots and hardscapes.” Explained Karen Wise, Vice President of Education and Exhibits “…We also know kids are too connected to computers and not getting outside enough. So we wanted to create an outdoor field site that would really engage people.”
To that end, they created nature gardens that include a living wall that winds through garden full of native or sustainable plants. There is a “Get Dirty” zone, where kids can poke around in the dirt and compost. There are also edible gardens where Volunteers can take school groups on an adventure tasting things off the vine.
My son discovered that in the Get Dirty Zone there is a Willow hut, where kids can grab long willow branches and add them to the hut, or in my son’s case remove them. There’s also an urban water feature, where kids can actually walk on water.
The other exciting thing about the location of this lab is that at lunchtime an amazing band playing Latin American folk songs was set up in a space central to the lab, allowing me to listen to music as my son played. According to Ms. Wise this may be the biggest success of the Nature Lab. “Where the old Discovery Center was really just geared toward kids, the Nature Lab is for everyone, kids, adults and kids and adults together.”
For my son and I, the Nature Lab really made the museum new again, so if you haven’t been to the MNH lately, it’s worth the trip.
Written by Cary Bickley