Let’s just get this out in the open right now: Despite the fact that I live an hour away from Baltimore and have done so over a decade, until last week I had no idea that the Maryland Science Center even existed. We’ve been to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia more than once and have checked out both the Natural History and Air and Space Museums at the Smithsonian, but for some reason it never even occurred to me to see what Baltimore had to offer. I’m so glad that I’ve now rectified that situation as part of our weekend getaway at the the Hotel Monaco because this is a gem of a science museum with some really nice exhibits and a gorgeous location right on the Inner Harbor.
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There are several things to like about this museum. Number one is its manageable size – big enough to make for a good long outing, but not so big as to be overwhelming. (Although I’ll also admit that we didn’t get to everything, partly because the museum was very busy the day we were there). It makes smart use of its space too, with thoughtful exhibits offering lots of interaction. And at least on the weekends, there seem to be ample education staff moving throughout the museum answering questions and offering kids a chance to engage with different types of experiments and tools. Over the course of our time there we were invited to build with blocks and paper cups, to try and solve a tricky geometric puzzle, and to use a paper tube to create an optical illusion.
We started our day in the on the top floor of the museum in the Science Arcade where the boys explored exhibits having to do with magnets and light and sound waves. Tommy especially liked this large dish – if you whisper into that small circle, a person standing across the noisy, crowded room by the other dish can hear you perfectly.
The Peanuts…Naturally exhibit offered a creative way to learn about the environment and our impact on it, mostly through different examples of the comic strip, one of the earliest to use its national platform to raise awareness about issues like pollution and endangered animals during the 1960s and 70s. It also gave us a chance to teach Teddy why they call it “dialing” a phone (I’m still not sure he got this concept, although he did enjoy the giant Snoopy).
A small stage nearby was the setting for a really fun and interactive demonstration about optical illusions. We learned how are brains and eyes do (or do not) work together and about things like the Stroop Effect (that’s where you write the word “pink” in yellow letters and ask people to read it – they almost invariably say “yellow”).
Demonstrations like this are offered throughout the day – you can pick up a schedule when you arrive at the museum, or check out the website in advance to make sure you don’t miss anything you want to see.
The dinosaur exhibit on the main floor is particularly impressive given the museum’s smaller size. There’s tons of interactivity here from games,
to a large “dig” area,
to chances to assemble a dinosaur skeleton or color your own dinosaur.
We also spent a long time in the TerraLink exhibit. Tommy used a Google Maps tool to locate our house, much to his delight (the satellite photo even showed our car parked in the driveway). We were able to look at large maps that showed us where we live in relation to the Chesapeake Bay and to talk about why that watershed is so important for us. A mini-tornado swirled inside a case and Matt said he could have spent all day watching the video about every that is going on below the Earth’s surface.
Mid-afternoon, we gathered in the lobby to watch the “Spectacle of the Day”. The lesson had to do with the flammability of hydrogen and involved setting four different balloons full of the gas on fire to dramatic effect.
Then we moved onto what may have been my favorite exhibit of all: Our Place in Space. This floating globe shows a rotating series of fascinating films having to do with different aspects of the Earth, from how scientists use computer models to predict the path and intensity of storms to where on the planet you’ll find the most lights at night.
In the SpaceLink room kids could build their own space rover, check out a space suit, learn about the possibility of life on Mars and see what it would be like to work in mission control.
The very last thing we did was visit the museum’s small planetarium for the holiday laser light show set to a medley of old favorites. This was just as hokey – and magical – as you might expect it to be. While there may not have been much science learning going on, seeing Teddy’s eager face as he watched Rudolph spinning across the ceiling made for the perfect end to this lovely outing.
- We visited the museum on the first weekend of December, which as it turns out was “Dollar Days” for a number of Baltimore attractions. That means all four of us got in for just 4 bucks! I found out about this promotion on the museum’s Facebook page, not on their website, so I recommend “liking” them to make sure you get information about future special events.
- It was extremely crowded the day we were there (I asked one of the staff people and she said it was approximately four times as crowded as a normal Saturday). If you will be visiting on a high-volume day, I recommend doing as we did and arriving right when the museum opens. (Hours vary throughout the year – check the schedule before planning your trip.)
- We skipped the museum’s small café and headed a few blocks away from the Harbor to the Federal Hill neighborhood for an excellent brunch at Regi’s. In addition to the fabulous food, this was a great idea because it gave us a chance to get some fresh air in the middle of our visit. Readmission to the museum is free all day on the day you visit.
- Parking for the museum is located in a surface lot that’s just north and across the street – it’s a bit confusing to find the entrance because one-way streets. I recommend entering the intersection of Light and Lee Street into your GPS. Then get your ticket validated in the museum and pay only $15 for the day.
- Admission to the light show in the Planetarium was included in our admission to the museum (as are all planetarium shows). The planetarium seats only about 150 people, so if you’re there on a busy day or want to see a show you think might be popular, you’ll want to make your way over to the doors ahead of the show to wait in line. The museum also houses an IMAX theatre; tickets to see movies there cost extra.