Water forces. Bubbles. Robots. Tornadoes. Energy. Dinosaurs. Galaxies and ecosystems. Our universe sure packs a lot of excitement, power, and puzzles, and so does the Connecticut Science Center. Located in downtown Hartford, this is one of the most comprehensive and child-friendly museums in our state and a visit here can easily turn into a day-long adventure.
After stepping inside the Connecticut Science Center (closed on Mondays!) for the first time, I knew that purchasing a membership was a must, and here's why: more than 160 interactive exhibits involving everything from building dams, to testing the speed of self-created square-wheeled cars, to experiencing a recording studio, and - our family's favorite - the Exploring Space section on the 5th floor. Get up close to a NASA spacesuit, make a moon crater, sit back in a space pod and tour outer space, or watch your little ones (ages 7 or younger) take charge of a Lunar Lander.
Also on Level 5 - for some reason we always begin our visit here - children will enjoy putting their imaginations to the test at the LEGO building station, experiment with chain reaction machines, and race against a robot to finish a puzzle. Across the hallway - where you must stop for a few moments and admire the beautiful, recently-installed murals - is Picture of Health, an exhibit that shows visitors how muscles and bones work together, and how genetics impact health. Older children will enjoy testing their bodies' reactions in a game setting, and little ones tend to linger around the Esther the Digester station where they witness how their choices of nutrition and exercise affect the body.
Our next stop is usually Level 6 where the emphasis is Planet Earth. Children can analyze rocks, giggle while their hair rises when subjected to gale-force winds in a hurricane simulator, and dig for fossils. The Marine Touch Tank is always a hit, and little ones will enjoy the small slide and climbing area in the Critter Corner, as well as getting up close to snakes, turtles, and fish. The open floor plan in this area makes it possible for children to play safely, while their adult companions enjoy sweeping views of the Connecticut River and parts of the city. If you're visiting the museum with children 5 or younger, a change of clothes is definitely recommended because of the fun, interactive water-based exhibits, such as the Stream Table where you can test water flow. During warm months, the Rooftop Garden excites the senses with touch and smell zones.
On the 4th floor, experiment with sounds and sights, experience Forces in Motion while designing a car and testing its speed, see how the wind propels a sailboat, or use wind to maneuver a beach ball in the air. Large building blocks, a recording studio, and an interactive floor system are also hits in this section of the museum.
If you have children under age 7, save the best for last: KidSpace. Remember the recommendation for an extra change of clothes? Even though waterproof vests are on standby, children playing in this area will get wet - and enjoy every moment of it! They will be mesmerized by a tornado-shaped vortex and not get enough of feeding colorful balls into all sorts of tubes while following their journey through water. The LEGO water table is also a happening place, so sit back and watch imaginations go to work. During each visit, we spend at least an hour in this section - and leaving always involves bribery and a promise to return.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, rotating exhibits make a visit here exciting. In recent months, we have gotten up close to animatronic dinosaurs, Leonardo's Da Vinci's "Machines in Motion," and now, Engineer Earth allows visitors to experience the composition or raw earth, analyze its movements, and note its impact on construction and architecture.
Of course, there is more - such as a 3D Theater, a well-equipped gift store, and an on-site Froyo World and Subway. The Science Center frequently holds special events, vacation workshops, exploration camps, and sensory friendly days. Expect to find clean, stroller-friendly surroundings, spacious elevators, bathrooms on each level, and convenient garage parking just under the museum. Members pay a flat fee for $5, while other visitors are subject to hourly rates.
Spending a day in Hartford is easy. If you have time to spare after your visit here, check out the Wadsworth Atheneum, or, on weekends, catch a ride on the Bushnell Park Carousel.
About 15 minutes away, in New Britain, a stop at Avery's Sodas is definitely worth it. Children will enjoy seeing how old-fashioned soda is made, and they'll love choosing some totally gross (in name only) drinks, such as Dog Drool, Toxic Slime, and Kitty Piddle.
Connecticut Science Center
250 Columbus Boulevard 860-SCIENCE
Adults: $23.99 for general admission, $7 for movie only ($28.95 combo).
Kids age 3-17: $16.95 general admission, $6 for movie only ($21.95) combo).
Before you go, check with your local library; many have a 20% off coupon that you can borrow for the day. A membership can definitely pay for itself in just a couple of visits.
520 Corbin Avenue, New Britain, CT
Photo Credit: all photos are courtesy of the author