When Science is Child’s Play
At the Montshire Museum’s Science Park in Norwich,
the built landscape and the natural world combine forces to teach
By Susan Hines
Wolff Design Group
In a world where children are more often inside than outside and
are presented daily with prefabricated entertainment or didactic
instruction, a visit to a museum can seem like same old, same old—just
another constructed indoor experience.
At the Montshire Museum and Science Park on the banks of the
Connecticut River in Norwich, Vermont, however, adventure awaits. Inside,
museumgoers watch a colony of leaf-cutter ants go about their lives in a
Plexiglas colony or mount a bike to learn how much energy it takes to raise the
museum’s elevator one floor. Outdoors, visitors take in the museum’s science
park where hands-on exhibits explore the characteristics of water, light,
sound, and air.
Within the confines of this two-acre park, children and
their parents can manipulate these natural elements, testing their properties
through observation and direct interaction. By dropping a Ping-Pong ball in a
250-foot-long rill, for example, they can watch the ball speed up and slow down
in response to changes in the current as the rill widens and narrows, meets
obstructions, and enters and exits passageways.
In times past, the same experiment could be carried out with
a twig and leaf skiff set loose in a local stream. But how many kids today have
access to a stream? And how many parents have the time to locate one and follow
their child’s mad dash along it as they watch how changes in the waterway
affect their small craft?
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