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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

October 2007 Issue

When Science is Child’s Play
At the Montshire Museum’s Science Park in Norwich, Vermont,
the built landscape and the natural world combine forces to teach scientific fundamentals.

By Susan Hines

When Science is Child.s Play 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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