Science Museums: The Really Big and the Really Small

Eliza Clark
March 1, 2012

As our young children gradually emerge from the cocoon of home and into this multifaceted world of ours, the shift can be dizzying. They need very quickly to readjust and broaden their sense of the scale of things. Your little one will soon realize that “big” is bigger than Daddy, and “small” is a whole lot tinier than his own self. As kids grow, their sense of scale expands even further, and they become fascinated with things that are “really really big” and “really really small.

When this phase arrives, it’s time for a trip (or hopefully repeated visits) to a science museum.

Where else can you stare up at the giant bulk of a dinosaur one moment, and feel the weightless touch of a butterfly the next? Where else can you behold the behemoth of a blue whale, and then inspect the structure of DNA?

In New York City, those particular encounters can be found at the American Museum of Natural History. And in cities across the country, similar experiences can be had at science museums, discovery centers, aquariums and zoos.

At the amazing San Francisco Exploratorium, for example, visitors of all ages can use the Microscope Imaging Station to view living specimens, and control the microscopes themselves. Among many possibilities, you can view the embryo of a zebrafish, cell mitosis, or immune response in blood cells from different animals including human. Kids can see before their very eyes how these invisible processes underlie everything that we are, and the world we inhabit. 

On the “big” side of the scale, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry features a permanent exhibit, "Science Storms," devoted to understanding massive, awe-inspiring natural phenomena such as lightning, fire, tornados, avalanches, tsunamis, and sunlight.  These are elements so powerful as to dwarf any child’s early conception of “big and strong.”

With their child-friendly, hand-on exhibits, science museums make it possible for the youngest kids to begin to come to grips with this astonishing universe they’ve been born into. And visiting these museums with our little ones is a sure way to rekindle our own sense of wonder at the world we share with them.

From the Parents

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