The kids and I have been dying to visit the McWane Center in Birmingham, Alabama for quite sometime, but random life situations and sickness have kept us from going. We arrived, and after parking in conveniently-located parking deck, we took the elevator that opened into the McWane Center lobby at landing. Immediately, we saw scores of excited school-kids milling around with their teachers and chaperons. I inwardly groaned, thinking that the exhibits would be crowded and that it would be hard for me to keep up with my own children in such a crowd. We made our way to the ticket counter, stood in a fast-moving line and received our tickets for the science center and chose the movie we wanted to see in the IMAX theater. The customer service representative was very helpful, and suggested that we see “Island of the Lemurs” because she thought it would appeal to all of my children. We applied our sticker badges and entered the science center. WOW. There are so many different exhibits to explore that we had trouble deciding what to look at first! We went up a flight of stairs to the second floor to see amazing dinosaur exhibits. My boys saw the Dino Racer, by where two people can get on elliptical-style cardio machines and race as dinosaurs on a large projection screen, and made a beeline to try it out. After exhausting themselves on the Dino Racer, we looked at the the skeletons of several dinosaurs whose fossils have been found in Alabama.
The kids had a blast “digging for fossils” in a mock dig site, and used paleontology brushes and tools to make their discoveries. We ventured into the “Sea Monster” exhibit that showed different aquatic animals that were contemporaries of the dinosaurs we had seen. The huge prehistoric tortoise that hangs overhead in this area was very impressive to all of us, and my girls agreed that they would be terrified to see it swimming in the water. The Life Science and Zoology activities allowed us to try our hands at solving mysteries to become “Insect Detectives” and use microscopes to see organisms up close. We climbed the stairs to the third floor and saw many exhibits that we couldn’t wait to try.
The huge floor piano keyboard was an immediate hit with my youngest daughter, and my older three ran to spin colored sand into works of art. My youngest daughter discovered what made me think of huge “Lite Brite” screen, by where she could put colored pegs into a back-lit screen with holes. She played happily here with a couple of other preschoolers as their moms sat off to the side and watched them. This highlights one thing that I absolute loved about McWane Center; the exhibits are fascinating to parents and provide the opportunity for them to learn alongside their kids, but parental intervention in many areas is unneeded. This allows kids to learn and have fun on their own and explore what interests them, in a Montessori fashion. From there both girls and I found interactive digital projector screens where “butterflies” landed on the outlines of our shadows. We collected the boys and ventured into the special exhibit called Mindbender Mansion.
This area was set up like a house with multiple retro-inspired rooms that each contained different brain teaser games and puzzles. The kids loved the frozen food conveyor belt that required teamwork to create correct platters, assembly line-style, and my five-year-old daughter, the Princess LOVED the Spelling Fever game, by where she had to spell out the correct answers to trivia questions with her feet on a board with letters without touching incorrect tiles.
We moved back down to the first floor to attend the Combustion Demonstration in the Rushton Theater. After we were seated, the scientist gave an interesting powerpoint slide on combustion and basic chemistry while using demonstrations to illustrate his points. When the scientist asked the audience to name liquids that can catch on fire, my 7-year-old son, Sundance Kid, raised his hand and yelled “SCOTCH!” when he was called on. The man looked stunned… then said, “Well yes… alcohol IS flammable”. Sundance was then asked to assist with a demonstration that showed the audience the problems with using Hydrogen gas in balloons, which included a brief discussion of the famous Hindenburg Blimp explosion.
This was one of the highlights of our trip, and I can promise you that they won’t forget it! It has also led to several at-home research discussions on the Hindenburg… I love being able to tie History and Science together!
We played in the Bubble room for awhile, and when my youngest was ready to move on, we went into the ScienceQuest area to look at the numerous Physical Science experiments, like the Laser Harp ,the Bed of Nails and the Height Checker that guesses your height by using sound waves.
The kids loved learning about Bernoulli’s principle and how Balance works. The boys just HAD to try the “High Cycle”, which is a recumbent bike that rides on a tight wire, over a net that’s suspended over the main floor lobby… from the 2nd Floor. Those daredevils LOVED it. We headed to the IMAX theater to watch “Island of the Lemurs” when I noticed that it was time for it to begin, and this provided a nice tie to sit and rest after lots of walking and exploring that last all morning. The IMAX theater is truly amazing. None of us had ever been to an IMAX movie before, so we were very excited. The kids LOVED feeling like they were actually in the forest with the Lemurs, and also learning so much about an animal we knew little about. Now they all want Lemur stuffed animals. I HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest you visit here SOON!
McWane Center generously provided us with free passes to review the Center and Imax theater, but all opinions are my own.