We were recently invited on a trip to the Natural History Museum up on the University of Utah campus. If you've ever seen Night at the Museum, it is basically Utah's version of that same type of museum (only nothing comes alive... that I know of :) There is however a huge variety of things to see and explore from all different periods throughout history and covering everything from geology to biology to anthropology to metrology and a whole ton of other ologies as well!
Our museum here has a TON of hands on exhibits, you can tell they had Utah families in mind when they planned it, because every area we stop at had something that the kids could experience first hand using their own senses. This was also the kind of place that I would love to go for a date night with my husband and be able to stroll around and read about all the fascinating little tidbits. Along the way we'd point out everything that we should come back and show to the kids, while making comments like, "wouldn't so-and-so LOVE this?!" In other words, good for adults and kids alike!
It was seriously huge, so plan for almost a whole day when you go and either pack a lunch or stop to eat in their cafe. Or perhaps get a membership and explore a different short section each time you visit. There really is a lot to do and see. We entered on the first floor, got our tickets and headed upstairs to the second floor where you peer down a large corridor that was designed to look like Utah's canyons. The architecture was so cool, no dull straight lines or traditional stairwells in sight.
One of the first areas we came to was the kids backyard area, which featured a water table and little plastic toys and bugs the kids could play with. There were also little caves to crawl through, costumes to wear, bird sounds you could try to identify, a microscope that the kids could use on their own and some live animal displays. Our toddlers and preschoolers LOVED this area, but we wisely decided to end there, as they of course managed to get themselves soaking wet. So either plan ahead or steer clear until the end!
The next area we saw was the lab, featuring actual archeology work, where volunteers sift through bone fragments and such, which are meticulously dusted and pieced together. Though we couldn't hear them they were so friendly and stopped work to look up and show the kids the foot bone they were currently working on. It was cool to see how detailed and truly precise everything had to be. I am pretty sure I don't have the patience for that job!
The lab led straight into the huge area with all their dinosaur bones. There is something about huge (and tiny!) dinosaur bones that just leaves you in awe. The kids were staring and pointing out all the things that caught their attention. There was a little bone fragment puzzle that looked simple enough, proved to actually be quite difficult, and made the kids appreciate archeologists who do work to piece all those little fragments together. There was also a rubber sand pit with a bunch of brushes that the kids could use to uncover hidden bones buried in the bottom that every child LOVED. (Us moms loved it too as rubber flakes brush out of kids' hair and clothes MUCH EASIER than real sand!)
The next area we saw was all about The Great Salt Lake, both past and present. The kids spent quite awhile here, determined to crank the water wheel and raise the water levels enough to drown out Antelope Island. Not only could they play with an interactive water table that represented the Salt Lake Valley throughout different historical periods, but the amazing architects designed the building and exhibit perfectly to provide a breathtaking view of the current Great Salt Lake as well.
Wandering through our chosen path the next area we came to was about prehistorical people. They have a life-sized replica of an actual excavation site that archeologists have studied here in Utah that the kids were able to crawl around in. They also had jewelry, pottery, clothing and other artifacts on display that were so fascinating to learn about. The kids liked trying to piece a clay pot back together and try their hands at different weaving technics.
The last area we really had time to visit was all about biology, which happens to be the type of science my kids are currently studying in school. Thus they loved getting to assemble a giant plant and animal cell, learn about classification, see various animal specimens, look through microscopes, and compare different species DNA sequences. I feel like normally those topics would be dull and complicated for elementary-aged kids, but The Natural History Museum really does an amazing job of making it interesting and breaking it down to anyone's understanding. Even my toddler and preschooler were playing with different bird puppets and doing a "cell puzzle" without realizing that it was educational! Win!
They occasionally have volunteers out and about in the museum with a little hands on learning station set up. We were lucky enough to stumble upon two such volunteers and they were so knowledgeable and drew the kids into whatever they were demonstrating. My four-year-old is now mildly obsessed with identifying carnivores, herbivores and omnivores after being shown how to match skulls with photos of animals and scrutinize types of teeth.
There was a whole weather section we did a quick speed walk through, along with their Native American exhibit, a rock and gem display, and a bit about the direction of Utah's future history. They also always have a rotating exhibit as well. Honestly, we just didn't even have time to see it all and that was after being there from 10:00 am 'till about 4:00 pm. The kids didn't want to leave either, we just had stuff to get back to. I feel like it has to be one of the largest museums we have here in Utah. And I love that the kids spent 6 hours exploring science, learning, reading, and interacting with all the exhibits and didn't realize how much they had taken in with their little sponge-like minds!