If you’ve ever been there in your life, you know right away that this is the first thing you see heading into the Museum of Natural History. I remember this Elephant statue from elementary school field trips as if it were yesterday. I was rather pleased to see it right where I left it all those years ago and to see my kids enjoy it the same as I did.
Unlike the Hirshhorn, The Museum of Natural History is designed almost in its entirety with kid-friendliness in mind. From the moment you enter, everything around you is awe inspiring. For a child, the impression is bigger still. The focus being animals, marine life and dinosaurs, it’s rather can’t-miss when it comes to the kid crowd.
Loren wasted no time “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at all the exhibits. Despite it being the middle of the week, the place was packed with kids – either with fellow stay-at-home parents, or on field trips with their classmates.
As is the case these days, he wasted no time reassuring me that the “dinosaurs [are] so happy!” That’s a common phrase for him right now. Cars “so happy,” Dada’s “so happy,” everyone and everything is “so happy” in Loren’s eyes, including the dinosaurs.
I haven’t corrected him on this yet: “no, buddy, the dinosaurs are actually quite sad. You see, they went extinct a long time ago, which means they themselves and everyone they know and love and care about, their whole species even, is dead. They are most certainly not ‘so happy.’”
I don’t know how you have that conversation with a toddler, so I just let him run with the happy bit.
While checking out the exhibits I was told that the Museum has a hands-on “discovery” room, so I made it a point to check it out. It was a neat little space, with books and drums, skeletons, magnifying glasses and other sciency-type things for kids to play with, which was all well and good I suppose. But it gets to something I’ve noticed in all our trips around the city: When designing kid-friendly spaces, adults have a tendency to over-think things a bit. Loren was pretty un-impressed by the discovery room. Not because it wasn’t impressive on its own – it was a cool little space. It just happened to be situated in the middle of a much larger and more fascinating museum filled to the brim with incredible, awe-inspiring statues and fossils and a larger than life sense of wonder. When Loren saw a giant whale hanging from the ceiling of the amazing Ocean life exhibit, I basically had to scrape his jaw off the floor. The encore for that isn’t a little room with kid’s-sized hands-on stuff. The encore for that is full-size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
The museum had these kids at the elephant “hello.”
That said, this museum gets a lot of kid-friendly things right. Even with the giant T-Rex and whales and all that, the absolute show-stopper for the day was the butterfly exhibit. As we walked up the steps to the museum entrance, an exiting mother and her daughter spontaneously informed us that we absolutely should not miss the butterfly exhibit on the second floor. I’m glad she mentioned it, because it is easy to lose yourself and your sense of time just running around the first floor.
The butterfly exhibit costs five bucks a head (kids under two are free), and is worth every penny. For everything that is cool about the huge statues and skeletons downstairs, it’s this tiny little interaction that wins, no contest:
The exhibit is a hot and humid little dome, not much more than twenty feet long, but the butterflies are free-range, so-to-speak, and flit-float their way all over the place (before you leave you have to check and make sure you don’t have any stowaways on you). The plants and flowers all around make for a nice scene as you get up close and personal with the insects.
As I said, it is about 85 degrees in there. This being the last leg of our trip, Ruthie was nearing the end of her rope. Still in her jacket and snuggled into the bjorn, she wasn’t going to last very long. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure Loren would have opted to unpack and live right there next to the butterflies.
He’ll have to settle for waiting until we go back, which will be soon and often.