When it comes to a winter road trip, Tulsa’s Discovery Lab checks all the boxes. It’s not too far away, it’s affordable, it’s located indoors and it offers a mentally and physically engaging atmosphere for kids of varying ages. From a floor-to-ceiling climbing tower, to a slide made entirely out of packing tape, to hands-on science experiments, Discovery Lab offers a variety of activities.
Formerly known as the Tulsa Children’s Museum, Discovery Lab has been located in historic Owen Park for five years. If the weather is nice, consider bringing a picnic and enjoying the nearby playground and duck pond or visiting Tulsa’s oldest home, a small cabin built in 1885 now housed on park grounds.
Discovery Lab is made up of two main exhibition rooms. In the Main Hall, museum guests will find the climbing tower and tape slide, along with oversized building blocks and an exhibit original to the museum. In the other, visitors will find the latest traveling exhibit.
Adjacent to the second exhibit room is the WorkShop, where kids can participate in frequently changing science activities.
“The WorkShop is a DIY space where children and families can use real tools to solve challenges,” said Anne Mannell, director of organizational development at Discovery Lab. “The activities rotate and can be related to a specific event, like National Engineering Week or Earth Day, or may be related to some programming that the Education Department is prototyping.”
One of the WorkShop’s most popular activities, continued Mannell, was “Take-Aparts,” where children could dismantle common items such as computers using real tools. Later, the dismantled parts were used to build entirely new creations. Check out Discovery Lab’s calendar at discoverylab.org/calendar for more information about the latest WorkShop activities.
Main Hall exhibits change out yearly and represent collaborations between museum staff and area students and professionals, said Mannell, which allows the museum “to make community connections and to incorporate new ideas in the projects.” The current exhibit, Math + Music, will switch out for a brand new one in February called Animationland. Additionally, Discovery Lab is planning to bring some new physical challenges to its Main Hall in early 2019, including a “scramble” climb element made out of netting and oil barrels and a “rope jungle.”
Parents of very young children may be happy to learn that Discovery Lab also has a toddler area located in the Main Hall, which is limited to kids ages 3 and under. This area contains a mini-climbing wall, books, a busy board, magnetic gears that can be rearranged and much more.
Since December 2017, Discovery Lab has offered Sensory Friendly Family Time on the second Sunday of each month, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. The museum opens to the general public at 11:30 a.m., meaning that families with kids who are on the autism spectrum or have sensory processing disorders can enjoy two hours of quieter playtime. “Often,” Mannell said, “these days are when families can visit the museum for the first time with other families who have similar experiences.”
Mannell described Discovery Lab as an Autism Friendly Location. Museum staff are aware that the traditional museum environment might be overwhelming to children on the Autism spectrum or with sensory processing disorders and they are dedicated to providing a supportive environment to these families. Additionally, families may take advantage of a calming room if their children become overstimulated and need a break.
An Exciting Future
Those familiar with Tulsa’s Gathering Place may be interested to learn that Discovery Lab will be making its permanent home within the park as early as late summer 2020, as part of Phase II of Gathering Place’s development. This new 50,000 square-foot facility, which will be located along Riverside Drive on the southern end of the park, will triple Discovery Lab’s current exhibit space and provide additional classrooms for camps, classes and more. However, even with its current smaller location, Discovery Lab offers families a world of educational fun!