Science Museum Oklahoma (SMO) has an enduring history in Oklahoma City, from the opening of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium in 1958 to the completion of the Kirkpatrick Center Museum Complex in 1978 at the museum’s current location (2100 NE 52nd Street). Several name changes over the decades and thousands upon thousands of visitors later, the ever-evolving Science Museum Oklahoma is anything but dated.
The Wonder of Science
Over the years, the mission of SMO has been sharpened to emphasize the wonder and relevance of science to kids of all ages. Perhaps the best part of this family-friendly destination is that there are always new things to discover, making it equally appealing for an hour-long stay, day-long outing or repeat visits for toddlers through teenagers.
While the museum honors its past through the modernization of old favorites like the earthquake simulator, weather station and shadow room, the additions of the awe-inspiring GadgetTrees exhibit (complete with the nation’s tallest corkscrew slide), Science Live’s interactive, explosive presentations and the hands-on Tinkering Garage are clear proof that the museum is always progressing to meet the interests of new generations of young scientists.
Can’t Miss Exhibits
The littlest scientists can explore independently in the Kids Space and Family Space exhibits, conveniently enclosed so parents can feel secure letting toddlers and preschoolers play to their hearts’ content. Little ones can make giant sudsy bubbles, build a dam in the water table, play with puppets or blocks, explore a mini fire station and even paint their own faces. With separate sections appropriate for ages 0–6 and ages 7–12, parents with multiple children will appreciate letting kids of various ages discover what interests each of them most, with a clear vantage point of the entire space.
When a donor family gifted the museum with a giant tree (which happens to be the oldest tree west of the Mississippi), the two-story GadgetTrees treehouse was born, capturing childhood dreams of the perfect backyard play place, was born. Cleverly disguised as toys, the exhibit highlights the six simple machines (pulley, lever, wedge, wheel/axle, inclined plane and screw) and teaches how each uses physics to make work easier. The soft play space at the bottom of the treehouse is ideal for younger children, while older ones can explore the various levels, interactive games and ever-popular, three-story corkscrew slide (don’t miss the look-out of the museum’s roof at the very top).
With the laid-back, quirky feel of dad or grandpa’s workshop, the Tinkering Garage supports the idea that kids need free, undirected play for creative growth. By stacking plastic cups, racing LEGO® cars and fashioning paper crafts to be sent airborne in a wind tube, kids learn the processes of reasoning and problem solving. For parents and grandparents eager to engage with children about what they are learning while playing, discussions about what makes experiments successful are an added bonus. Elementary school-aged children are especially drawn to the inventiveness and discovery of this space.
The Segway Obstacle Course is a lesson in balance—and persistence. Museum staff members facilitate the course, explaining the science behind the personal transportation machines and helping riders get acclimated. After three successful rides, visitors get an official Segway driver’s license, courtesy of the museum’s mascot Otto, and can attempt the “master” course of ramps, cones, a door and speed bumps.
Red Dirt Dinos, open through March 2014, features three animatronic dinosaurs that once roamed what is now Oklahoma and the science that paleontologists use to unearth the secrets of these giants.
Following founder John Kirkpatrick’s desire to combine his love of science and art, the explosive production of Science Live was born in 2008. The theater-based show is highly visual, entertaining and educational. Mascot Otto on screen is accompanied by lively presenters on stage who create explosions to teach about chemical and physical reactions. The 30-minute shows include audience participation, and, times per day.
For those who don’t have time for a full show, or have young children with short attention spans, smaller five- to eight-minute demonstrations take place on the museum floor. These up-close-and-personal experiments happen on the even hour throughout the day.
What’s Up Next
The popularity of the Gymnastics Hall of Fame Exhibit and Geometry Playground, both of which incorporate physical activity, inspired museum staff to consider a new exhibit that would encourage lively play while teaching the importance of physical fitness. Scheduled to open in early 2014 on the museum’s second floor, Powerplay will motivate kids to run, jump, lift, crawl and climb to learn about the sciences of nutrition and fitness. Physical play through a rock climbing wall and ropes course, complemented by studying the power and performance of popular athletes like Kevin Durant will help visitors understand how their own bodies work and the role fitness plays in being healthy.
The biggest change heading to SMO is the opening of what will essentially be a “children’s museum” within the museum in summer 2015. A $12 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation toward the museum’s capital campaign will provide for a 21,000 square foot exhibit area dedicated to children 3–6 years of age. The focus on inquiry-based, hands-on learning will introduce a fresh approach to the way museums introduce young children to science, and while the environment will be appropriate for very young scientists, the space will serve to educate and inspire the entire family. The new exhibit will be housed where the Aviation Exhibit is currently located, which is moving to a new home toward the back of the museum.
The project also includes a new main entrance and lobby on the west one-third of the building, the relocation of the Science Shop to the west side of the building, improved parking and enhanced landscaping.
Science Museum Oklahoma makes scientific concepts engaging, enlightening and entertaining for even the most finicky of museum-goers Whatever your kids’ current thoughts about the subject of science, they will leave this captivating institution with wonder in their eyes and perhaps even a dream to pursue a career in a science-related field.
Call 405-602-6664 or visit www.sciencemuseumok.org for more information.