Of Reptiles, K’NEX, and the Museum of Science

Space shuttle

The Museum of Science in Boston feels a bit like a second home to me. I worked there for several years and loved spending time in the exhibit halls. When I needed a break from whatever I was working on, I’d set out and explore an exhibit I hadn’t focused on before. It was a special treat to have the time and mental space to go at my own pace, reading captions on displays and being able to really understand the concepts being taught. Visiting the Museum of Science with kids is nothing like that, but sharing familiar spaces and new exhibits with my kids did make me appreciate things in entirely new ways.

Last Saturday, I set out with a grumpy and tired Big Guy, a misbehaving Lady Bug and a Bug who claimed that he was just “too tired to goHandpainting out.” Even for an exhibit of K’NEX. We had been invited (ok, I really managed to invite myself) to Family Media Day at the Museum of Science and I wasn’t going to miss it. On the menu? Sneak previews into their two new exhibits, plus passes for Duck Tours and Omni movie shows. As it happened, we arrived on the late side, but made it just in time for a simple lunch in the Skyline room. If you have never had the luck to visit the Skyline room of the Museum of Science, you really ought to find a way. Located on the 6th floor, the room has floor to ceiling windows with breathtaking views of the Charles River and the Boston skyline. If memory serves, the cafeteria used to be housed up there, back in the day, but now it’s home to the HR staff and this great meeting/event space.

A reptile, of courseWe missed out on the Duck Tours (I’m sure Big Guy was doing a happy dance inside as it wasn’t the warmest day ever) and declined Omni passes. The kids are just too young for that immersive of an experience. The Omni is amazing, though, and I highly recommend it for adults and older kids. We did catch some of the staff presentations, which included some fun trivia about reptiles. The kids each got their hands painted (neither of them were quite trusting enough for actual face painting) and then we set out to explore.

K’NEX: Building Thrill Rides

Plenty of pieces
Plenty of pieces

The K’NEX exhibit is the one I was most looking forward to. Having seen previous K’NEX exhibits, I know how stunning the models can be. This exhibit was focused on the science of thrill rides and most of the various moving models of roller coasters, Ferris Wheels, a carousel, etc., included simple science explanations of concepts including kinetic energy and centrifugal force.  The room had 5-10 build-it stations with bins of K’NEX pieces and some sample model instructions. An area on one side with lower tables and benches housed K’NEX pieces designed for the preschool set. I hadn’t yet had the chance to try out those pieces, and I was really impressed by the way they worked. A lot of parents steered their children away from that area, even though many of them were obviously not far out of the target range. I thought it was unfortunate, as you could build some really intriguing models with this set as well.


In addition to the models and building areas, there were stations where Museum staff/volunteers were engaging kids in scientific inquiry and experimentation with K’NEX pieces. There were also a few “Weigh & Pay” stations where you could weigh  your models for possible purchase. The prices weren’t cheap, but not entirely unreasonable, either, and I appreciated the ability to weigh pieces before heading up to a cash register. A small K’NEX store lined one wall and displayed a handful of K’NEX kits, including a reasonably-priced roller coaster set for a mere $49.95. I almost bought that one right there on the spot, but that would have ruined any gift-giving surprise for the kids, plus I thought I might be able to find it discounted elsewhere (I was right!).

The kids simply loved this exhibit, but they were particularly enamored by the roller coaster models. I think they would have sat and watched those all day if we hadn’t dragged them on to the next attraction. By the way, the Museum website says “visitors age five and older can build a free takeaway.” We somehow missed that while we were there, so do keep your eye out. Also, it makes it sound like the exhibit is only for kids five and older, but that’s not true. Younger kids can enjoy it as well.

Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly

Burmese Python

I’ll admit it. I don’t love reptiles. They don’t freak me out or anything, but I’m definitely a cute and furry animal kind of person. That said, I apparently know more about reptiles than the average person (how did that happen?) as I was able to identify a good portion of the reptiles in the exhibit, both by name, and by their level of danger to humans. While on the subject, I will share with all of you now that “Gila” as in “Gila Monster” is pronounced “hee-lah,” not “gee-lah.” Yeah, I know you’ve been dying to know, and if I get one family to not look at me funny when I pronounce it correctly, I’ll have met my goal.

Very friendly water monitor

The Reptiles exhibit houses live snakes, lizards, and even a crocodile in habitats of various sizes. Another fact that I bring with me from my time at the Museum of Science is that the Museum has accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, so you can rest assured that those little guys are getting just the right treatment to keep them happy and healthy. In addition to the animals, there were some nicely done interactive kiosks to help you learn more about reptiles, such as how they move around and distinguishing characteristics.

Veiled Chameleon

We barely grazed the surface of the Museum during our time there (about 4 hours). We did the two temporary exhibits, had lunch and a snack, and visited the dinosaur exhibit and the Theater of Electricity (not the show). On the way by, we saw the kinectic ball sculpture (in the area below the main lobby), the ship sculptures and the space capsule. Oh, and we took a moment to say hi to the cotton-top tamarins (LOVE those little guys) and the hatching chicks. There were basically two floors of the main wing that we didn’t even look at. Oh, and if you’ve got young kids (infant-preschool), you’ll want to visit the Discovery Center, which is down past the cafeteria. It’s got a ton of hands-on stuff to do that age-appropriate for younger kids.  Obviously, we’ll be going back soon!

The K’NEX exhibit is open through January 17 and the Reptiles exhibit is open through January 4.

Disclosure: We received free entrance to the Museum of Science, including the new exhibits, lunch, and parking as members of the media. There was no promise of coverage and the opinions contained in this post are my own.

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