A Museum Marathon

1 adult.  4 children.  1 afternoon.  4 museums.  Total cost:  $2 (and some change).

Thursday was a great day for a field trip.  Our children had learned about weather at the library this month, so I finally pulled the trigger and decided to visit The Weather Museum with them.  I knew it was a smaller museum and I wanted to make the most use of our trip downtown, so I decided we would try to visit a couple museums during their free admission times on Thursday.  Of course, once I mentioned the plan to the kids, they wanted to try to visit as many as possible.  It was decided that we would go to The Weather Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts and then the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  As the afternoon went on I realized that we would be finished at the Museum of Natural Science when the free admission time began at the Children's Museum, so by the time we headed for home, we had visited four museums in the Museum district of Houston.

The Weather Museum

The Weather Museum is a small museum in a large, old house.  It encompasses the entire first floor.  We were greeted and asked to sign the guest book.  They had a self-guided tour sheet and we were directed to go through the museum in a clockwise order.   They also had some scavenger hunt sheets to fill out.  We chose one and did it as a family.  Having a tour sheet with a paragraph to read about each room and the questions to answer on the scavenger hunt, we were able to understand each area and find interesting facts as we went through the museum.  They had hands-on activities in some of the rooms.  They used pictures, terrariums, computers, display items, a theater room, posters, etc. to provide a variety of ways to learn.  We spent about an hour there and saw the entire museum.  We spent the most time in the first room learning about different climate zones, like temperate, tundra, and arid, and the tornado room with tornado makers, a tornado machine and a spiral wishing well where we used lots of coins to watch them spin around.

We learned about the different climate zones while deciding what climate each of the animals lived in and placing them in the corresponding basket.  My four year old twins enjoyed this activity.

Adah was really good at making a tornado with the water bottle tornado makers.  They had seen a large one during the weather lesson at the library, so they enjoyed getting time to play with the ones at the museum.

They had examples of weather equipment and information about national weather services.  They also had information that was specific to Texas and how Texas has been a big part of making differences in studying and understanding weather.  On one sign we also found out that on February 14, 1895 Houston had 20 inches of snow dumped on it.  That was probably our most surprising TripLearning fact of the day.

Though it was in a renovated house, the rooms connected nicely to each other and it made for an easy flow.  They had a lot of valuable information there and I hope they can continue to grow and receive funding to make this available to even more adults, families and school groups.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston   (Free on Thursdays thanks to a generous gift from the Shell Oil Company Foundation)

We have visited the art museum several times over the last year.  Though my oldest daughter was not excited to visit it again, we decided to just take a hour and enjoy one of their new temporary exhibits. 

American Made: 250 Years of American Art  
July 7, 2012 through January 1, 2013

The exhibit of American art provided many examples of paintings as well as sculptures, furniture, photographs, and a giant quilt. It was great to see each of the kids find pieces that they liked.  Our youngest son really liked the sideboard carved in a hunting theme.  Our youngest daughter was interested in each chair and portrait of a lady asking, "Tell me about this chair, Mommy," or "Tell me about this lady, Mommy."

The art museum is not an easy place to take young children, but by doing it consistently and for short periods of time, our four year olds understand that the art is valuable and cannot be touched.  They have learned how to look "with their eyes," which is not easy for preschoolers.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Museum of Natural Science is one of our oldest daughter's favorite museums in Houston and she was excited to visit it again.  When we arrived and realized the New Hall of Paleontology was complete, we decided to check it out.  

New Hall of Paleontology

Before entering the space, we stopped at an interactive display where a retired Physics professor from Rice University explained to the children about how to identify snail shells, clam shells and other small pieces mixed into the sand on trays for them to examine.  The professor showed great patience with even the little ones and carefully explained each piece to them, including an inner ear bone from a fish that is not used for hearing, but gives the fish the ability to tell up from down.  I'm not sure how long the children would have stayed there if I hadn't told them it was time to see the dinosaurs.

With clean white walls that seemed to float in the space, a high black ceiling and a wide maze feel, the new hall was an impressive space to explore.  Another museum docent talked to us about how to tell the difference between the dinosaurs with real bones and the molded replicas. 

In many of the displays they had the skeletons and then paintings in the background of what they think the animals actually looked like.  They also positioned the skeletons to match up with the positions of the animals in the pictures.

We could tell this skeleton was made from real bones because of the metal frame and hooks holding each individual bone in place.  The replicas have no visible frames because they can run the frame inside the molds and fuse the replica bones together.

Besides dinosaurs,  they also had reproductions of other prehistoric animals.  My oldest children thought that some of them looked like aliens and I had to agree. 

Next to the New Hall of Paleontology is the Wiess Energy Hall.  Through lots of interactive, technology-rich displays we were able to learn about the layers of shale, salt, limestone and sandstone on a wall, how to find oil and drill for it as well as other forms of energy like wind and water.

One exhibit in the Energy Hall is the Geovator.   It takes you on a simulated trip to the bottom of an oil well, using lots of screens, a moving floor and computer animation.  It was a fun "ride."  Matthias said it was "like the TARDIS."

One of the non-computerized exhibits showed the different kinds of crude oil and what parts of the world they represent.  Lastly, we watched a cartoon story showing the various examples of power available in the world. 

Children's Museum of Houston

Leaving the science museum and heading over to the children's museum at 5:00 PM for their free evening meant we had to pay for parking for the first time that day.  If I had been willing to walk we could have found free parking again on a side street.  Instead I opted for a parking spot behind the museum on the street with an electronic parking meter for the block.  For $2 we paid for one hour because free parking started at 6:00 PM. 

Upon entering the museum we found out that they had groups there to encourage healthy eating.  After getting our picture taken, we sampled apples, pears, a sweet salsa, applesauce cookies and brownies made with carrots and spinach.  The kids loved the brownies, cookies and fruit.  With their permission, I have posted the recipes here.


The twins were very excited about doing the face painting, so we made sure to include it as part of our visit.  Adah even made a square on her forehead, by herself.  A big mirror and plenty of special face paint crayons make this a favorite part of the museum and a simple display in the main concourse.

The museum was quickly filling up by the time we finished our healthy snacks, so we headed to an area that was less crowded.  The Nano area where the kids found tiny magnetic materials in liquid bottles.

The boys enjoyed building a display with parts representing different kinds of atoms.

All in all, we spent an hour to an hour and a half at each museum.  Though we couldn't possibly see everything, we were able to spend time enjoying a few things at each museum.  When you travel with children it is best to have low expectations for what you will be able to accomplish.  We have done many trips.  Sometimes we have hurried through museums or attractions.  Other times we have allowed the interests of our children to pace us and just enjoyed those parts with them.

Another part of TripLearning is learning about the people you are with as you experience new things together.  My children and I learned many things on our museum marathon, but we also learned more about each other.  By taking time to listen, answer and observe them I was able to see some of their strengths and weaknesses.  I was able to see my oldest daughter handle an uncomfortable situation with another child with grace and love.  I was able to see my twins show some independence in doing their own face painting and asking for their own snacks.  I was able to discuss scientific theories with my oldest son and see him think deeply and complexly.  These are just small examples of why I love to travel.

I always like to get feedback from the kids after each TripLearning experience.  It's a great way to review what we discovered.  I asked each child to pick their favorite museum of the day.

Malachi's favorite:  Houston Museum of Natural Science

Abigail's favorite:  The Weather Museum

Adah's favorite:  Children's Museum

Matthias' favorite:  Children's Museum


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