One of my favorite parts about being a stay at home mom is taking the kids to museums, zoos, nature centers, etc. We are fortunate to live in an area with a wealth of resources. However, I also enjoy driving a few hours to explore new areas. Our zoo membership and museum membership has reciprocity with a network of other places. I made a list of all the places I wanted to take the kids this spring and summer to take advantage of free admission. Since Jesse was out of town this week, I chose to take the kids on a day trip to two of the museums on my list.
One thing to note about our mini road trip was that I had planned it the previous week. I called to make sure the museums recognized our Discovery Place and NC Zoo membership and whether we needed to provide papers with an expiration date. I confirmed that we could take wagons and food inside. Somehow, the mother of Jackson's best school friend invited herself to meet us at the second museum. Jackson doesn't have school on Wednesdays, but her son does. She kept him from school and drove two hours to meet us in Durham. I enjoy her company and our boys are best friends, so I didn't mind. However, I did not like having to follow a schedule and I felt very rushed through our first museum.
The first museum we visited was the Greensboro Science Center, located 90 minutes north of us. This museum has a zoo, aquarium, and science exhibits. We spent two hours there and only saw the aquarium, one indoor exhibit, and half of the zoo. It was a lot of fun but very crowded with school groups. The museum itself was a bit hard to navigate. It reminded me of Ikea where you have to follow a maze to get to the end.
We spent the most time in the aquarium.
The highlight of the aquarium was seeing the lively octopus. There is an octopus at the aquarium five minutes from our house, but he never moves. The octopus at the science center was all over the place!
Jackson was mesmerized by a scuba diver cleaning one of the tanks.
There was an impressive looking touch tank. Unfortunately, the sting rays swam so deep the kids nearly flipped over into the tank trying to touch them. Then Amelia slipped off the uneven rocks and scraped her leg. Eh, at least I got a cute photo and we got to see a sting ray up close.
I thought the penguins were interesting to watch, though the kids kept returning to the octopus.
There was a random wing of the museum for little kids to explore. It was the most age appropriate part, but seemed most similar to children's libraries and museums that we frequent. I tried to hurry the kids through the kids' areas so we could see the more unique features of the science center.
Jackson's favorite part of the science center was the dinosaur exhibit. There were multiple dinosaur skeletons on display and he requested I take a picture of him in front of each.
We didn't save much time for the zoo. It was almost noon so we stopped to eat the picnic lunch I had packed. Of course, ten minutes after we started eating, Jackson had to use the bathroom. The trio ended up finishing their lunch in the wagon while we found the nearest bathroom.
There were several animal exhibits that we glossed over on the way to and from the bathroom. The only place we stopped was at the petting zoo. Maddie was cautious and initially anxious, but Jackson, James, and Amelia happily stroked each of the animals.
After washing our hands, I pulled the kids in the wagon to the next area--the gibbons. Amelia decided she wanted to get out without telling me and ended up flipping out of the moving wagon, head first, onto the asphalt. I shrieked, which caused several adults to rush to my side. I was completely prepared to see blood pouring from her head, but she was unscathed. After calming Amelia's tears and my embarrassment, we admired the agile apes.
We were already running behind schedule, so I navigated us back to the van, changed diapers, and drove off. (Side note: I'm secretly relieved that the trio aren't potty trained. This trip would have been impossible with three newly potty trained toddlers!)
Our next stop was the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, which was another hour further north. I assumed the kids would fall asleep, but only two of them took a short nap. Jackson was surprised to see his friend when we pulled up. I was even more surprised to see that my friend had invited one of her friends. Somehow, I managed to be the third wheel to the day trip I had planned a week earlier! There were plenty of perks to having extra sets of adult eyes and hands, though keeping up with eight children slowed things down. The other pro/con is that Jackson was able to run around with his friend, but that also meant he basically ignored his siblings.
We spent three hours at this museum, and only explored a portion of the outdoor exhibits! I am already planning to return with Jesse and the kids this summer so we can visit the inside and return to the fun outdoors. The play area is one of a kind. There's a large series of connected treehouses, a stream, and a thicket to play hide and seek. This section was overwhelming at first trying to keep an eye on the kids, but they all had so much fun!
One of the outdoor exhibits was a farmhouse, which included alpacas, pigs, and donkeys.
Another advantage to having other adults with me is they took Jackson on a train ride with their kids. I didn't even want to attempt a train ride with all four kids. When Jackson found out the older kids were going on a train ride without him, my mom friend jumped in and offered to take him. She literally ran to purchase a ticket.
It was easy to keep the trio occupied and entertained while the rest of the kids went on a train ride. James was initially concerned why we weren't following them. He kept repeating, "No. I ride train." He forgot all about the train as soon as I let them play in the stream.
We all reunited at the butterfly conservatory. Everyone wanted butterflies to land on their fingers, but none were still enough.
One of the employees (or volunteers?) let the older kids hold cocoons and taught them how to distinquish moths from butterflies. (FYI, moths have feather like antennas.)
The kids' favorite exhibit by far was the dinosaur trail.
They loved digging in the giant "archaeological site" with kid-size shovels.
I was always the one to say, "Okay, I'm going to go ahead to the [next exhibit] now." We took a walk through the Explore the Wild exhibit. This was the only area that was a slight let down. The only animals we actually saw were the black bears. At least the weather and scenery were beautiful.
There were numerous outdoor exhibits we were unable to see due to closing time. The final area the kids investigated was the stream table. All I could think about was how cool it would have been for my fifth graders when I taught about landforms and erosion.
We unintentionally took the long way back to the entrance/exit. The kids had about five minutes left to play in the sand pit and slide before an employee had to ask us to leave.
According to the website, there's an impressive aerospace exhibit inside the museum, along with a dozen other indoor exhibits. We did not get a chance to see them but we did have fun playing by the rocketship and singing "5-4-3-2-1 Blast Off".
We all parted ways in the parking lot. Jesse and I had a video call so he and the kids could see one another. I drove about 45 minutes south and stopped at a K&W for dinner. I was not in the mood for fast food and I have a not-so-secret love for K&W mashed potatoes. It was nice, albeit stressful, to sit down and eat together.
It was a fun, inexpensive, educational day. A teacher at my former school just posted a "Go Fund Me" link to raise money for field trips for the "underpriviledged, deserving children". I take for granted the ease in which I'm able to take the kids places. It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that many children in poverty have never visited outside their immediate community. I feel very passionate about giving the kids as many opportunities as possible to explore their world. In only eight hours, the kids watched an octopus swim, saw penguins waddle, stood beside dinosaur skeletons, pet sheep and goats, held cocoons, watched a black bear, stared up at a rocket ship, and played in treehouses and streams. It gives me immense pleasure to know that I can share such experiences with the kids. I can't wait to return to both museums this summer as a whole family!