There’s a new kind of science museum coming to the area – one where nothing is behind glass.
âPeople think of museums, and they think of a very passive experience. But now we’re sort of reinventing what museums are, âsaid Cara Lesser.
Lesser is the founder and executive director of the Kid International Discovery Museum (the KID Museum, for short), a convenient science center that opens in Bethesda, Md., on October 26.
Despite its name, “museum” does not seem quite appropriate to describe the new center. It’s more like a community art studio and lab, where visitors can experiment with wind tunnels, build drawing robots, try their hand at computer programming, and build cardboard sculptures.
And while the new basement space at the Montgomery County Davis Library is packed with sophisticated amenities, including several laptops and a 3D printer, none of it is off limits. Almost anything can be touched, moved, taken apart and reassembled. In fact, that’s exactly what museum directors want you to do.
Science at your fingertips
It’s all part of a new trend in children’s science centers, according to Bud Rock. He is president of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, which supports STEM-focused museums. (It’s short for science, technology, engineering, and math.)
Rock thinks museums like this are some of the best for kids. âIn a lot of ways, you don’t become a scientist,â Rock said. âYou were born a scientist, and our goal is to help cultivate that. “
He explained that a child’s way of thinking is very similar to that of a scientist. Children discover new things every day, so they should come up with hypotheses or ideas about them and then test them.
You do not believe it ? Think about what you do when you find a new food on your plate: you look at the food, make a guess as to whether you’re going to like it, then do a taste test to see if your guess is correct.
âWhen you do that, you are doing exactly what a scientist would do,â Rock said. âScience is about trying things and seeing what works. “
Science centers help kids do just that. But even though the Washington area has many great museums, there aren’t enough convenient facilities for kids to build and experiment with, Rock said.
Laboratory in a shopping center
Nene Spivy, Executive Director of the Children’s science center, I noticed the same problem. In recent years, his organization has run a “museum without walls” in Northern Virginia, hosting pop-up events at area schools and local festivals. This year, the center announced that it would take a step toward building a permanent home by opening a place called “the lab” at the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax.
Considering that there are about half a million children in Northern Virginia and many of their parents work in STEM fields, “this seemed like the right time and the right place” for a practical science museum, said Spivy said.
The Lab won’t open until the middle of next year. But Spivy has ideas for what’s going to happen there, including building papier-mÃ¢chÃ© volcanoes and building robots.
And she asks children to help her plan.
Kavya Kopparapu, 14, from Herndon is one of the âYouth Ambassadorsâ at the Children’s Science Center. She can test experiments and give advice on the types of exposures the lab should have.
âI think the hands-on activities are really important because they show how much fun science is,â Kavya said. âIt’s not something that comes down to sitting down and reading. It’s about going out into the field, collecting samples and observing frogs under a microscope.
Kavya enjoys the uncertainty of experimentation – how she can start a project without knowing if it will go as planned.
And when is his experiment successful?
“I feel excited . . . as if I had eaten too many gelatin cubs, âshe said.
Kavya, who wants to become a neuroscientist (someone who studies the brain), became interested in STEM through an exhibit at the Children’s Science Center that she saw in fifth grade. The demonstration consisted of creating a lather from yeast, dish soap and hydrogen peroxide, then spraying it from a soda bottle.
âAfter that, everyone was talking about how cool it was,â Kavya recalls. “I knew I wanted to experiment like this.”
Four years later, Kavya hopes to inspire children to take an interest in science in the same way the demonstration inspired her. That’s why she volunteers with the Children’s Science Center and helps with the planning of the lab.
The KID Museum and the Lab will be joined by a third practical science installation when the Spark reopens! National Museum of American History Lab in July. The Spark! Lab has been undergoing renovations since 2012, but Kate Wiley, who works at the museum, says the updated space will be bigger and better than the old one. It will have an Invention Center filled with tools and plenty of interactive opportunities to learn more about inventions from American history.
Meanwhile, plans for expanded versions of the KID Museum and the Lab are already underway. The KID Museum hopes to move into a larger space over the next three years, and in 2019 the Children’s Science Center will be opening a full-fledged museum in Dulles.
Even though Kavya will be in college when the Dulles Museum opens, she’s excited to be a part of the planning.
âI’ll be pretty old when it becomes a science museum, but I know all little kids will really appreciate it,â she said. âThat’s what makes it a truly wonderful experience: something that we create today could be an inspiration for children in five years. “
If you are going to
The KID Museum is celebrating its grand opening on Sunday, October 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will be open on weekends from November 1st.
Or: 6400 Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda.
When: Open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How much: $ 8; free on the day of the opening.
Best for: 6 to 14 years old.
For more information: A parent can call 301-897-5437 or visit www.kid-museum.org .
For updates on the Children’s Science Center, a parent can visit www.childsci.org.