Boston, Mass - We recently broke down and became members at the Museum of Science (again). Our membership cards came in the mail and we threw them in the drawer along with our membership cards for the Museum of Fine Arts, the New England Aquarium, Mass Audubon and Zoo New England, not to mention the local rec department in Somerville. We have let our membership to the Children's Museum lapse.
At the time we joined each of these fine institutions, I'm sure we had a really good reason. But I can't for the life of me figure out why we need to be members of five, count 'em FIVE different museum-type organizations.
Also, unlike most of the other museums in Boston, the MoS is close to our house. It's easy to get there and easy to park. In fact, we can even go by bus, which means the babysitter can take the twins there. So yes, we actually go to the MoS quite a lot, which is not necessarily the case with all of our membership museums.
The problem with the Museum of Science is that it is always swarming with kids. Swarming. I have the luxury of taking the twins to museums and other popular places mid-week to avoid the weekend crowds. But it just doesn't work at the MoS, because school groups come during the week, and everyone else comes on weekends. It is always swarming.
Thank the museum gods for the Discovery Center
. This is the section of the MoS that is designed for smaller children (officially age 8 and under, but actually I think it's most appropriate for age 5 and under). The Discovery Center keeps its own hours and - crucially - limits the number of children in there.
The Discovery Center opens at 10am - one hour after the rest of the museum - and it usually reaches capacity within the first 15 minutes. This morning we arrived at 10am on the nose, only to discover that I didn't have my membership card with me, so I had to go to the membership desk to get a temporary pass. By the time we returned, the Discovery Center was at capacity.
Fortunately, it usually does not take long for folks to leave, considering the attention span of the under-5 set. In my experience, it's usually just enough time to review the planets in the model solar system, play on the musical steps and eat a snack. Then it's time to go in. Once inside, there are two floors of blissfully uncrowded exhibits and activities that can keep the twins occupied for hours.
There's a beehive, a bird's nest and a chipmunk burrow, all oversized so the kids can don costumes and crawl inside. There are live animals like snakes, frogs and a hedgehog tenrec (which looks like a hedgehog, but it's not a hedgehog, it's a hedgehog tenrec). There are touch tables with bones, fossils and shells, and activity boxes with puzzles, shapes and musical instruments.
Upstairs, there are blocks, build-your-own ball runs, magnets and many other construction materials. And - Twin V's raison d'etre at the MoS - a pneumatic tube (like the ones at the drive-through window at the bank) that carries plastic letters from one side of the room to the other.
Once we get inside, we're not going anywhere for anybody (so actually, it's good that we have eaten our snack ahead of time). In fact, my only complaint about the Discovery Center is that the twins never want to leave. We have had more than one melt-down trying to get out of there. Trade-offs...