Daytrippin' -- Discovery Place


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No one wants to admit it, but didn’t you sort of like science labs? It was always a little exciting to put different ingredients together and see how the combination ended up, or to dissect a frog and view a real heart. So imagine the fun and excitement of science labs, multiply it by 100, and you have Discovery Place in uptown Charlotte —a hands-on, fun-filled world of science for kids to explore at their own pace.

I recently got the chance to revisit this exciting museum that I first explored in my own middle-school years. The exhibits are even more exciting than I remember them, and of course there’s plenty of more stuff to do! Designed to entice kids of all ages, there’s a little something there for even the smallest explorers.

Touring the Exhibit Halls
Visiting with three kids, ages 1, 2 and 3, KidsPlace was first on our list of exhibits to visit. As you walk through the door, you encounter a giant water play area, fully equipped with toys, plastic cover-ups and a hand drying machine. My daughter Caroline would have been happy to spend her entire visit right there, wet pants legs and all. Her friend Clara, being a little older and just that much more worldly, spent some time at all the activities in KidsPlace, visiting the playhouse to dress up, climbing around the play area and trying her hand at the computer games. Then she insisted we move on to what she called the aquarium. So we gladly moved on to Discovery Place’s Ocean Pool and Water for Life exhibit.

On our way to the fish we walked through a collection of animals from across North America, featuring everything from a towering grizzly bear to tiny weasels. Next came a rain forest, where a variety of birds, including a brightly colored toucan, eat and sleep right at eye level.

We finally reached the water exhibits, and Clara got her fill of fish, turtles and other sea creatures. Keeping in step with the hands-on experience, this exhibit includes an open pool where kids are invited to reach in and touch or hold the animals — if they can catch them! The fish were swimming pretty fast, but the pencil urchin was rather stationary, making all the kids squeal in delight as they reached down into the water.

Upstairs on the second level was even more to explore, and a variety of hands-on activities. You can ride a bicycle to make a radio play music, use a pulley system to lift up a tractor and try your hand at all sorts of levers, wheel and axles, inclined planes, and other simple machines. Around the corner is the Life Center, where a gigantic heart takes center stage, and kids can learn about dental hygiene, the way their eyes work and the intricacies of the human ear.

Science at Every Turn
In addition to the formal exhibit halls, it seemed there was something to attract the kids’ interest everywhere we walked. In one hall, a gigantic table hangs from a tripod, and kids can create all sorts of interesting designs by moving a weight on the table and giving the whole thing a big push. At the third floor entrance were various exhibits that create optical illusions and then explain how they work.

A special hall is reserved for traveling exhibits, and through December kids can participate in the “Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking” feature exhibit. Authentic costumes, real scripts and video interviews with actors, directors, costume designers and camera operators are part of this exhibit.

Discovery Place also boasts an IMAX theater, where movies are shown on a curved screen that is twice the size of a typical movie theater screen. More than 15,000 watts of sound and light creates the effect of being right in the film. Visit the Web site for a schedule of what will be playing when you plan your trip.

Planning Your Trip
While Discovery Place is full of fun for kids of all ages, it is ideal for elementary-school students. They will be learning these scientific concepts at school, and what better way to reinforce their studies than with some active experimentation? Plan to make the trip on a teacher workday to avoid some of the bigger crowds, since Triad schools are on a different calendar than Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

With a café and vending machines within the building, it’s easy to spend an entire day at Discovery Place. Run around the exhibit halls for the morning, enjoy an IMAX movie in the afternoon and you’ll give your kids something to talk about for days to come.

Discovery Place
301 North Tryon St., Charlotte, NC
(704) 372-6261
www.discoveryplace.org
Visit the Web site for directions.
Admission: Adults $10, children 2-14 $8 (IMAX and DMR tickets sold separately or can be bought with exhibit hall tickets for a discounted price.)
Winter Operating Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m.

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