When you have a young toddler, it can be hard to find activities to do together as a family that are truly suitable for all ages. That’s why I’m so happy to have the Natural Science Center of Greensboro (NSC) right here in our backyard. The NSC features educational, hands-on exhibits, a zoo and planetarium with amazing discoveries for kids of all ages.
The center, now celebrating their 50th anniversary, has always been a popular attraction, but with the recent opening of its Animal Discovery Zoological Park — an interactive experience featuring 20 live animal exhibits — the NSC has become a one-of-a-kind science destination.
On a recent chilly Saturday morning, my husband, my daughter, Lily, who had just turned 2 years old, and I decided to explore the museum and Animal Discovery. We arrived right as the Center opened at 9 a.m., and it proved to be a great time. Lily roamed the exhibits and ran free without any worries of large crowds.
The museum is full of hands-on, interactive exhibits. For example, visitors can explore inside of an eyeball and illuminating skeletons that explain the parts of the human body. One exhibit hall features a large (and very difficult!) maze and brain-teaser games. Visit the News and Weather Gallery and with the press of a button, you can create an actual tornado, or watch yourself on television as you pretend to be a meteorologist.
One of the favorite attractions is the prehistoric exhibit, and the NSC has three large-scale dinosaur models, including a roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex that was so realistic that it frightened Lily. But she quickly recovered when we stumbled upon Kid’s Alley, a playroom for children 5 and under. Toddlers can “shop” in the fully stocked grocery store and “cook” dinner in the playhouse. There is also water-play, a “spring-about,” a large bouncy ride, blocks, games and stuffed animals to keep them busy. Right next door is Quiet Cove, a private area for nursing mothers.
After a quick break in the lunchroom for snack (next time, we’ll pack a lunch), we made our way downstairs to check out some of the hands-on live creature exhibits. Various types of animals and reptiles from fish, snakes and lizards to spider crabs and two-headed turtles can be found here. My daughter was thrilled to be able to touch a turtle’s shell, see “Dory,” a Pacific Blue Tang fish, and much to my dismay, pet a boa constrictor.
Unfortunately for us, the Planetarium was temporarily closed as the NSC is constructing an OmniSphere, a new state-of-the-art, next generation, IMAX-like theater. Set to open in February 2008, the new OmniSphere will be the first 40-foot dome, Konica Minolta MediaGlobe II theater in the state. If it’s anything like their most recent addition of Animal Discovery, it will be well worth the wait.
Animal Discovery is accessible right off the main level, which leads outside to the 22-acre zoo. A very friendly volunteer was at the door to guide us and tell us which animals were out and about that morning. Since it was such a cold day, the Meerkats and turtles had not come out of hiding, but we were able to see the howler monkeys, white-handed gibbons and lemurs climbing and swinging around their habitats. We walked down to the Siberian-mix tiger exhibit, and Lily was thrilled to see the “big kitties” — all 720 pounds of them. They were really beautiful and amazing to watch. But by far, my daughter’s favorite experience was the walk-through wallaby exhibit where a wallaby hopped right over to us. Lily petted him and fed him leaves. It was amazing how close we were able to get to all of these animals.
Animal Discovery also still houses a petting zoo with llamas, miniature horses, sheep and goats; and the Discovery House also has rabbits, bugs and reptiles in an indoor area.
As we left, our favorite volunteer told us that they will be adding more animal exhibits in the near future, including a pair of maned wolves, black bears and servals.
Our visit to the Natural Science Center was definitely a hit with my toddler, and it was also fun for Mom and Dad, who might have even learned a few things along the way.
Natural Science Center of Greensboro
4301 Lawndale Drive
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Animal Discovery Hours:
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Children (2-13): $7
Children under age 2: Free
Seniors (age 65+): $7
Cristi Driver is a freelance writer living in Greensboro and mother of one.
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