Stir Crazy Moms has posted on the Museum of Life and Science before, but that was a long time ago. Since that time we have been to the museum many, many times, and we feel like we know it like the back of our hands. We thought we had more information to share, so here we go...
What it is: The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science has been voted by our readers as their favorite museum in the area. It is one of the best places to take kids in the area, period. There are many different parts to the museum, and we will do our best to describe them.
After we buy our tickets, our tour of the museum starts one of two ways. If we would like to spend most of our time outside, we head to the right behind the ticket counter. If we would like to do some inside touring, we head left. When we head left we walk past the first room which can be filled with intriguing special exhibits, but is usually filled with tables where you can build block sculptures. Up to this point, my kids have been a little too young to head into this room without knocking over something or chewing on it. Perhaps soon we can explore it, but until that point we will move on to the next room, the weather room.
We love to stop in the weather room. For a long time the cloud basin in this room was my son's favorite part of the museum period where he can dip his hand into the mist of a cloud. There's also the platform where a tornado can be formed which I'm never sure whether the kids are aloud to stand on or not and several globes with swirly liquid to twirl around and explore.
Next to the weather room is a room filled with all sorts of fun things to look at from sparking gemstones to dinosaur skulls. When my son was younger, under two, we breezed past this room because there didn't seem to be much to hold his attention. However, now that he's three, he's beginning to like to explore the room and examine all of it's exciting contents.
Next to the rocks and dinosaur room is the Carolina Wildlife exhibit. Both of my sons love this room. You enter the doors and say hi to the owl. Then you can enter the rest of the exhibit to say hi to snakes, alligators, frogs, turtles, possums, woodchucks, fish, and other North Carolina wildlife. Many of the displays are conveniently set low to the ground so the youngest walkers and kids in strollers can take a peek more easily.
After Carolina Wildlife comes the space area. When my son was very young we didn't spend too much time in this area either because it didn't hold his interest. Again, as he gets older he loves looking at the rockets, especially the one that you can actually walk into and press some buttons.
From there you can choose to go upstairs. Upstairs is an area that we haven't honestly explored as much as other areas of the museum. There are some interactive exhibits with shadows, beads, sounds, and some other math concepts as well as a lab that is occasionally manned by museum staff. It seems to us to be geared more for kids that are a little older, but please let me know if you have some favorite areas up there that we shouldn't miss.
From the space area and upstairs you can follow the museum around past the ant farm and bones exhibits which are fun to explore. My oldest son has started to enjoy watching the ants while my youngest actually sat in the bin of bones and took a look at them for a long time last time we were there.
After the bones is one of the best areas for young children in the whole museum. It's the kids' play area. It is divided up into two parts, one for young toddlers and one for older kids. The younger area is great because it's contained. This keeps this little ones in and the older ones out so that the young ones can get out of their strollers, stretch their legs, and play with locks on the wall, a little house and slide, and plenty of objects to touch, feel, and explore. The older kid play area (which is still geared toward fairly young children) has a little rock wall, ball/pipe system on the wall, blocks, a kitchen area, and much more. My kids typically spend a good amount of time in this part of the museum.
After a stay at the kids area, you can stop at the nearby restrooms and drinking fountains and head outside. When you first get outside you are greeted by a playground, which looks like fun, but my kids honestly haven't explored that much. What does everyone think of it?
The reason my kids don't typically explore the playground is because they make a beeline straight towards the pipes along the walkway where they can find sticks and hit them to make music to their hearts' content. My sons usually make music all the way to the water fountain area which is off of the left where kids can pump and shoot water and even dip their toes into into a stream of water or head to the sandbox with diggers, shovels, and excavators galore. Next to the sandbox is a real train caboose. While the inside is nothing spectacular, this seems to be a must for any toddler train enthusiast. They love it.
After we've explored this area, we head on down the sidewalk to the farmyard. In the farmyard, we enjoy saying hi to the donkey, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, turkey, rabbits, and cows. They are so used to people that they are, for the most part, usually out for everyone to view and not hiding. This area is not quite as nicely paved as other parts of the museum, but it is still navigable for the strollers. While you're walking on the main sidewalk near the farm yard, make sure to look off to your other side and say hi to the museum train as is passes by, but we will tell you all about the train later.
After the farm yard, continue up the sidewalk to the butterfly pavilion. We love this place! There are two parts to the butterfly pavilion, the butterfly area, and a fairly large exhibit on creepy, crawly bugs. There's also a gift shop where you can get all of your butterfly gear as well as restrooms and drinking fountains. You enter the butterfly area through a series of doors meant to keep the butterflies in. Once you enter you are in a rainforest complete with plants, a river, and butterflies flying all around. There are even some birds that will scurry around your feet if you wait and watch closely. It's a great place to sit on a bench and just watch. You can even get lucky and show up when the caretakers are releasing new butterflies. About half way around there's a wall where you can watch butterflies come out of their cocoon which is really interesting to see. During certain seasons, you can head out a door at the back of the pavilion where you can see some more butterflies in an outdoor setting.
Once you leave the butterflies you can head over to see the cages of creepy crawlies. My son's favorite is always the colorful poisonous dart frogs, but you can also see ant farms, scorpions, centipedes, bugs that look like leaves, cockroaches, and more. If you don't like bugs, this is definitely not the room for you!
After the butterfly pavilion, you can stop by Grayson's cafe and sit outside with a snack or meal. Or you can just keep going to the train station. Don't forget...you HAVE to buy your train tickets when you enter the museum. You cannot get them at the station. The train leaves every half hour and has a short 10-minute loop where you head through the trees, pass the dinosaur walk, then head through a tunnel (where you have to scream as loud as you can), and by the museum walkway. The ride is short, but toddlers enjoy it. I do have to say, however, that both of my boys cried when going through the tunnel when they were very young, so keep that in mind. The museum offers several special events in relation to the train including the santa train and the new train ride to the pumpkin patch. These are fun, but you have to watch out because they sell out FAST!
After the train, you reach the dinosaur trail. The trail starts off with a model dinosaur that kids can touch and sit on. Then, you follow the trail around and see models of many other dinosaurs that are just for watching. I've found that the trail is a good length for new little walkers to practice stretching their legs. We head around the loop to the left first which brings us back by the fossil dig area at the end of our loop. This area is not so good for the littlest ones, but the older ones love it. I think when my sons get even older they will enjoy it even more. In the fossil dig area, you can take a shovel and dig for your own fossils. I even occasionally get pretty into searching for a prize, including the shark teeth scattered in the area. You can even take home your finds. I recently read a story about someone that had found a fairly rare valuable fossil in the dig area. Who knows what you'll find!
I have to say that we don't make it further than the dinosaur trail on a regular day, but the museum has plenty more to offer for the intrepid explorers. From there, you can take one path to take a look at some animals or head the other way to explore the wind area of the museum. This is all one big loop, but it is quite a bit of walking, so I would definitely have the stroller before attempting this part of the museum. The animal area has bears, wolves, and lemurs and the wind area has some sailboats you can drive yourself and other experiments to explore the nature of wind.
After the long walk back you can head inside the other door to the museum that you didn't take when you first went outside. It's on the other side of the playground. This one takes you back into the museum near the ticket counter. It's the way we head when we want to spend most of our visit outside. There's one more little stop before you make it back to the ticket counter and that's the music room. They have a floor that tracks your steps and plays noises depending on the way you walk. The kids love running around and playing some music on that floor. Just a word of caution, make sure they don't go too fast because my son did have a pretty nasty collision with another toddler on that floor.
On your way out, if you're feeling brave, you can stop by the gift shop. It's actually a nice gift shop, and I'm sure your kids will find all sorts of things they want there. It's a pretty good place to get little, interesting gifts if you need them.
By this point in the day, you're probably hungry. I know you probably wanted to bring in your lunch. However, that's not allowed. There is another option though. You can head across the street past their overflow parking and they have a great pavilion with picnic tables where you can eat your picnic lunch after you explore the museum. We've done this quite a few times. If you do have time to combine your museum trip with another excursion, you can stop by Edison Johnson Park which is nearby, or get a sweet treat at the nearby Pelican's Sno Balls or Goodberry's.
This is our take on the museum, but we would love the hear what you do when you go to the museum, especially any fun exhibits that we may have missed. So, please share your comments!
What we liked: We LOVE the museum! There's so much to do, and it's great to have a place where the kids can learn and explore so much right here in Durham. Our advice would be to get the membership because admission can be expensive and it is definitely worth it $125 for 4 people for a year)! They also have great special events and exhibits that are worth checking out, and kids can have birthday parties there for a fee.
What we would change: As we said, admission can be expensive (adults $12.95, children 3-12 $9.95, under 3 are free), but the membership can be a good option. However, they offer free admission for Durham residents on Wednesday afternoons if you can't pay the admission price. In addition, the outdoor areas can be a bit of walking, so be prepared for that if you want to check out those parts of the museum.
Website and other important information:
Address: 433 W Murray Ave, Durham, NC 27704-3101
Phone Number: (919) 220-5429
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm (Closed Mondays at certain times of the year, so make sure to check before you head over on a Monday.)
Photos: Coming soon! Hey, it gives us another chance to head back to the museum and have some more fun!