During a recent trip to visit my dear friend, Sandy, and her family in Natick, Massachusetts, we spied rain in the forecast. Sandy found a great spot for us to meet in nearby Worchester, Massachusetts (more on family fun in Worchester coming soon!): EcoTarium.
EcoTarium participates in the Association of Children's Museums and the Association of Science-Technology Centers reciprocity programs. This means that my friend's membership to her local science center (or I could have used my membership to our local children's museum) allowed her to bring us as guests- for free. This is a wonderful program that my family has taken advantage of dozens of times. Look for an upcoming post about all the benefits.
Part science center, part zoo, part outdoor classroom, EcoTarium also has a planetarium, outdoor train ride, plenty of hands on exhibits, and is tons of fun for toddlers, children, and adults alike! Here are our favorite parts:
The Artic Next Door teaches all about Mount Washington (in nearby New Hampshire) and gives a realistic feel for the weather and geology of the area. Kids will immediately head to the hurricane simulator that blows 79 mph winds. You can also replicate fog and test your balance climbing a miniature version of Mount Washington.
City Science: As a self proclaimed "expert traffic avoider", I definitely lingered at the Director of Traffic station, where I learned (more) about the flow of traffic and how traffic lights are timed. My son enjoyed building bridges at the Engineering Lab. All four children made a variety of structures out of rubber and wood in the Vibration Lab and then tested them against the force of a car, a truck, and a train. (My physics teaching husband loved this station too!) The City Systems exhibit recreates what it's like to climb into a manhole- super fun, unless your child is afraid of the dark.
Dinosaur poop: You read that correctly- dinosaur poop, or "scat" if you consider yourself more sophisticated. You'll learn all you ever wanted to know about the digestion process of our prehistoric friends. You can also pretend to be a paleontologist and "dig" up fossil casts in a rubber dirt area.
Preschool Discovery Room: While I no longer have to be on the lookout for these spaces, parents of the under four crowd will appreciate the gated, padded space for little ones to safely explore. While you're downstairs, check out the tide pool, with lots of sea creatures you can touch.
Bubbles: Outside there are a variety of bubble making stations. Our kids loved pulling the ropes to see if they could make a bubble encapsulate their entire body. Younger children will like the variety of bubble wands.
Nature Explore is a huge area, mostly shaded by trees and a few canopies, and has so many fun stations you could spend the whole morning in this one spot (and then have lunch at one of the picnic tables). We found two play structures (safe for all ages), a climbing rope net, a station for pumping water (a group of toddler was crowded around it!) and musical instruments. Be sure to also check out the various animal habitats; they have bald eagles, owls, foxes, and river otter.
The train: We kept missing the train, but it looked like a lot of fun. The fifteen minute ride around the property runs every hour. Note there is an additional fee, unless you are a member.
Eating on site: There is one small outdoor cafe that serves drinks, prepackaged snacks, pre-made sandwiches, and boiled hot dogs. Not a huge selection, but the prices were more reasonable than many children's museums. There are tons of picnics tables outside, and a small cafeteria with about a dozen tables indoors if you want to bring your own food.
Bonus: Their online calendar shows tons of cool special events all year: sleepovers, "Great Pumpkin Nights", Earth Day celebrations, and a special "Noon Year's Eve celebration".