Does spring fever have your family itching to get out of the house? Cure that case of the winter blues by visiting a museum. Several options are available right here in Southern Virginia to inform, educate and entertain your restless crew for hours. Here are five suggested museums to check out the next time your kids cry, "We're bored!"
At the Virginia Museum of Natural History, located in Martinsville, guests can experience the natural diversity of Virginia through a variety of permanent and traveling exhibits. Current exhibits such as "Dinosaurs," "How Nature Works" and "Uncovering Virginia" provide lots of hands-on opportunities to explore the topics ranging from demonstrations and puzzles to multimedia experiences. The building is not just a museum but also a working research facility. I personally enjoy watching the staff scientists at work in their labs. An expansive wall of observation windows allows guests to peek in and see scientific discoveries being made. Scientists might be examining a 65 million year old triceratops skull or sifting through buckets of debris for shards of Native American pottery. You never know what you might see them working on. My preschooler loves spending time at the museum's Discovery Reef play area, an indoor ship, complete with a reading nook and climbing wall that offers kids a safe place to play. Moms enjoy this space too because of the comfy couches for lounging and free Wi-Fi. (vmnh.net)
Danville Science Center, located at the historic crossing of the Dan in Danville, is a fun place for families to explore. The museum offers a variety of traveling exhibits such as "From Here to There" and "Bloodsuckers" which are both on display through May. Young scientists, ages 3-7 can explore Spoutsville, a play area designed with activities just for them. Across from the main building, museum patrons can visit the 1899 Southern Railway Passenger Station for additional exhibits featuring both live and preserved animals. The architecture of this historic station is magnificent and my son, who is a fan of trains, enjoys getting to go inside the museum's red caboose on display behind the train station. (dsc.smv.org)
If your family enjoys art then be sure to visit Piedmont Arts, located in Martinsville. Four galleries at the facility each offer a different exhibit ranging from nationally renowned artists to local talent. Every two to three months the exhibits change, so there is always something new and exciting to see. I enjoy taking my son to play in Pallete the Discovery Dog's Art Room. This kid-friendly play space offers opportunities to make music, put on puppet shows, paint, make collages and more. If you stop by the information desk, you can pick up a scavenger hunt and search the galleries for clues left behind by Pallete. Free Wi-fi and an art library are also available. Admission is free. (piedmontarts.org)
If you've ever driven through the Uptown Historic District of Martinsville then chances are you've seen the stately structure of the Historic Henry County Courthouse. While no longer used for legal proceedings, this building dating back to 1824 is now home to the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum. In the restored courtroom on the second floor, you can sit in the jury box and at the judge's bench to hold a mock trial or explore historical exhibits on display in the witness rooms. Do keep an eye out for spirits that roam the building. According to the museum's Executive Director, Debbie Hall, "We do have a ghost here. Sometimes when I am here alone and the doors are all locked, I will hear footsteps coming up the stairway to the second floor and will get up to see who it is before I remember that I am alone, well, except for our ghost. Others have heard our ghost and have also witnessed doors being opened and items being moved, then returned to their original position and then moved again." Downstairs in the clerk's office and vaults, a variety of historical exhibits are on display and are changed throughout the year. One current exhibit, "On the Shoulders of Giants," details the founding furniture, textile and tobacco industries of the region. Admission is free. (mhchistoricalsociety.com)
Are you old enough to remember party lines? I'm not, so our recent visit to Rucker's Communication Museum in Martinsville was just as informative to me as it was my young son. Located on the mezzanine level of Rucker's Antiques Emporium and Auction House, this museum packs a great deal of information into a small space showing the evolution of telephone communication dating back to a replica prototype of Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone all the way up to modern day cell phones. Seeing telephone switchboards and learning how the operators managed them was fascinating. My son enjoyed seeing the many interesting tools that linemen use when working on telephone poles. For a healthy dose of nostalgia, it's well worth a visit. Be sure to also check out the Wild West Gambling Exhibit located on the first floor to see a replica 1900s game room and some interesting stories both tragic and humorous. Admission to both the museum and exhibit is free. (ruckersantiques.com)
Tips for Visiting Museums with Kids
Does the thought of taking a young child into a museum make you nervous? Did your last trip to a museum result in chasing the kids while hollering, "Wait! Don't you want to see this?" Get creative and plan ahead before your next outing. With the right kind of preparation, kids (and parents) can go into the experience with both enthusiasm and respect.
Here are a few suggestions to try: • Set the scene and read themed books before you go. Books can provide a point of reference through story preparing children for what they might see and build excitement about the upcoming journey. Christy Deatherage, Museum Education Coordinator, suggests Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones by Byron Barton as a great read prior to visiting the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
• Time it right. Plan your visit for a time when the children are well-fed and rested to avoid grumpiness. If they become hungry or thirsty during your visit, take a break to address those basic needs.
• Plan ahead and know what's inside so your child can look for things. Some museums offer activities for kids on their websites or at their information desks. Piedmont Arts offers a fun scavenger hunt featuring Pallete the Discovery Dog. Families can explore the galleries while searching for clues left behind by Pallete. If none of these resources are available at the museum you visit, plan your own scavenger hunt. ("Find an animal with a tail in this exhibit.")
• Get maps for everyone at the information desk or give the kids sketch books to draw what they see - occupied hands are less tempted to wander onto works of art.
• The best way for children to enjoy a museum is to get them involved. Ask thought provoking questions; you might be surprised by some of their answers. o If you were inside this painting, what would you hear? Smell? Feel? o What would it be like if you lived when the dinosaurs were alive? o What shapes do you see? What colors? o What does this remind you of?