North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
What could be more fun than sticking your head in a T-Rex’s mouth?
The Museum of Natural Sciences, open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm, is one of North Carolina’s most visited museums, and for good reason! From the coasts to the mountains, from the prehistoric to the present, this amazing and popular destination has something for everyone.
The museum is divided into two centers: The Nature Research Center and The Nature Exploration Center.
In the Research Center, there is a great deal of hands-on learning that kids of all ages will enjoy. A large aquarium with live fish from North Carolina’s coastal reefs, a “ride” inside a submersible, and the Exploratory Gallery are just a small taste of what will greet you on the first floor. The SECU Daily Planet, for those who haven’t visited, is a three-story multimedia program which exhibits mesmerizing presentations related to science.
The second and third floors are chock full of interactive displays and rooms to explore. My favorite is the Naturalist Center. While older children are invited to look around the smaller and more fragile specimens, younger children are directed to the other side of the room, which holds innumerable discoveries perfect for their curiosity. The interactive technology tables are super cool, teaching children about the habitats, life cycles and other interesting facts about animals. Children pick out whichever specimen they want to learn about, place it on the table and voila!
There are two (fun!) ways to cross over into the Nature Exploration Center. The inside bridge on the second floor, which has a beautiful floor-to-ceiling mineral display at the entryway, and the outside Bridge Across Time on the third floor. This bridge has footprints and imprints to follow along as you cross over, taking you on a trip through the geologic timeline.
The Nature Exploration Center gives children both a historic and ecological perspective of our state, presenting displays of both current and past environments. The WRAL 3D Theater always has interesting presentations for young and old alike. The Coastal North Carolina display gives children a peek into the underground world of our coastline, as well as real fish and critters inside floor-level aquariums that small kids (especially stroller-sized!) love.
The second and third floors in the Nature Exploration Center are a dream come true for both young scientists and the dinosaur lover in your family.
The Discovery Room on the second floor has so much for younger children that you might need to plan to stay awhile! Some examples are: animal dress-up costumes, microscopes (just for little hands), a table of moon sand, science games, and a book nook.
The third floor holds a classroom called Windows on the World, where children can participate in story time and a Meet the Animals session, where they get to have face-to-face interactions with real animals.
Don’t miss the tree boas, dart frogs, live native snakes, turtles and a myriad of other fun things to see and explore!
Everything you wanted to know about prehistoric North Carolina you will find on the third floor. And, you will also enjoy one of the museums most popular displays: The Terror of the South, a skeleton of the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, purchased by the museum in 1997, the only one of its kind exhibited anywhere in the world!
The Museum currently is running an important and educational exhibition, free of charge, called RACE: Are We So Different? I highly recommend visiting while you can. Even young children will be able to absorb some of the information presented. As parents and caregivers, this is a great opportunity to springboard into meaningful conversations about ourselves, our culture, and our community.
Leanne Wells, 2017