Discovering Nevada through a child’s eyes
Not too long ago a common lament about the Reno/Tahoe area was that there were not enough educational activities to do with your children. Well, thanks to the arrival of the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, that old whine can finally be put to rest.
At 10:00 am on a bright (and hot) Saturday morning, Christine and I caravan’d three excited kids to downtown Reno for C and my first trip to the Nevada Discovery Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard nothing but rave reviews from fellow moms but wasn’t sure if it lived up to the hype. Well, it did, in spades.
Upon entering through the glass-clad exterior (very modern, I must say) we somehow managed to get the kids to bypass the impressive gift-shop near the entrance and made it to the information desk. Tickets for everyone over the age of one are $8, but after some discussion with the attendant, I decided to get the family annual pass. This, my friends, is a steal. For $85 you get a year pass for two adults and up to a crazy six children, plus discounts on classes, events, and birthday parties should you choose the museum as your venue for such an occasion. There are multiple membership levels. This page will provide you with a better idea of which level might be good for you and your family. Finally, our business complete and fees paid, we ushered the kids into the museum.
Now Christine’s brood are old champs at the museum, so they were not standing in wide-eyed amazement like C and myself, beholding at the scene in front of us and considering what to do first.
On the top level, we were immediately greeted by an airplane. Little A jumped into it and began manipulating the controls for the wing and tail flaps like she was about to take off. C and N were more interested in the tree slide in a room for younger children off to the left. Crawlers and toddlers all took turns sliding done the tree and playing with the the foaming area. Christine, in her infinite wisdom, suggested we head downstairs to the Truckee River display; an 80-foot-long mock river that began in the mountainous Tahoe region (complete with wind generators you can position) that traveled through rapids to meander slowly through Reno towards the hydraulic power of the Derby Dam. The river finally comes to rest in Pyramid Lake. The model is really well done. You can float a boat from the top to bottom (and coincidentally sink it multiple times like C found out), operate the dam to control water pressure, and get really wet. Next comes the main feature of the downstairs area.
Right in the middle of the downstairs area is the Cloud Climber, a huge netted jungle gym that let you climb a potential three stories on equipment shaped like clouds. Sadly, this gem was closed for cleaning on the day we visited.
Note of warning to parents: little ones, unsure of their climbing abilities, can get scared in the Cloud Climber and require an attendant to escort them down. So, before you allow your kids to romp through the clouds, employ a serious dose of parental judgement.
Officially soaked, the kids decided to head to the camping room with a ceiling created to look like the night sky in Northern Nevada, twinkling stars and all. Children can crawl through caves, fish for local trout, camp in the wilderness, and mimic the melodies of the local fauna. C and A did an especially impressive coyote.
Done with nature, we went upstairs to work on our construction prowess. C and N worked on building a house. A kind-hearted volunteer built a fabulous foam block Reno Arch before immediately inviting the kids to knock into the over-sized blowing balls. I worked on an interactive home building site to build my most eco-friendly retreat. I did pretty well but didn’t make the best choice with choosing grass over natural landscaping. What can I say? I like grass.
There was so much else to do, such as learn how to make and earthquake-safe building and discover wind power, but the kiddos were itching to go to the next room to work on an art project in Da Vinci’s Corner.
We spent some time in this science-filled niche and assisted the kids in making little Popsicle-stick light catchers. N seemed more fascinated with the magnet wall while C was a regular one-man army working a miniature trebuchet to knock down buildings. Unfortunately, nap time was fast approaching, which meant we did not get to take full advantage of the Nevada Stories room, which upon first glance is my favorite.
Our quick walk through showed Nevada throughout the ages, from the prehistoric range of the Ichthyosaur to Native American settlements, mining town settlements and finally to the modern era. This room was the largest and most historically interesting and definitely on my list of first to visit upon our next trip.
Even though we were only there for a short time, C still was able to dig for buried treasures, make a fossil imprint, and paint water on soapstone.
By far, my favorite element of the museum was its complete inclusion of Nevada into all of its activities. Each part of the museum can be tied to something happening right outside your home, making it that much more tangible to our children. The Discovery Museum is so successful because it is Nevada.
Want more? Here is Christine’s take on the Nevada Discovery Museum:
Explore, play and learn all in the same air conditioned building, sounds like a teacher’s dream and a parents dream, right? Well this mommy (who also happens to be a teacher) had her dreams come true with the Discovery Museum in Downtown Reno. The old City Hall building was recently converted into space to learn, play and explore. Your artist can create their own masterpiece, while your little engineer can build a green home or experiment with wind energy. Children can discover more about the place we call home, by “camping under the stars” or cooking over the fire near their covered wagon.
When: Daily, the museum is open 7 days a week, check their website for seasonal hours. Week day afternoons are a great time to go when the school/camp crowds have gone and just before they close. Kids can roam with very little foot traffic.
Where: Downtown Reno, just behind the Federal Courthouse.
What: Various rooms of activities meant to teach children about Art, Science, History, Engineering and many more. Many of the rooms/areas have a Nevada theme as well. The Discovery Museum also has a little explorer’s room for soft play.
How to dress and what to bring: Wear comfortable shoes as your children will want to run from exhibit to exhibit .The Discovery Museum also offers a family friendly cafeteria style area that you can eat your own sack lunch.
Need to know: The Discovery Museum offers several rooms and packages for birthday parties as well as classes for kids nearly every weekend and a special class on Wednesday mornings for the stroller crowd. They have several week-long summer camps as well.
Extra Extra: If you are local, a membership for a family of four will be paid for in less than 3 visits. Also offered are reciprocal memberships that allow you to visit nearly 200 Children’s Museums across the US.
Still want more? Here is Will’s dad take on the Nevada Discovery Museum:
This museum has everything that many of the Smithsonian museums in Washington have from interactivity, to engaging and historically accurate exhibits.
My favorite two places of the museum are the water feature of the Truckee River downstairs and the magnetic tube wall where you can drop a ping pong ball down a series of tubes of your own design. As a dad, I can play at these two exhibits with the kids the entire visit. I think they are more fun for parents that for the kids.
This is definitely a museum you can get lost in for a very long time (well, at least until it’s time for the little ones to take a nap) and the kids are kept busy the entire time as well. If you’re looking for something to do on a day where heading into the outdoors is something that doesn’t look promising, head over to the Nevada Discovery Museum. You won’t regret the experience.
Website/Contact Information: http://www.nvdm.org