Space centers, museums and aquariums, oh my! These places are where science, technology, engineering and math (known collectively as STEM) come together to provide fun-filled learning opportunities for adults and children alike. With so many incredible educational facilities across the country, there’s no shortage of ways to spend time with your grandchildren and learn a little something along the way. To start you off on your path to knowledge, we’ve compiled five of our top places in the U.S. to learn about science with your grandkids. Build a mutual love of learning and a connection that is sure to last a lifetime!
What better place to learn something new than in our nation’s capital? Washington, D.C. has many science museums dedicated to a wide variety of subjects, from natural history to modern medicine. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is world-renowned for its research on the science of aviation and space travel. With sprawling exhibits on the history of flight featuring huge displays of original space and aircraft, it’s no wonder the National Air and Space Museum is the second most visited museum in the U.S.
Journey through time with your grandchild as you marvel at artifacts from the Apollo 11 Moon landing, explore the Wright Brothers’ airplane and gaze at a full-size test version of the Hubble Space Telescope. Learn the stories of Neil Armstrong, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and other pioneers from museum experts. These immersive exhibits are supplemented by science demonstrations and other educational hands-on activities, which help kids master the basic principles that make airplanes and spacecraft fly.
The National Air and Space Museum also boasts an IMAX theater, state-of-the-art planetarium and virtual reality flight simulator, where you can embark on an exhilarating mission to Mars or jump into the cockpit with the Red Baron. End your day by observing moon craters, Venus and more through a telescope at the museum’s Public Observatory.
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Located in downtown Portland, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is one of the top science centers in the country, with an international reputation for its innovative educational programs, and it’s a great museum for kids in Oregon. Inside the museum, five enormous halls play host to hundreds of brightly-colored interactive exhibits and displays, all focused on Earth science, life science, physical science and technology. Here, you and your grandchild can dig up dinosaur fossils, design and build your own working robot, concoct an experiment in a chemistry lab, and much more.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s expansive campus also includes the Kendall Planetarium and Empirical Theater, where you and your grandchild can see twinkling constellations and tropical coral reefs come to life on the big screen. If you’re feeling hungry afterwards, grab a snack at the café or enjoy a locally-sourced meal at the museum’s waterfront restaurant, overlooking the Willamette River.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s expansive campus also includes the Kendall Planetarium and Empirical Theater, where you and your grandchild can see twinkling constellations and tropical coral reefs come to life on the big screen. If you’re feeling hungry afterwards, grab a snack at the café or enjoy a locally sourced meal at the museum’s waterfront restaurant, overlooking the Willamette River.
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In the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, the crew’s families banded together to carry on the legacy of their loved ones. From this tragedy, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education was born. Its network of Challenger Learning Centers are scattered throughout the globe and strive to teach children (and adults!) about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through role-playing and other hands-on activities.
At one of the 39 Challenger Learning Centers across the U.S., exercise your critical thinking and team building skills with your grandchild on a simulated space mission! Board a spacecraft and navigate through the stars as an astronaut or make crucial calculations as a scientist in Mission Control. Space mission itineraries include an expedition to Mars, an investigation aboard the International Space Station, a research project on the surface of the Moon and more.
After landing safely back on Earth, learn more about the sophisticated engineering process behind space shuttle design and function while crafting your own paper rocket. Once you build it, it’s ready for launch! 3 … 2 … 1 … Blast off!
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Listed among the largest aquariums in the United States, the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi includes 19 themed exhibits to wander through and explore, with more than 450 different species to learn about. Since its opening day in 1990, the aquarium’s goal has been to conserve and protect the marine wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea through its rescue center and educational programs. The aquarium’s expert staff rescues hundreds of aquatic animals every year, many of them endangered or threatened.
If you and your grandchild are fascinated by all things under the sea, the Texas State Aquarium offers many ways to get your feet wet with marine biology through touch pools, exclusive animal encounters, behind the scenes tours and more. Participate in a dolphin training session and feed manta rays, sea turtles and sharks. Learn how to care for otters, sloths and birds of prey. Diverse exhibits recreate natural marine habitats, from barrier reefs and coastal lagoons to swampy bayous and lowland rainforests.
After a full day of diving into the ecosystems of our oceans, rivers and lakes, cool off with a movie inside the aquarium’s 4-D theater or take in the view of Corpus Christi Bay from the dock.
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Go undercover and crack the code at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where you’ll learn all about the science behind the world of secret intelligence. Channel your inner “Harriet the Spy” as you and your grandchild explore the only public museum in the country solely dedicated to espionage. Its four floors of artifacts, exhibits and hands-on activities are a testament to the covert missions throughout history that have turned battles, shaped governments and changed lives.
Learn critical thinking and decoding tactics from former CIA agents as you work to solve a case. Make sure to look for clues inside the museum’s many exhibits! A range of interactive displays on surveillance tools, disguises, cryptology, analysis and more provide a closer look at the technology we use to steal secrets. When you’re ready, put your newfound skills to the test by entering the Decision Room and role-playing as a U.S. intelligence officer on a mission to collect important information from foreign adversaries.
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Are you ready to rock? The Museum of Geology, located on campus at the School of Mines and Technology in South Dakota, is the perfect place to take your enthusiastic rock collector or budding paleontologist. The museum and its research center are as established as the school itself – all are more than 130 years old! The surrounding Black Hills of South Dakota are home to unique geological wonders, like the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world, and provide a great backdrop for learning all about fossils, minerals and gems with your grandchild.
At the Museum of Geology, dig into fascinating science exhibits that display rare fossils from the White River Badlands, suspended in time inside detailed dioramas. Learn how fossils are discovered, excavated and pieced together to create the silhouette of an ancient species. Enjoy wandering through mounted skeletons of dinosaurs, mammals and fish and gazing at dazzling displays of meteorites, crystals and fluorescent gems. With a collection that includes thousands of brightly colored minerals and fossils from every habitat in the region, the Museum of Geology offers visitors an in-depth look at life on Earth, preserved in its rocks.
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Does your grandchild like to color outside the lines? If he or she tends to look at things in new ways, a visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry may be in order! One of the largest science museums in the world, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is all about “inspiring the inventive genius” through interactive exhibits that teach kids about science, technology and engineering. Here, you can dream up and design your own 3D-printed sculpture using cutting-edge software, watch worker robots assemble and package custom toys and even build your own wearable LED circuit band. Everyone is a maker at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry!
After crafting your own inventions, set off on a journey through the rest of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s 400,000 square feet of award-winning exhibits. Learn about DNA as you watch baby chicks hatch from their eggs, get curious about the latest agricultural technology as you experience life on a farm and participate in a fast-paced simulation as you help the city of Chicago manage its energy usage. End your day on a sweet note by visiting Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor on the museum’s main level for an old-fashioned milkshake.
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About the Author Mike Zoob is Senior Advisor to the Road Scholar President and an avid Road Scholar participant.
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