I love the opportunities that come from living here in Northern Virginia. I take my boys to museums and festivals and story times and engineering days and art classes. There are tours and programs and summer camps and clubs in any subject you can dream up. If you want your four year-old to start computer programming, no problem- there’s a summer camp to help. You name it, it seems to always be happening here in NOVA and/or DC.
My husband and I also visit places close to the DC Metro area with our twin boys who are almost four. On two separate trips last year, we visited The Children’s Museum of Richmond. The boys love that place and so do I. Baltimore has a children’s museum and of course the fabulous National Aquarium, both of which can captivate them for hours.
With all the Smithsonian museums, there are rich opportunities in DC. Recently the National Children’s Museum opened in the National Harbor, and I’ve heard good things about it. Unfortunately, even though it is in the DC Metro area it is quite a trek from Reston without a car, so I haven’t made it yet.
My husband and I have also been able to take our boys to see other cool places over the past year, mostly because of our summer road trip that took us from Virginia to Idaho and back. The Children’s Museum of Denver was an amazing stop. We ran out of time there because we had tickets for the Nationals/Rockies game that night or we might have closed the place down—an amazing place to spend time! We also toured a couple factories on our road trip- a candy factory in Denver and the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Factory in Louisville. We stopped and spent the day at a dairy in Ohio, took a Mississippi riverboat ride in St. Louis, hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and saw Mount Rushmore. We had a model train deliver us our dinner at a restaurant in Kansas City, and counted wind turbines all across Kansas and Wyoming. It was quite an adventure, and one that I hope the boys will remember highlights from their entire lives.
I wish all parents could take their kids on trips across the country, and even the world, and take advantage of cool opportunities that surround us here in Metro DC, but I know many have other responsibilities that overshadow the need and eliminate the possibility.(Our kids are lucky to have two teachers for parents—we have summer travel time.) I’ve also found that many local parents don’t even know about a lot of the cool things going on for kids.
I’ve been searching for science and technology activities to get my boys involved in. They are little scientists themselves and always curious about everything. (Including where babies come from) Because of their interest, I’ve learned way more about NASA, space, and astronauts than I’d ever known before. There are some community center classes that they’ll take and some I’ve found some camps we might be able to afford to send them to at some point. I’d never cared a hoot about science, but they make me care, just by their natural (and relentless) curiosity.
The other night I found out that Virginia has seven children’s museums, but none of them is in super-populated Northern Virginia. Combine this with the disinterest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) of US school children (by the 8th grade, 80% of children have lost interest in STEM), the low STEM scores that US students have compared to many other countries, and there seems to be a local need here, in densely-populated NOVA. Ironically, many jobs in the area require STEM skills, but not many local kids will even be qualified for those jobs with the current amount of local students earning STEM degrees.
Enter Children’s Science Center.
The groundwork has been set, and Children’s Science Center is planning to open in the next 3-5 years in one of three locations under review. At this point they are a “Museum Without Walls,” taking their bins of science exploration and their volunteer workers to schools and museums to spread interest, exposure, and curiosity to area schoolchildren. The waiting list to use their science products in classrooms extends beyond two years’ time. They’ve been to Super Science Saturdays at the Air and Space Museum. They were at Family Engineering Day at the National Building Museum in DC. Their mission is “to instill a love of learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in all children by providing unique opportunities to explore, create, and be inspired.”
Their plans for rooms and exhibits and the connection they want to make with the community is inspiring even to me, who as a kid steered away from science and math because I wanted to stick my nose in books about far-away adventure, mystery, and romance instead of atoms, engineering, and satellites.
I want to help their cause, but as an English teacher who hasn’t taken a math class in somewhere around a decade and a half, isn’t a land or business mogul, I’m not sure what I can do to help, other than spread the word about their vision that is taking shape. They need volunteers; they need expertise; they even need kids to help them in designing the museum.
Like them on Facebook, follow their progress, tell your friends. NOVA has much to gain from the place they will call the Children’s Science Center.