I was never particularly sciencey at school… Chemistry, physics and biology alongside maths were my weakest subjects. So you would think I would be averse to a visit to the Science Museum in London’s South Kensington. After all, what could possibly hold my interest and that of a five-year old?
Had I’d been that young pigtailed whipper snapper, I would most likely have turned my nose up at ‘educational exhibits’, but not so now. And, even though my interest in science and technology has not advanced a great deal since my youth, I want to be able to get Monkey’s cognitive juices flowing – for him to question, discover and explore the ways of our world and all the fanstatical elements in it.
That’s the main draw of this thought-provoking museum. It houses objects and products designed by the most intellectual brains in history, and illustrates how the modern world has been shaped by them all. With five floors housing interactive exhibits and over 15,000 pieces to peruse, it’s impossible to see everything in one visit. So we didn’t try…
Instead we cherry-picked, and went for displays that would appeal to Monkey as well as keep him, and myself, entertained.
Our first stop was to enter the Energy Hall where Monkey spotted a huge red Mill Engine built in 1903. Learning about the power of steam, we enjoyed looking at all the different models, some of which were built by James Watt – whose name is more commonly known as a unit of measurement of electrical power. ‘Like a lightbulb?’ Monkey asked. ‘Yes!’ I exclaimed with a congratulatory high five!
Then we went Exploring in Space…
This super-interesting exhibit houses rockets, satellites and space probes. We even got to see a real piece of the Moon! While Monkey adored the full-sized replica of ‘Eagle’ – the lander that took astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin to the Moon in 1969.
I particularly enjoyed Making the Modern World – which displays objects showcasing cultural history from 1750 to present day. What I loved was seeing products from my own childhood and trying to explain to Monkey how at the time, they were considered technologically advanced – such as an Atari games console. Remember those?
He couldn’t get enough of the motor cars, and historic modes of transport.
At this point, though, I could see his interest beginning to wane, so I took him down to the Basement. What struck me as soon as we exited the lift, was the loud hum of children. Monkey was drawn to the excited voices coming from The Garden – which is a multi-sensory play zone for children under six. With a splash play, small climbing structure and pods, there’s plenty for children to explore but after 10 minutes, I could see that this area was a little too young for him, and more suitable for toddlers.
We made our way to The Secret Life of the Home and learning about everyday household objects and how they’ve evolved over time, was fascinating. There were plenty of interactive exhibits – Monkey got to generate electricity and play Pong, the world’s first video game.
After a quick snack at the Basement Café, we decided to go up to the third floor and enter the marvellous world of Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery (£9 per adult; £7.20 per child). The guide time suggests an hour inside, but we were there for much longer – with over 50 different scientific experiences, it was hard to leave.
The Wonderlab is a huge space packed with fun and exciting experiments for kids and adults to try, as well as live demonstrations and a Chemistry Bar, Monkey had a blast – testing friction on giant slides; building bridges; flying paper planes; see lightening strike to name but a few.
The added bonus was, there were also several ‘Explainers’ on hand to guide us through each element, and their enthusiasm was infectious.
Not surprisingly, it was busy – but not so much that we felt we couldn’t have a go at any of the exhibits. And once you buy a ticket, you are free to come back as many times as you please throughout the day.
After some time building structures and knocking them down at one of the numerous play stations, Monkey admitted he was famished and feeling a little worn out. I do forget on occasions that he’s only five, and after checking my fitbit, realised we’d walked the equivalent of three miles around the museum. So we called time on our visit.
With so much we didn’t get to see and do, Monkey made me promise we could go back for another ‘educational’ day out. Which is fine by me – perhaps there is an inner science geek waiting to get out after all!
Other Science Museum highlights for kids
Discovery Motion Theatre: Legend of Apollo
Discover what it must have felt like to be on an Apollo expedition to the Moon with a 3D film, special effects and moving seats.
With a giant screen the size of four double-decker buses, watch films you’ll feel like you’re immersed in such as being inside the human body, fighting for survival in Antarctica or plunging into the depths of the sea.
A multi-sensory area for children to encourage them to recognise and copy patterns. Kids can explore water ripples and follow robot trails.
Flight simulators that let visitors experience what it feels like to fly with the Red Arrows.
Space Descent VR with Tim Peake
The famous astronaut guides visitors as they embark on an out-of-this-world virtual reality space mission.
Engineer Your Future
Older kids can put their problem-solving skills to the test with this interactive gaming and digital experience that bring to life the skills engineers use daily.
Thing To Know
• Entry to the Science Museum is free, although a donation is suggested. Meanwhile, look out for the ticket symbols on specific exhibitions and attractions which are ticketed and cost extra.
• Use the map which is available from the ticket desk at the entrance. The Science Museum is huge, and with different floors and exhibitions it’s easy to lose your way.
• Some exhibits have a minimum age requirement.
• There are plenty of cafes as well as a shake bar, plus you can bring your own food in and eat in the designated picnic areas.
• As well as resident galleries and exhibits, the Science Museum continually hosts new exhibitions, so do check their website to see what’s currently on.