NYSCI surprised me a lot – when I first saw it Maker Faire was going on, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. What I found was that the museum is very much kid oriented, so I felt very old when I walked in. There were families everywhere, though it wasn’t as packed as AMNH; also unlike AMNH, NYSCI is a much more open space that seems to lend itself to letting kids run around. Everything about the place, from the typographic and color choices of the signs to the height at which things were placed (I can’t tell you how many times I tripped over things I couldn’t see, and I’m not particularly tall!), screamed children’s museum. Prior to this trip my only experience with science museums had been the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which is what I was sort of what I was expecting. It was quite the polar opposite!
Despite the attempts to be kid friendly, I noticed that kids were just interested in playing with things and less so in the science of it. At one point I actually heard a kid scream “BUTTONS!”. This was a trap I fell into as well – there was a ferromagnetic display where you could use wheels to watch oil form spikes and dripped down. I read the sign and am still struggling to remember what I read because the display was just so cool! I definitely can see the problem that the museum faces in trying to educate kids while still being fun and interactive.
It’s easy to see which parts of the museum are new (the Design Lab) and which parts are not, and the parts that are not new really showed their age. For example there is a small hallway dedicated to the New York World Fair with pictures and the captions for these pictures are on printed paper, almost like an afterthought when compared to the big captions on the other exhibits with bright colors. There was also a few stations set up with headphones to listen to audio accounts about the fair, but they looked old and abandoned. It was very uninviting and I imagine that kids would run away from it as soon as possible to find more fun things to do. The Design Lab on the other hand very much invited play and interactivity. This was easily the busiest part of the museum. Glowing LEDs, paper creations, and a beautiful open space to play? No wonder every kid there wanted to stay; this was the only place I didn’t hear screaming and crying.
After having some trouble locating the entrance to the playground – the top entrance was closed and the only map we could find was near the Design Lab – we were able to enter through the dining room hall. The area looked a lot like a big jungle gym with little paths leading to other hidden areas. There weren’t any instructions for any of the locations, but the few kids we saw playing seemed to be able to figure out what they were doing. What was particularly interesting to me was a kid and their parent both using a long speaker on the bridge near the main area; the fact that the parent was also able to get involved in the area was important because most of the parents I saw were hanging out by the tables outside on their phones. It was great to see an adult get involved in the activities with their kid because for the most part this museum doesn’t have very much for them even though adult visitors are there primarily to chaperone/watch over their kids.
This visit is probably my second least favorite since I was very much not the target audience. I did enjoy the Design Lab and some of the upper floor mini exhibits by it; the bubbles in particular were super fun. However, NYSCI still has a long way to go to find ways to teach kids about the scientific concepts they presented.
(Bonus: there was a spider habitat with a very large and scary looking spider in the networks exhibit. It’s true, you really are never more than six feet away from a spider. Thanks Nancy...)