Hands-On Museums In North Carolina
Somehow it just doesn’t feel like learning if it’s done hands-on.
North Carolina offers a variety of interactive museums where children of all ages can explore not only with their fingers, but also with their heads, eyes, ears and noses.
In Charlotte, there’s Discovery Place, one of the nation’s top hands-on museums. In addition to limited-engagement exhibitions such as Mummies of the World, Discovery Place features permanent exhibits that encourage visitors to explore their sixth sense: wonder. Launch objects into the air, lie on a bed of nails or crush a garbage can at the Cool Stuff physics exhibit, or explore rainforest and aquatic habitats in the World Alive area. The museum also features an IMAX Theatre.
Just north of Charlotte in Huntersville, Discovery Place KIDS features exhibits themed around a small town designed to allow young children to learn through play. The museum’s nine theme areas range from a learning garden to underwater exploration to a town center that’s the hub of energy and activity. Discovery Place KIDS also offers puppet shows, story time and fun demonstrations throughout the day. Themes change monthly, so call ahead or visit the museum’s website for details.
At Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, young guests are encouraged to use their “marbles” to learn new things through imagination, discovery and play. In addition to a wall of 1 million marbles that wraps around the museum, visitors can enjoy exhibits such as the Art Loft, Storybook Forest, and Moneypalooza, which teaches kids smart ways to spend and save. The museum also features an IMAX Theatre that screens select first-run Hollywood films as well as documentaries and kids’ movies.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast. Also located in Raleigh, the museum displays a range of permanent and special exhibits as well as several special areas where visitors can engage all five senses to learn about natural history. In the Discovery Room, families can touch fossils, feel bird wings, try on costumes, play with puppets, and more. Visitors also can enjoy a 3D theatre featuring movies such as “Tornado Alley.”
In Durham, the North Carolina Museum of Life + Science features more than a dozen indoor and outdoor exhibits where visitors can explore, build, play, pet and ride. The Magic Wings Butterfly House is home to more than 1,000 tropical butterflies. This 5,000-square-foot conservatory is one of the largest butterfly houses in the world and one of the museum’s most popular attractions. Outside, guests can step back 77 million years to see the ancient inhabitants of North America on the Dinosaur Trail.
Families can enjoy ArtQuest, a permanent hands-on art studio, in Greensboro at the Green Hill Center for NC Art. Here, children of all ages can spin a friendship bracelet, stage a puppet show, make a patchwork story quilt, draw a self-portrait, create a one-of-a-kind clay work of art, watch their own drawings come to life on an early animation machine, and more.
The Hall of Minerals at Asheville’s Colburn Earth Science Museum boasts 4,500 minerals from all over the world, including a 2,405-carat opal boulder from Australia, as well as 1,000-plus gemstones such as garnet, diamond, emerald, ruby and more. The museum also honors North Carolina’s rich mining history – including its role as the first major producer of gold in the United States – and features a gem mine replica as well as meteorology, climatology and paleontology exhibits.
The Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington features a number of interactive natural history displays. Visitors can see a 15-foot prehistoric giant ground sloth skeleton, touch cotton, feel animal skins, smell turpentine, sound a ship’s horn and design money. The museum also is home to the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery, the first natural history exhibit designed just for children. Named for the Wilmington native, the gallery features coastal plant and animal exhibits and memorabilia including Jordan’s first paycheck and his University of North Carolina basketball uniform.
For more ideas for family fun, click here.
added: December 30, 2008
updated: December 21, 2011