Denver Museum of Nature and Science Discovery Zone
2001 Colorado Blvd
Denver CO 80205
Open (nearly) Every Day
Closed Christmas Day
Adult (19-64): $14.95
Junior (3-18): $9.95
Senior (65+): $11.95
Family Membership: $90/year*
I know, barely 2 posts in and I've already gone a little off-message.
No, the Museum isn't in Jeffco, and it's also not super budget-friendly, but I am so impressed by what they're doing for kids over there, I had to share it with you!
The Museum is a big part of my elementary-school memories (remember when it was the Natural History Museum? Me too). I went to a Denver Public elementary school and lived near City Park. In high school, my Biology 2 class went on the very best and most educational field trip ever to the zoo and Museum. I learned a TON and had more fun than I thought possible while doing such a challenging assignment. (Thanks, Mr. Fredell!) I love the Museum and was really excited to share it with my kids. Maybe over-excited.
We bought a membership and took the kids in 2012. Unfortunately, Big Brother (then 3) and Little Sister (then baby) didn't think the Museum was as awesome as I do. To be fair, Little Sister would've happily gone wherever we liked, as she was in a carrier and didn't have a choice. Big Brother was content to spend All Day Long in the Space Odyssey exhibit: putting on space suits, piloting the shuttle and playing with "moon rocks."
I was eventually able to coax him into the Prehistoric Journey, but he tore through it at break-neck pace and seemed a bit underwhelmed that the dinosaurs were mostly bones (we tried to prepare him, but 3 isn't a great age for listening - am I right?) We took him on a forced march of the Gems & Minerals (my favorite) before going back to Space Odyssey. On the way home, we reluctantly admitted that perhaps we'd tried to make the museum happen a bit too early for our intended audience.
Fear not, dear readers, the Museum had a master plan for families like mine and it is the Discovery Zone. This space is intended especially for 3 to 5 year-olds, but includes activities for younger and older siblings. On Level 2, it's set about as far away from the front entrance as it could be and still be in the same building. This seems like bad planning at first, then you realize that there are acres and acres of stroller parking just outside the exhibit. It's genius.
Oh, where to begin? There's a sand pit to dig for dinosaur bones and other fossils. They've even thoughtfully included a dino to climb on. There's a waterworks, where kids can get elbow-deep and splashy while learning about currents, surface-tension and density. The construction corner has blocks of varying shapes and materials, as well as a magnetic wall where kids manipulate tubes and bumpers to create a vertical ball-maze. The Science Kitchen features puzzles and art projects (and is home to the exhibit's Family Restroom).
We arrived about halfway through a well-attended production at the Explorer's Clubhouse, which we decided not to try to squeeze into, but it looked super fun. We also did not explore the Big Backyard, but it is perfectly charming and the parents and tots in the space seemed quite content.
Big Brother is 5 now. Like the boy in the photo above, he was compelled to climb on the dinosaur first thing, and couldn't resist the lure on the way out, either. He enjoyed digging for fossils, but had to be reprimanded for flinging "sand" too enthusiastically. Little Sister is almost 3 and she spent most of her time in the Construction Corner. We built a monster and we built a road with the blue foam blocks.
The Water Way was a big hit with Big Brother, but too crowded for Little Sister. They do provide these thick, dentist-x-ray-type smocks, but the kids will come away damp (and happy). Both kids made straw sculptures at the moon table in the Science Kitchen.
I say this in the most delighted way possible, but it's really almost too much for one visit. When we come back, I hope Little Sister will try the Water Way. I hope we can get to another of the art tables in the Kitchen. I hope we can build a vertical maze from scratch without impacting anyone else too much.
While the Discovery Zone alone is practically enough to fill a day, I also noticed other little things the Museum is doing for its smallest visitors. In the Wildlife Exhibits, there are more manipulatives than I remember. We found some 12x12 picture blocks to build and knock down, alpacas to arrange by size, a python to test your strength - and that was just while we tried to find a short-cut to Whales!
We didn't see everything we wanted to see this visit. We didn't do everything we wanted to do. But we were able to say, in all confidence, "Next time, we'll be back very soon!"
* We renewed our Family Membership in late November to take advantage of a 30% discount. Also, keep an eye out for Free Days.
Photo credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science