Science museum

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(Host) During the recent school vacation, commentator Edith Hunter was reminded of the pleasures of visiting a science museum with a child.

(Hunter) In 1961, when my children were 15, 13, 7 and 2, I wrote an article about a school-vacation trip to the Boston Museum of Science. I wrote the article because I was so impressed by the fact that, in spite of the wide range in ages, each of the children had taken away so much from the experience. They absorbed what they were ready to absorb.

Two year old Charles, well acquainted with storybook owls, was entranced by Spooky, the live owl. He chuckled when Spooky blinked his eyes, and then turned his head without moving the rest of his body.

Seven year old William was fascinated by the enormous cross section of one of the Sequoia trees. Small light bulbs had been placed on selected growth rings, and by pressing a button, a bulb would light up. He could then read about the historic event that had taken place at that time in the life of the tree.

Thirteen year old Graham had stood immobilized in front of a replica of a water pump designed by Leonardo daVinci. Charles saw it simply as an interesting “water fall”, while Graham explained to me that it demonstrated how kinectic energy could be transformed into mechanical energy.

When fifteen year old Elizabeth emerged from the planetarium she wanted to share her amazement at the size of the universe. “It makes me feel so small,” she sighed.

And so, forty three years later, during school vacation, grandson Sammy, now ten, and I went on a visit to the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich.

As we entered I told him that he was on his own. If he wanted to share something with me, I’d be nearby. Within moments he was totally absorbed in one of the mind-boggling puzzles. I was totally absorbed in people watching.

I thought how, although science is supposed to epitomize change, and the frontiers of science keep expanding, the phenomenon of a science museum had changed not at all. There were the mothers – and in spite of women’s liberation they were mostly mothers – and the children. There was the same curiosity, the same enthusiasm, and the same energy.

Like my own children so many years ago, somehow the children found the exhibits that they were ready for. Toddlers climbed up on the little step stools to watch the turtles. Older children used giant wands to form huge soap bubbles, and Sammy was totally absorbed in puzzle after puzzle.

I did not see a single misbehaving child in the hundreds who were there. Why misbehave when you are surrounded by magic?

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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