Connecticut Science Center
250 Columbus Blvd Hartford, CT 06103
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Race Cars, Robots and a Moonwalk..Oh My!
Having been on the ‘mommy circuit’ for six years now, I am always pleasantly surprised to discover new family attractions within a reasonable driving distance. The Connecticut Science Center is one such place. Little did I know that the Science Center opened five years ago and is conveniently located just a mile from Interstate 84 in downtown Hartford’s Adriaen’s Landing development, part of the bustling Front Street district and home to the Connecticut Convention Center.
In short it is hands-on, offering over 165 interactive exhibits for all ages, and is both educational AND fun! Venturing there with two boys, 2 and 6 years old, I was pleased to find that the Center does a good job of highlighting activities of particular interest for the 7 and under crowd, both via its visitor guide as well as through notices posted throughout.
With ease we located the building--only to miss the turn for parking. There were in fact green parking signs that we somehow missed! No worries, the resulting scenic route afforded us the opportunity to appreciate the Science Center’s impressive structure overlooking the Connecticut River, complete with tilting transparent glass walls and ginormous LED screen. Literally topping it all off, there before our eyes was the building’s notorious and whimsical S-shaped ‘magic carpet roof.’
Once we made our way back, we parked in the attached Science Center/Riverfront Garage which offers safe and reasonably priced parking at just $5 for the first hour and $2 each hour thereafter. We visited on a weekday and had no trouble finding a parking spot amid a light to average crowd. Also, although there is no officially designated stroller parking, I was glad we brought our umbrella stroller and had no trouble finding parking for that either! The stroller also acted as a storage area for our necessities, avoiding the need to rent lockers.
Stepping out of the elevator into the six-story lobby space and central hub known as ‘Science Ally,’ we continued to be impressed with the bright and energetic atmosphere. Here, plainly visible are the passages to and from the three exhibition floors above, including glass elevators, staircases with red zig-zag railings, and walkways crossing from one side of the building to the other. The open layout of this ‘grand central station’ of sorts is similar to peering inside the inner workings of a watch--rather than encase and hide the walkways, elevators and stairs with walls, the space is open for visitors to behold and appreciate.
In the ticketing area, we received a terrific visitor guide complete with a well marked floor plan. ‘Kidscape,’ the waterscape exhibit, is located here on the lobby level along with a 3-D digital movie theater, gift shop and cafe featuring a SUBWAY restaurant. We decided to start at the top and work our way down. So off we went in the cool glass elevators to the 6th floor.
Level 6 includes a rooftop garden as well as the Energy City, Planet Earth and River of Life exhibits. Energy City appeared to be under construction but some of our other favorite attractions on this floor included a fossil dig in the Dino Dig Pit and a hurricane wind simulator. My six year-old loved recording his own weather forecast (which was later emailed to us) and the two year-old loved crawling through a faux woodland habitat to peak into a bearded dragon’s tank in the Critter Corner. On this level the floor to ceiling tilting glass walls overlooking the Connecticut River were simply awesome. Also measuring high on the coolness meter were the glass portholes kids can sit in for a birds eye view of the outside. Unfortunately for us, we entered this area just as the Touch Tank was closing for an hour break (daily from 1-2pm) and we did not get a chance to circle back. When the tank is open visitors have the opportunity to touch live lobsters and crabs. At this point we were in time to view a twenty minute film on climate change which surprisingly held both children’s attention, most likely due to the 3-D props and wind storm simulation. Just outside the film venue was an animated and roaring Dilophosaurus dinosaur which elicited screeches of excitement from the littlest visitors.
Level 5 included an even larger space divided into four areas: Picture of Health, Sports Lab, Exploring Space and Invention Dimension. At just two and six years of age, the latter two, Exploring Space and Invention Dimension, were most attractive, although my older son did enjoy a simulated skiing machine in Sports Lab. The big attraction in Exploring Space was a kid friendly model lunar lander and a reclining video viewing machine called Galaxy Explorer. Invention Dimension offers visitors the chance to challenge a robotic arm in assembling a puzzle and to operated a remote control robot, however, the kids were most interested here in two areas in particular--building Lego cars and racing them down a ramp in the Lego Imagination Zone as well as a few Golf Ball Rube Goldberg Machines which are like life-sized marble runs. This level also includes a storytime twice daily (at 1:15pm and 3:30pm) in the Exploring Space area, although we unfortunately missed both sessions. Yes, timing is everything!
Level 4 was a similar-sized area as Level 5, comprised of: Forces in Motion, Sight & Sound Experience and the Traveling Exhibit Gallery which at this time was divided to include Mindbender Mansion and The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head. The boys loved running around exploring the Mr. Potato Head area, which reminded me more of what one might find in a typical children’s museum. This area is a hands-on (and feet on!) paradise for the youngest scientists, equipped with a tunnel slide and signature Mr. Potato Head assembly station with a trough of parts. Numerous attractions were found here, covering a broad exploratory theme ranging from safari to space and sea as well as ancient times and an archeological dig. It was a very busy area, somewhat dimly lit, and the limited line of sight at times posed a challenge for this mom with wandering and quick moving children--but the kids most definitely enjoyed it. In the other half of the Traveling Exhibit Gallery and back by popular demand was Mindbender Mansion, reminiscent of a live recording of the Family Game Night show, with life-sized puzzles and games for one or more players. This area offers visitors a chance to earn induction into the “Mindbender Society” by problem-solving brainteasers located throughout different ‘rooms,’ including the library, kitchen, map room and others. The laughter emanating throughout was most notably coming from an attraction called Feeding Frenzy in which players rushed to fill food trays on a moving conveyor belt. Other popular areas included a Spelling Fever game and the Move and Match challenge in which players sit in wooden chairs while trying to move their chairs into various patterns. This area scored very high points with me, even though it was most age appropriate for middle schoolers and beyond. I hope the Science Center continues to bring this exhibit back indefinitely! Sight & Sound Experience offers an interactive light and music floor and wall which the kids thought was quite neat but most of their time was hands-down spent in the Forces in Motion area. Here the boys were mesmerized by a model of maglev electromagnetic high speed trains. They also loved the block and gear race cars, wind-sailing machine, robotic launcher and the opportunity to use funneled wind through a traffic cone to slam dunk a beach ball (a Bernoulli demonstration of air pressure).
Upon finishing up on Level 4, we arrived back at Lobby Level which included the gift shop, cafe, movie theater and Kidspace. It was already 4pm, just one hour until closing, so we chose to spend our remaining time in Kidspace (aside from a breeze-through of the gift shop). This area was primarily a waterscape which the six-year old was thrilled with, but since my two year old refused to wear the waterproof bib, he spent most of his time in the Tiny Town area building and deconstructing with oversized soft blocks and enjoying the vacuum tube ball attraction.
Overall we had a terrific time and spent roughly four hours exploring. If the children could have withstood a longer visit or we returned for a second visit I would aim to further investigate the Touch Tank on Level 6, the Picture of Health and Sports Lab areas and storytime on Level 5, Sight & Sound on Level 4 and the 3-D movie theater at Lobby Level. During our visit we alloted our time to the areas most age-appropriate as any parents will understand is a necessary survival tactic!
One of the few recommendations I would have for the Center is to encourage staff to be more hands-on and readily available to engage visitors. When little ones are in a rush to see how something works, the lesson of why it works that way may get lost in the mix unless informed personnel are on hand to offer an explanation. Often as caregivers we unfortunately do not have the time to stop, read the exhibit history and then relate it to the children all while keeping a mindful eye on them.
Please Note: Mindbender Mansion and The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head featured in the Traveling Exhibit Gallery on Level 4 concluded on August 31st. A new offering, Grossology (described as “the good, the bad and the downright ugly behind the mysterious ways your body keeps you healthy”) will open October 4th and run through March 8th, 2015. Following Grossology in Spring 2015 will be an Extreme Dinosaurs exhibit.
All in all the visit was a success and the Connecticut Science Center was a thumbs-up family destination!
The Connecticut Science Center is dedicated to inspiring lifelong learning through interactive and innovative experiences that explore our changing world through science.
We strive to create an engaging and sustainable science center that serves families and schools and has a significant impact on student and adult learning in Connecticut. We seek to develop the minds of future thinkers and inventors who will compete in the ever-expanding global marketplace for technology and innovation. And we endeavor to create a Connecticut workforce that meets the projected growth of jobs in science-related fields.
Hours: 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Sunday (open Mondays during Summer).
Admission is $19 for adults and $14 for children (2 and under are free). Movies are an additional $6 -$7 with most running for 40 minutes. Membership plans are also available.
For more information visit: http://www.ctsciencecenter.org