On Saturday we went to the library and borrowed their family pass for the Academy of Natural Sciences. Unfortunately when we opened up the pack we discovered the librarian had given us a pass to an arboretum. Arboretums are cool and we will go there at some point and no doubt enjoy ourselves but right now the landscape is so freeze burned that it looks like the type of tundra musk oxen migrate across. Definitely an outing for better weather and recovered plant life. So Mr Pict suggested that we head to the Franklin Institute instead so that is what we did yesterday.
In the end we actually took out an annual family membership at the Franklin Institute because it made more economic sense for us as a family of six to do so when we are likely to be back at least one more time and probably more within the next year. We had been told it was the best attraction in Philadelphia and, while I cannot judge that since I have not been to other places yet, certainly it is a superb science and technology museum. It is very well organised into sections of knowledge and it is really interactive and hands on for the kids. I am not really a science museum person – I am definitely an arts and humanities person – but even I found it to be engaging.
We actually started off our visit with the special exhibition which is on the subject of Pompeii. I guess that ties into science because of the volcano but it was a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity for us to show the kids some of the artefacts from such an important archaeological site. Mr Pict is an obsessive Romaphile; he loves ancient Rome. He was, therefore, especially happy to be given another opportunity to share his obsession with his sons. Mr Pict and I have actually been to Pompeii, in October 2006, so for us the exhibition was lacking on impact but only because we have been spoiled by the luxury of actually having been there and seen everything in context and even by the archaeological riches on display at the museum in Naples. However, the items on display were well chosen and the exhibition was organised in a thoughtful and informative way. The kids loved seeing all the Roman glass, the gladiator helmet and grieves and guessing which particular god was being portrayed in each art work. The one section that did not work for me was the conclusion where they had casts of the original casts of the bodies. That room followed one in which there was a dramatic rendering of the day of Vesuvius’ eruption and to then follow that with casts of the victims seemed a bit trite, sensationalism followed by individual tragedy. It is also very difficult for those casts to have the same impact out of context. When we saw them at Pompeii, I had a sorrowful lump in my throat seeing all the people in the Garden of the Fugitives huddled up together. As individuals on plinths it just seemed a bit lacking in emotional sensitivity. But, as I say, Mr Pict and I are spoiled and the exhibition was still well worth visiting.
The kids had fun learning about different types of energy by conducting over-sized experiments in the Isaac’s attic section. Particular hits were the experiments using light and one that used the impact of air to push a ball back and forth through a tube. I am a physics dunce so I have no means of describing that with any sort of scientific accuracy. They got to look through a telescope at sun spots which was fun since it was not something they had ever done before. They loved all of the interactive exhibits in the sports science section, especially the virtual wheelchair racing and the surf board. We watched a show in the planetarium – and I almost nodded off in the dark. We visited the geology area but the kids were not engaging with that so we decided we would jettison that and return to it with fresh minds on a different day so we concluded our trip with a visit to the Heart section. In that gallery, the kids saw representations of human blood vessels and cells and a great revolving model graphing the different sizes of animal hearts, from canary to whale. They also got to learn about medical science through lots of interactive exhibits. Their absolute highlight, however, was getting to scramble around inside a gigantic heart, as if they were the blood cells being pumped around it.
We were in the museum for five hours but there were whole galleries of the museum we did not even visit or touch on and areas we only skimmed the surface of and areas the kids would like to do again so the annual pass was definitely a worthwhile investment. If you happen to find yourself in the Phildalphia area with kids, I highly recommend the Franklin Institute.
Here are some of my photos from the visit.