Monday, February 8, 2010

Catawba Science Center - Hickory, NC

The Catawba Science Center is located in the SALT block in Hickory, NC. The SALT block is a complex that houses various arts and educational programs and facilities. The Science Center includes live exhibits, hands-on learning, and a planetarium. In addition to extensive permanent displays, the Center also features special temporary exhibits. When we visited, on a scorching August 2009 day, the featured exhibit was Swamp Things, with plants and animals (and a fog-breathing alligator sign!)from the swamp. The planetarium is not included in the main $6 admission to the Center (an extra $3 for the adults, as we are not members), but we highly recommend it. The program we enjoyed featured the night sky over the Hickory area, and the presenter was superb. It’s hard to engage an audience in the dark with a laser pointer, but he was wonderful, and we all enjoyed the educational presentation, which concluded with a fun laser show. The Center has both indoor and outdoor exhibits with activities to spark the imagination and intellect of both adults and children of all ages. Even adults without children will enjoy the planetarium and many of the other exhibits. Since the Center is housed in old school buildings, it has a rambling, surprising structure, and even with a map, one never knows what is around the next corner, and one’s first visit will certainly be an adventure of discovery. Unfortunately, this structure, and the other programs housed on the campus, sometimes made it a little hard to find the right door, and we struggled a little with the stroller while we looked for the entrance. Some clearer signage might help with that, but it was the only problem we noticed. While some of the VR equipment was not exactly Hollywood quality, kids will love the earthquake experience, petting pools, and many activities that demonstrate physics, energy, and forces of nature. The Center is very homeschool-friendly, with many programs specially designed for homeschoolers. It is a popular destination for public schools as well, so it might be a good idea to call ahead and make sure that 375 elementary school students won’t be attending the day one plans to visit. You can learn more about the Science Center here.

From the historian’s point of view: Michael really enjoyed the Mars exhibit and the planetarium. Housing the Catawba Science Center in an old school is a fantastic way to re-use old facilities. However, it would have been nice to have some information about the old school for visitors to read.

From the educator’s point of view: Elizabeth thought this was one of the best science centers we have visited; even though the exhibits were good, she was most impressed with the helpful, courteous staff who were very willing to help with homeschool tips and really engaged with the children. There were even plenty of activities for Isabella. Even though she may not have understood all the principles of motion being demonstrated, she loved the Raceways area and the Explore It room. It was nice to have plenty to keep her occupied while Nathaniel took his time in areas he enjoyed. Parents or groups with children of various ages may do well to split up, as we did, to make everyone happy.

From the eight-year-old’s point of view: Nathaniel thought the Center was great! He loved the planetarium, and talked about the Catawba Tonight and Laser show program for days afterward. He also loved petting the horseshoe crabs and playing with the Tesla coil. He has frequently asked to go back.

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