We visited a beautiful Conservation Center this weekend. The outside included a wild flower garden with benches, bird feeders and a garden stream and pond. The inside was full of interactive displays and critters. Being a new facility, everything was modern and employed various technologies. They even had outdoor nature sounds subtly playing in the background, which really lent itself to the large windows overlooking the garden area.
Unfortunately many of the great interactive ideas were not executed well. Just about everything was too tall for a young child. Along one wall were fish display cases similar in appearance to a tank. Each one had a drawer to pull out that included visuals of the bait used to catch the fish. When the drawer pulled out, a light came on in the case. Nice effect and simple interaction for a child. The drawback: I had to pick up my daughter so she could see in the drawer.
Another display included buttons depicting animals and vegetation related to the food chain. Pressing a button would light up what the animal eats. For example, pressing the owl lit up a mouse, but then it also lit up a snake. The question became, does an owl eat mice and snakes? Does a snake eat owls and mice? Again the display was too tall – a good height for adults but the buttons were on a horizontal surface above child height. Most children ran along and pressed the buttons not being able to see anything.
One of the activities my daughter liked best involved crayons. There were several places where you could place a piece of paper on a metal relief and rub a crayon over the surface to get an image of the relief to take home. The reliefs included animal tracks – very cool idea. The presentation was nice with a custom built area to hold the pieces of paper. Unfortunately the paper was slightly too small to capture the full print. We took home 1.5 raccoon tracks – instead of 2 full feet.
My daughter also enjoyed climbing up into a “beaver dam” A large part of the facility was divided by the two sided displays. You walk down one side and back up the other viewing all kinds of information. In the middle was an area where children could climb a little hill into a beaver dam. It was the perfect size for kids, not really something an adult would climb through. Once inside, the children could go down the other side. I watched my daughter disappear. I waited a few moments for her to go around the display and back to me, and then I went looking for her. She had gone one way, I went another until I heard her yelling “momma”. And of course there are many people named “momma” in a place like this. This was a fun feature for my daughter but unnerving for me when I could no longer see her in a crowded public place.
The height issue could easily be solved by including a step up. I believe there was one tank that did incorporate a step. Other options would have been to place things at angles to facilitate viewing from low and high and the size of the metal reliefs should have been based on common paper size. These are just a few of the displays and activities. At each one I had a moment of anticipated excitement to see what we would learn. At each one I had a slight let down. To be truly successful, each display should be evaluated and observed with children interacting. The facility was beautiful, the staff was very knowledgable and friendly, and the ideas behind the interactive elements were great. A little more work on the final execution would have made the experience truly outstanding. Oh yeah, they did have a real two headed snake – now that was pretty cool.