As if the National Museum of Natural History wasn’t fascinating enough for kids (and adults) already, a new addition to its amazing spectrum of offerings brings a whole new level of intrigue and exploration.
Q?rius is an interactive and experimental learning space that just opened in December. I’d heard about, but because it was promoted as a place for teens, the kids (ages 5 and almost 8) and I took our time getting over there to check it out. But if I’d had known just how awesome it was — and just how much younger children would think so, too — we’d have gone much sooner.
Q?rius is like lab for visitors, letting young guests feel like real scientists. They can view up close – and in many cases handle – artifacts and specimens from the museum’s collections as they “make sense of the connections between nature, the planet, the universe, and their lives.”
Microscopes offer a detailed look at different materials from the natural world. There’s a station that has you guess the scents of various insects and another that lets you listen to their sounds. You can test your knowledge of the exhibits on computers and keep track of your progress with “passports” provided by the museum.
But the area that kept the kids busiest was the “Collections Zone.” The first thing you notice are all kinds of specimens — everything from insects to birds to marine life to fossils — on display both behind glass and right on the counter tops for touching. However, it’s the drawers below them that are the big, well, draw. Full of everything from animals species to cultural relics, many of the objects cataloged in them are accessible for examination. On top of that, there is a special process for handling them that further adds to the lab-like experience.
It works like this: Each object is packaged in a box with a clear, plastic lid, so you can see it. They are all tagged with a green, yellow, or red label. Green means you can take out the item from both the drawer and the box for a full examination. Yellow means you need to ask a volunteer for help with the item. Red means you can look, but not touch, not even with the help of a volunteer. Every tag has a QR code that can be scanned at any of the computers for details and general background information about the object — it will all appear in a window on the screen. Every object is cataloged with a number that correlates to a drawer, and a space in the drawer, so you know exactly where it goes. In some, outlines of the boxes even help you fit them in correctly.
The process itself is very appealing for all ages. The kids really liked mastering the steps and feeling like they could navigate the lab on their own. And I personally found the precise organization of it all extremely satisfying, kind of an OCD soother (if only someone could come set up my house like that!).
There’s even more beyond — and above — that area. A room with glass walls houses a geology area where you can view demos of how rock formations evolve over millions of years and other interesting exhibits about earth science. Upstairs, overlooking the space below, is a loft with seating, tables, and thick columns that you can write and draw on with dry erase markers.
Finally, I have to mention the volunteers. You can’t miss them all around the exhibit wearing beige vests, greeting guests, answering questions, demonstrating how to use the interactives and investigate the collections. All friendly and extremely helpful.
Something to note are the hours: Q?rius is only open 2-5pm on weekdays, but 10am – 5pm on weekends. It’s located on the first floor of the museum, just past the Constitution Ave entrance to the right. We went for an after school outing, and on a weekend to explore even more — all within a span of three days.
And while it’s promoted as a place for teens and tweens, younger children definitely can enjoy it, too. Owen, Sasha, and their friends are proof of that. But if it turns out your kids aren’t quite into it, there’s always the rest of the Natural History Museum.