So when I was pregnant with Jane I decided that I didn’t want a baby shower (or a “sprinkle” as 2nd baby showers are referred to these days). I figured I had the baby gear and she could get away with wearing at least some of her brother’s hand-me-downs (we got rid of onesies that read “daddy’s handsome little man” and stuff like that). Still, Brandon’s family insisted on a VERY small celebration to commemorate the occasion. My favorite gift was not even baby related. It was a membership to The Franklin Institute!! I remember going there in school field trips as a child and once with my family. It was always such a magical experience (science nerd much?). We decided to take out first trip together one rainy Sunday afternoon, and because our particular membership covers two extra adults and up to four children, we invited our good friends, Steve and Elaina, and their children Isaac (2 1/2 years) and Lucy (5 months) to join us.
The nice thing about having a membership is that you don’t feel obligated to try and see everything in one trip. This is especially useful for families with small children who may not be able to hack a full day. The museum is so big and full of things to do, I feel as though it would take anyone several days to fully explore it. During our first visit we spent time in Sir Isaac’s Loft (3rd floor), the giant heart room (2nd floor), and The Train Factory (1st floor). However our first stop was the penny press machine in the atrium so that Sebastian could make a penny to add to his collection.
Once everyone was fed, pottied and pennied, we began our adventure. We actually never looked at a map and didn’t deliberately choose the exhibits we went to. Instead we just followed our running children until they stumbled into an area that caught their attention and drew them in. The first room we explored was Sir Isaac’s Loft, which is a room dedicated to physics.
Honestly, I feel like we could have spent the entire visit in just this room because there was so much to see and do. The best part about this room is that even if your child is too young to fully understand the deeper complexities of physics, they will still really enjoy the many hands-on activities and visual stimuli. The center of the room showcases two large sculptures called “Newton’s Dream”. These large machines work to move balls through a series of networks. They reminded me a bit of Rube Goldberg machines. However, since they do not rely solely on the seven simple machines, they cannot be considered one. Sebastian had seen similar sculptures in the waiting room at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when he visited there earlier this year, so he was already familiar with them. Still, he was just as captivated by them as if it was his first time seeing them.
After the kids had their fill of watching these sculptures, we moved onto the various other activities in the room. There were so many different stations that I can’t list them all here. However some of our favorites were the sand pendulum, the Astro blaster, the simple pendulum and the wave generator. The sand pendulum used sand falling through a funnel to demonstrate the repetitive movement that pendulums produce. The Astro blaster demonstrated the transference of energy from one object to another. The simple pendulum contained pendulums of varying lengths and weights to demonstrate how these factors affect the speed of the swing. And the wave generator produced a visual representation of different “waves” by turning a crank.
Additionally, the room featured some really cool optical illusions, including the moving black and white spiral that warps the viewer’s field of vision once they look away after staring at it’s center for a period of time (this was a favorite of mine in high school), as well as a seated pulley race for demonstrating the effect pulleys have on weight distribution. We decided to make it extra challenging for the guys and added the kids to their weight load. And in case you were wondering, it was a tie.
Once we were finished with Sir Isaac’s Loft, we made our way to the Giant Heart Room. While this is probably not the most elaborate or interesting exhibition in the museum (unless you have a penchant for cardiology), it is probably the most iconic. Anyone who is familiar with The Franklin Institute is aware of the giant heart. In fact, it is probably my most vivid memory from my elementary school field trips. I don’t know if its due to its size or the fact that visitors are able to walk through it, but the giant heart is definitely a visitor favorite. The kids certainly felt this way, as they insisted on dragging their fathers through it over and over and over.
While this Franklin Institute right of passage was going on, us girls decided to explore the rest of the displays in the room since I don’t remember ever taking the time to do so during my previous visits. One of my favorite pieces in the room was a display of the hearts of various animals. After the boys were finished with their giant heart marathon, they found a playground tube, shaped like an artery to explore. If you have kids who need to expel some energy, this is certainly the room for it.
Once the kids had sufficiently gotten their ya yas out, we ventured down to the lowest level of the museum to explore The Train Factory. I was particularly excited for this exhibition, as I am a huge fan of trains (my husband and I were married at The WK&S Railroad 8 years ago), and Sebastian was just starting to show an interest in them as well. Additionally, we recently started an annual tradition of going on the Santa Express in Kutztown with Steve, Elaina and the kids last year, so this was something that the boys already had a shared experience with. The room features an exquisite Balwin locomotive that visitors can walk through. There are also several other activities that show various train functions such as how different wheel shapes interact with the curves in the track. And of course, no train exhibition would be complete without toy trains to play with. Sebastian has several sets of these at home but rarely touches them. However, he was more than happy to play with them here. I’ve always felt that one of the greatest qualities of museums is that they create spaces that people feel comfortable enough in to learn and explore in ways that they normally wouldn’t.
By the end of our visit, the kids were exhausted, both mentally and physically, so we decided to save the rest of the museum for the next visit (or two). Overall, our first trip with the kids to The Franklin Institute was a huge success! The amount of variety, along with the physical nature of some of the exhibitions, made it so that the kids were never bored. I can’t wait to see what they will gravitate to as they get older and as their interests become more defined and personal. One thing is for sure. There is always something to do at The Franklin Institute.