You live in London, it’s the school holidays and it’s raining. Every parent knows that this is a terrible combination. Because unless you find something for the kids to do, your little angels will spend the entire day trying to (a) kill each other or (b) demolish your home. In the worst case scenario, they may even do both.
Which is why I was particularly pleased with myself when I came up with the plan to take them to the Science Museum. It is indoors, it is entertaining and it educational. That is like the holy grail of parenting! And the good news is that kids (or at least, my kids) even like all the boring train and tube travel it takes to get there.
The first thing to mention about the Science Museum is that it is completely free to enter, although there are some things you pay for such as the Wonderlab and Imax Cinema (more of which later). There is a sign asking for donations, but the woman on the desk as we came in looked absolutely stunned when we made one, so I guess not that many people do, although it’s such a great resource that – if you’re not going to any of the paid exhibits – it seems only fair to make some sort of contribution.
On arrival, we hurried straight up to the Wonderlab on the third floor (I say hurried, but the lift was broken, so huffed and puffed would probably be more accurate). This space is designed for young people to get real hands on experience of science, watch live experiments and listen to talks. Judging from the age ranges there, I would say it would appeal to kids from about 4 to 13 or 14. We paid £28 for a family of four for the day (umlimited entry and exit), but if you think you’ll go more than once, it’s definitely worth getting an annual pass.
Amongst other things we did in the Wonderlab, we explored the colour room (learning about the impact different coloured light has on how we perceive the colour of objects). The girls raced each other for who could pull themselves up a rope the fastest using a pulley system. We all had a go on the friction slides (verdict: astro-turf makes the slowest slide, and the wooden slide goes so fast it made mummy scream). We watched dry ice whizzing over the surface of water as it dissolved, and we went to a talk about rockets. The kids thought the talk was the highlight and I was amazed and to hear my 11-year-old talking to granny about Newton’s first and second law the next day, so I guess she genuinely learnt something.
After about two hours, it started to feel a bit relentless, so we dipped out and went for lunch. The kids wanted to stay longer, and we could easily have gone back after lunch and there would have been plenty more to see and do.
For lunch we eschewed the pleasant looking, well-lit Energy Café which serves all the kinds of food you would expect (hot and cold dishes, pizza, salads and sandwiches) and instead went to the Deep Blue Diner. Unfortunately this was not a good choice. The main source of light in the diner was the light-up tables, which made me feel slightly headachy and snow-blind. The service was slow, the portions were small, and none of us felt like the food was great. Next time we will definitely go to the Energy Café instead.
After lunch we went to the Imax Cinema. This is where things start to get expensive, as a family ticket was £23. We saw Under the Sea, a 3D movie about different sea creatures and the impact of the modern world on their environment. I’ve never been to a 3D movie before, so I jumped a couple of times as eels darted out of the screen to eat their prey, and I had to resist the urge to put my hand out and try to touch some of the creatures as they floated serenely towards me.
After the movie we visited the Exploring Space gallery as the kids were all fired up about rockets following the talk earlier. There are some amazing artefacts, including a re-entry capsule from one of the Apollo missions to the moon, but we were all definitely flagging at this point.
We stopped for a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake at the Energy Café, before heading back out into the rain and home on the tube. I am not sure how, but we seemed to have passed an entire day at the Science Museum, we all enjoyed it and the children even learnt stuff.
The trip was such a success that I am sure we will go back (I wish we’d bought the annual pass to the Wonderlab!) and next time I will plan specific galleries to look at. I’m really keen to see the Winton Gallery – not only to explore mathematics, but just to see the incredible space designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. I’d also really like to see the exhibition Wounded about the medical and human impact of the First World War. And if there’s time, I’d also like to squeeze in the Challenge of Materials, which includes a steel wedding dress (no irony intended). In fact, next time, maybe I’ll take a friend instead of the children because it’s packed with stuff I want to see, and then I can be completely selfish and I won’t have to share my cake either.
A couple of practical notes
- Travel: The Science Museum is on Exhibition Road (as are the Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum) and is a short walk from South Kensington Tube.
- Prices: The museum is free to enter and you could easily lose yourself in the galleries for the day, but you do have to pay for the Wonderlab, Imax Cinema and certain exhibitions. Check the website for details.
- Eating: There are a series of different cafes, but there are also a couple of picnic areas where you can sit down and eat your own food if you fancy taking a packed lunch.
- When to go: The museum is open daily (apart from 24th – 26th December) from 10am to 6pm. We arrived at the Wonderlab at about 11am and walked straight in, but the website does warn that there may be a queue of up to 90 minutes at peak times.