The North Museum
Located close to us right next to Franklin & Marshall College, our family has made the trip to the North Museum a number of times over the years, but most recently I took my 4 year old for a morning when the other kids were in school. Earlier in the week I received a notification from the Lancaster Library that our turn was up on the waiting list for a FREE family pass to the North Museum. I had put my name on the list probably 5 months ago, and had forgotten all about it, so it was a nice surprise!
This wonderful little museum is sort of like a miniature Academy of Natural Sciences like you would see in Philadelphia or New York. My children and husband especially love science and nature, so it was always an easy sell for them. With three levels for exploring, there is plenty to see and do, yet you can easily knock it out in a morning or afternoon.
The main floor contains the bulk of the museum complete with a small gift shop and snack room. Little ones will love the live animal room with mostly reptiles and amphibians. A great new addition here are a couple of desert rats that make a racket on their exercise wheel. A children’s “Nature Explorer Gallery” fills one section with bright colors and whimsical décor with lots of hands-on activities and interesting exhibits. My kids particularly liked the glass-enclosed bee hive filled with squirming honey bees (and I liked that they were behind glass because I’m severely allergic to honey bees!) The gallery is a great spot for parents to sit and relax while letting their little ones play and discover at their own rate. The artificial hollowed-out tree in the center of the room makes a fun hiding spot. One exhibit we spent a lot of time at was the microscope which projects the results onto a large screen TV. Children can look at any item sitting around or that they brought, and even their own fingers. We laughed and laughed at how gross our fingers appeared when viewed that closely.
If you haven’t gone in awhile, they have introduced an exciting exhibit featuring dinosaurs, including a full-size, reconstructed dinosaur along with many skulls. Hands-on activities engage the visitor, like being able to touch dinosaur fossils. If you have a dinosaur-loving child, this would be a perfect destination. Another new exhibit plays with fluorescence using rocks and minerals viewed under ultraviolet light creating a dazzling display. My oldest daughter is obsessed with color and rainbows so I’m sure she would have loved the “Rock Box.” Lilah just liked looking at ourselves under a black light, with our funny glowing teeth.
The upper level contains rotating art exhibits from local artists whose work contains themes of nature and science. To keep it interactive, the kids can do a scavenger hunt as they look at the pieces. In the past, my kids actually really got into it, racing each other to see who could complete it first.
The basement level has a permanent exhibit, a room filled with cabinets containing taxidermist displays of birds. Pretty much every type of bird found in our area is represented and it gives you and your children a chance to “see” them up close, along with bird eggs. A dream come true to a little girl who I’m sure will grow up to be a bird watcher. She ran around pointing and asking for names of birds in a frenzy of excitement. Also on this floor there is a giant rock and mineral collection, many with beautiful shapes and colors. My son is interested in geology so he spent a lot of time here.
Perhaps the most exciting spot in the museum is the “SciDome” a revolutionary planetarium using state-of-the-art technology, the first of its kind. Depending on the ages of your kids, the planetarium highlights several themed shows all revolving around the night sky and the solar system. For younger kids, Sesame Street characters take you on the journey, and for older kids, the Magic Tree House characters are the guides. If you have teens, there are shows geared for them too. See website for details and complete listing of show times. Beware that visiting the SciDome is an upcharge on admission (and NOT included with the library pass), but totally worth it in my opinion. If you’re like my husband, sitting in a comfy seat in a dark room is a good excuse for a little snooze…I don’t think he has ever watched a complete show in his life.
If you have preschoolers, make sure you check out the monthly program “Little Explorer and Me,” a special event included with basic admission. Little ones have the opportunity to learn about a new topic with hands-on activities, science demos, and a take home craft. Coffee for parents is also included!
School curriculum doesn’t spend a lot of time on subjects like science and social studies, so any destination that focuses on scientific and historical learning is a real bonus. If you have never been, the North Museum is certainly worth a trip, and if you are very patient you can obtain a family pass (4-pack) from the Lancaster Library to go free like I did. As the biggest animal and nature-lover in our family, my daughter really soaked up the learning in this visit. I was so glad I took her, and we will be sure to visit again.
Admission: (Basic museum) $9/adult, $8/children 3-17, FREE/children 0-2; (Museum and SciDome) $13/adult, $12/children 3-17, FREE/children 0-2. See website for SciDome-only admission prices.
Hours: Fall, Winter, and Spring hours are Tues.-Sat. 10AM-5PM, Sun. 12-5PM (SciDome shows are currently only Sat. and Sun.) Check website for complete hours and Monday holiday listings.
The North Museum of Nature and Science
400 College Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603
Visit www.northmuseum.org for more info!