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Discovery along many trails
Question of the Day
Discovery Creek Children’s Museum of Washington in Glen Echo Park offers children and families more than an acre of trails, trees, gardens and animal encounters.
“We make nature accessible to little kids and their families,” says Annie Hanson, museum director. “We’re close to Virginia, Maryland and D.C., and we offer programs that are intended to spark a desire to learn more about nature and about science.”
The museum is open to the public on weekends and features frequent guided hikes, story times and animal meet-and-greets. It also invites visitors to go on self-guided tours of the gardens — including a sensory garden, an alpine garden and a water garden — the trails, which lead down to a creek, and the 900-square-foot indoor “museum.”
The museum offers animal hand puppets, an arts-and-crafts area and a child-geared exhibit on trees and their roots, featuring tunnels and ladders through and up man-made trees.
The exhibit looks a bit like a puppet-show stage design, which brings us to the other offerings of Glen Echo Park. Many of the families who visit the museum, Ms. Hanson says, either are bound for or have just attended one of Glen Echo’s two children’s theaters — Adventure Theatre and the Puppet Co. Playhouse — or the old-timey Dentzel carousel, the park’s centerpiece.
“We attract a lot of families who take advantage of the park’s other attractions,” Ms. Hanson says. “I would say our core group are children ages 2 to 9, which are also the ages that the theaters and the carousel attract.”
One of the most popular features of the museum is the animal meet-and-greets. Children can meet and learn about animals like a box turtle, hissing cockroaches, a boa constrictor and a leopard gecko.
“Kids love to learn fun facts about these animals. Like the box turtle gets its name from being able to go completely into its shell — closing completely — essentially becoming a box,” Ms. Hanson says.
Other facts that are shared — particularly during weekends in July, which are devoted to beat-the-heat topics — include how a leopard gecko stays cool by storing fat in its tail. A boa constrictor reaches the same objective by sleeping during the day and being up at night.
Two to three educators are available each weekend to guide, tell stories and instruct. They are trained to do so in a child-appealing way, Ms. Hanson says.
“We want to make it exciting. We want to tell nature stories in a language children understand. We also incorporate hands-on activities.”
So a decaying log full of insects, for example, becomes an “insect hotel.” Story time about life in the woods can incorporate felt animals and a storyboard to involve children in the storytelling. The big bamboo grove becomes a maze. Stacked rocks become tunnels and caves.
The sensory garden, which includes honeysuckle (sweet-smelling flowers), lamb’s ears (soft, fuzzy leaves) and mulberry bushes (edible), invites children not only to look at plants, but also to touch and smell them.
During hikes down to a nearby creek, some weekend educators will point to leftover train tracks, remnants from when Glen Echo was a full-fledged amusement park and a trolley would bring visitors from downtown Washington to the then-remote park. Now, the tracks and the cracks and burrows around them provide homes for bats and rabbits, Ms. Hanson says.
“We call it ‘ambush learning,’ ” she says. “Children will come away with excitement about nature and the forest and its animals.”
By Robert N. Tracci
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