Children’s Adventure Garden at Dallas Arboretum Will Plant Seeds of Scientific Knowledge

Posted by Rachel S on Monday, August 26th, 2013

The already splendid Dallas Arboretum has outdone itself with its new children’s “museum without walls” that will be unveiled next month. The arboretum invested $62 million in the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden that’s the culmination of two decades of research on science enrichment. According to the Arboretum, nearly 100,000 Dallas area students visit the gardens each year and they hope with this new addition that this will blossom even more.

The 17 indoor and outdoor galleries spread over more than eight acres will address state and national standards in life, earth and environmental sciences and are targeted at grades pre-K through middle school. In addition to architects, landscape architects and exhibit designers, the arboretum called in educational experts (including a Nobel prize winner in chemistry) to help design the expansion.

The exhibits all seem compelling and some have an almost Alice in Wonderland vibe from the sheer scope of the presentation. Each of the eight galleries was designed to address a specific theme and will include more than 150 interactive exhibits total throughout the expanded educational area.

As former Senator and now honorary chair of the Children Adventure Garden Kay Bailey Hutchison reminds us, “Science scores of American children are the lowest of all academic areas tested, with earth sciences the lowest of all. If our education system is going to keep up with the needs for our country, we have to interest children at a much earlier age in science, engineering and math. I believe that the Dallas Arboretum’s Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden does that by teaching science creatively.”

In our age of digital domination and iPad nannies, many children don’t interact with nature frequently enough and may struggle to comprehend how things that grow are critical to their lives. Children’s Adventure Garden aims to address this knowledge gap. Of course the theory can be taught in the classroom, but as studies have shown, experiential learning is more likely to stick and the gardens not only show kids from pre-K to middle school how science works, but allows them to touch and experience it to engender deeper dimensions of learning.

The First Adventure Area is aimed at toddlers through pre-K and has mushroom stools big enough to sit on, oversized insects, a giant nest the kiddies can roost in and oversized turtle shells kids can climb into and simulated planting activities helped along by friendly docents.

Plants Are Alive has a definite Honey I Shrunk the Kids scale to it featuring a giant potted plant with a cutaway that lets you see the root structure and trace the path of groundwater to help understand how photosynthesis works. With plants as tall as 16 feet, the spectacle should leave an impression on the kids!

Kaleidoscope is targeted at older kids from fourth through sixth grades and addresses art, science and math.  If you like the interconnection between disciplines, you can dig into the Fibonacci series and toy with an enormous kaleidoscope to see color and light interact.

The Discovery Center explores teaching about earth systems and other sciences through technology. There’s a plant lab, soil lab, a 3D theater and an OmniGlobe – a lighted digital sphere controlled by a touch screen that can show models of the Earth, moons and other planets, Pangaea and weather events on the planet.

Incredible Edible Garden offers an expansive picnic area, interactive exhibits and planting beds of edible plants so city kids can understand where their food really comes from – something that not all kids are clear on. There’s also an exploration of economic botany which sounds uber-cool.

The Topiary Maze has stations with quiz queries to help you figure out how to navigate the twists and turns. That’s interesting, but what’s really cool is that it can be reconfigured on the fly to make it more challenging for older kids. Periscopes and dance chimes enrich your exploration!

Living Cycles explores the circle of life using large interactive exhibits featuring metamorphosis, hatching chambers and presentations on pollination.

Earth Cycles teaches children about weathering and erosion using stream tables, digs into plate tectonics, continental drift, water and weather cycles. Coolest of all is a man-made cave with stalactites and stalagmites to touch and experience.

Wild Wetlands Walk features a carnivorous bog, boardwalks over grass tunnels, a wildlife blind and stations for aquatic experiments led by docents.

Texas Skywalk and Habitats will take you from the entrance to the Energy Tower on a long path that rises up above the park so you can enjoy vistas of the entire children’s garden and see the interconnection between people, plants and animals. From its heights, it offers line of sight views with tree tops and its denizens.

Pure Energy devotes an island to each of three types of energy derived from wind, sun and water. Hands on exhibits allow children to see how each of these natural sources can be converted to power.

This one-of-a-kind children’s science and nature experience features exhibits designed by Van Sickle & Rolleri, Ltd., the project’s lead designer, buildings designed by Dattner Architects and landscape architecture by MKW and Associates. The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden officially opens September 21st and a ticket will allow you a three hour window to learn and play. Early reviews indicate that this may not be long enough for fascinated students and families to fully explore the vast offerings of this world-class expansion of the Dallas Arboretum.

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