Learn and Play at the Science Museum of Virginia

Where can you test your speed compared to a T-Rex, learn about prehistoric dinosaurs, understand the importance of mental health, and finish with a trip through the stars?  You can do all that and more at the Science Museum of Virginia! On a rainy day in the summer, we wanted a fun activity to keep the kiddo entertained and we found it in the Science Museum of Virginia. The interactive exhibits made for fun all day, but the icing on the cake was the show in the 76 foot 8K digital dome screen where we floated through the stars to see what the scientist watch with the giant telescopes in Chile. Check out why we had some of the most fun we had our whole visit for Richmond, Virginia.

Exhibits

Speed

Right as you enter the museum, just past the entrance you cannot miss the SR-71 Blackbird Supersonic jet hanging from the ceiling. It is the perfect introduction to the exhibit which is all about teaching about different speeds in nature, both natural and manmade. Here you can run and be timed against a friend, or even a T-Rex or turtle. You can test your pitching speed with various balls.  But there are some neat exhibits that show how light can seem to change the speed of something and make it appear slower. One of our favorites was the super slow-mo camera, which captures just a few seconds and turned it into a thirty second video.

The entrance to the Speed exhibit in the Science Museum of Virginia
A young man throwing a ball in a batting cage at 26.3 MPH

Mental Health:  Make it OK

One of the other favorite exhibits was the special exhibit on Mental Health. Helping the fight to destigmatize mental health, it talks about how mental health is a medical issue, just like any other medical issue. There were exhibits that talked about the different mental disorders, and some great videos that show how the brain is functioning during that period. As a family who believes greatly in mental health, we have all attended therapy at one point. We understand it is a privilege to have the health care coverage that provides us this service. But it was good for my son to see that it was ok and to see mental health and therapy being normalized.

A collection of photographs with people showing their thoughts on mental illness

Hands-On Rooms

Since we decided on the museum last minute, we were not able to make reservations in any of the hands-on rooms that exist in the museum.  But there are some great rooms in this museum that you can explore and plan ahead to visit. The Forge has different challenges, and you can do a Maker Workshop led by a facilitator, a Maker challenge and you can participate in a design challenge, or simply just go to an open making time and let your imagination explore.

I also noticed they had an Art Lab for those who are less into design and more into letting their imagination explore in color, paper, paint, and crafts. The Eco Lab lets you look at all sorts of specimens from insets to rocks up close. And finally, the Animal Lab allows hand on encounters with reptiles and insects. Not my or my son’s thing, but hey I am sure some of you have little ones who would love that!

A young man creating with emojis and it projecting on the walls

The Dome

One of our favorite things in the museum was The Dome. A 76-foot-tall screen, it boasts itself as the largest screen in Virginia. They have a number of shows a day, and you can usually buy tickets same day. We choose to watch a show on the giant telescopes in Chile, how they work, and what they see in the expansive clear skies over South America. After the show, we were treated to an interactive show, where a scientist took requests from the audience, and on the giant 8K digital full dome screen showed different planets, stars and constellations as seen through these telescopes.

A dome IMAX theather
A mom and her son sitting in the IMAX theater

Tickets

It is important to know that like most science museum, there is a bit of a la carte pricing to the tickets.

  • General Admission is around $15.50 for adults, $13.50 for Youths, and additional discounts for Preschoolers, seniors, and military. Two and under are free.
  • Generally, there is one limited edition special exhibit that is an extra cost or ticket. Check the website for the latest exhibit and the cost
A sign advertising a Tyrannosaurs limited edition exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia
  • Each show in The Dome is an additional ticket, $9 a ticket
  • Entrance to The Forge is free but requires an advanced reservation

Food

One slightly unpleasant surprise is that there is no restaurant or café at the science museum. We were so used to there being a café at most museums, when we wanted a snack, we went to the room that said Café. We were greeted with three tables and two vending machines. We had some chips and vanilla cookies and a Diet Coke. There is, however, a McDonalds right next door to the museum if you need to grab lunch before or afterwards.

Tips

  • At the time of our visit, masks were required for unvaccinated people, and optional for those who were vaccinated. However, most people wore their masks given the target age range for this museum was a younger crowd who were not able to be vaccinated (we visited in August of 2021)
  • This is a very hands-on exhibit.  There are hand sanitizing stations everywhere, but I also brought my own and Clorox wipes. I wiped down a lot before my son touched it, and our hands were dry from sanitizing so much during the day. But we are in a pandemic and kids are gross so…
  • If you are particular about the show you want to see in the Dome, research online what days and times they are playing.
  • If you have a kid who likes to tinker, make sure to plan ahead, buy your tickets online and make reservations for The Forge on the day you want to attend.

My husband and I do not often get to do things with just our son; it was nice to get this day indulging in activities he wanted. He is also at an advanced age where he understands much of the scientific concepts around what he is learning, but still enough of a kid (does not look it but trust me he is) to want to play and interact with every exhibit. (He has not hit the “I’m too cool stage” but I know it is coming). The Science Museum of Virginia was the perfect way to indulge in our desire to learn more scientific concepts hands on, and spend a fun rainy day while in Richmond, Virginia.  

Learn and Play at the Science Museum of Virginia

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