Sunday, November 2, 2008

McWane Center

Once the sugar rush of Halloween had a chance to fade, the kids and I were up for getting out Saturday. I picked a Birmingham attraction that I had been meaning to check out for the longest time but hadn't yet.
The McWane Center has been at the heart of a concerted effort to make downtown Birmingham matter again since 1998. Its focus is on letting children discover the how science and technology affect everyday life, in ways that are simultaneously educational and fun. I remember from school how 'educational' and 'fun' seldom intersect, but the McWane Center brings the two together in ways that are entertaining and surprising.
Interactive demonstrations focused on the forces of light, water, wind and mechanics; concepts are usually considered in the context of stuffy intellectualism. But the kids got to see and touch those ideas as they looked at the ways the eyes see and the way the brain perceives, with printed exhibits of illusions.
Natural forces of motion were shown with air and water. The kids stood inside a booth and felt an 80 mph wind, made water move objects in a tank with waves, and watched a 'tornado' form around them in another booth. Elsewhere, they saw that water supports life with aquaria exhibits. Manmade motion was covered by letting them use a rope and pulley to raise a seat. Air compressed in a plastic tube by a tethered bowling ball made a tennis ball take off more than even I thought it would.
All right, I see my text becoming the same dry, academic ho-hum talk that bores most kids, so I'll just say that the McWane Center lets kids be kids, and learn something doing it!