At the Children's Science Center Lab's experiment bar, Hope Hughes, her brother and her mother were busy with slime and magnets.
"We did a lot of fun things. We did fun experiments, like this magnet goo and a pretty rainbow,” Hope said.
The Fairfax, Virginia, museum, which opened recently in a shopping mall, is a place when kids can experiment, design and build things. The exhibits are designed to help kids ages 2 to 12 explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts.
It was a new museum-going experience for Hope's family.
“We’ve taken them to lots of different museums where they just look, but this one, they get to touch,” said Edna Hughes, Hope's mother.
The lab "is the first interactive science museum for children in northern Virginia," said director Nene Spivy. "I think a lot of learning, especially hands-on activities, is sort of ageless. The best activities and the best exhibits are those that even the adults can’t help themselves to jump in and to do, and certainly we’re finding some of that magic."
What makes the Children's Science Center Lab different from other museums is that parents may experiment along with their kids.
“Family learning is so helpful," Spivy said. "And when you have an experience learning as a child with someone in your family, those can be some of the most formative learning experiences. Many people have been inspired at young ages by what their parents or grandparents had exposed them to and done with them, whether it's in the backyard, in the garage or in a museum like we are today.”
And there are lots of experiences to be had. The Discovery Zone is for younger children age 5 and under. Older kids like the Inspiration Hub.
In the Wind Tube, kids learn how flowing air creates aerodynamic effects that aircraft engineers try to optimize.
And at the Tinker Shop, visitors build their own creations. A visitor named Henry, 12, designed an object with a motor and four legs made of felt-tipped pens.
“It will walk around and draw with its legs as markers,” Henry said. “I saw people doing it and they looked like they were having fun. I'd like to be an architect. You can be pretty creative here, and that would be important.”
No matter where visitors go in the lab, they will always find a helping hand.
“We’re mostly here to help with their questions or if they’re stuck with something,” said Samantha Stephenson, an instructor. “I love it here. It’s great to be able to interact with the little kids and their parents also, to get them excited about different topics.”
Hughes was grateful: “My kids can read and they can do these experiments by themselves for the most part, but it’s always nice as a parent to know that somebody else is there to assist us and sort of encourage them to try a different way or give it another chance before moving on to another experiment.”
Since opening two months ago, the Children’s Science Center Lab has attracted more than 10,000 visitors.
There is no secret to its popularity: It's learning mixed with fun.