Learning at The Heard Museum

This week we took some friends with us to visit the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney. The Heard has over 6.5 miles of nature trails that wind though the diverse habitats of their 289-acre wildlife sanctuary. We didn't follow any of the nature trails just because it was too hot but we did spend some time outdoors looking at the wildlife.

Nicholas and Rachel both got to pet a real armadillo!

We looked at raccoons, ring-tailed lemurs, mongoose, coatis, and cavys. Rachel squealed at some of them that were running around but if they were sleeping or just still, she took no interest in them.

Then we made our way into the Butterfly Garden. What fun! There were lots of butterflies flying all around us. Rachel got all excited and kept trying to touch them. It's hard explaining to a toddler why she can't grab at the pretty wings that are fluttering around right in front of her. They just seem to be beckoning her to touch them.

Nicholas was so gentle with the butterfly that crawled onto his finger. I was really proud of how much he knows about butterflies and that he knows just how to handle them.

The keeper took out the board that holds the latest chrysalis and emerging butterflies. Nicholas thought it was neat to see all the different sizes and colors of chrysalis. And it was amazing to watch some butterflies coming out of them right there before our eyes.

Inside the museum, there are many static exhibits as well as hands-on interactive exhibits. There are snakes and spiders and birds and bugs in enclosed habitats.

But there are lots of activities that kids can do with their hands. My favorite interactive pieces are the tables full of fun things that kids are allowed to touch freely. There are shells, fossils, plant material, snake skin, feathers...all kinds of natural treasures!

Look at the giant ammonite fossil! I love those :)

Rachel discovered that there were more goodies on the shelves below the table so she was stretching her little arm as far as she could to be sure she got out all of the goodies down there.

Some of the big exhibits in the museum are only on display for a limited time. In the past we have come here for their "Dinosaurs Alive!" exhibit in which giant animatronic dinosaurs are scattered throughout the nature trails and they roar and move around as you walk past them. On this visit, the main exhibit was Ice Age mammals. Nicholas really liked it when they roared and moved around in front of him...

Rachel, on the other hand, did not like the roaring and the moving around part. She is so cautious and easily frightened by noises - a complete polar opposite of Nicholas!

She preferred to try to climb into this giant shell. You know, she has always liked to find the most unusual places to sit!

The kids always love the big dinosaur fossil pit where they can dig in the sand to find pretend fossils. This is such a great idea for hands-on learning. Every kid loves to play in sand and this way they can experience the fun of discovering "fossils" while they play.

Rachel was attracted to the butterfly exhibit. She even tried to say "butterfly" when she saw them.

And after a fun time learning about nature and wildlife, the boys had to let off some steam chasing each other around. Boys will be boys, you know!

The Heard Museum is located at 1 Nature Place in McKinney, Texas. For hours and exhibit information, please call them at 972-562-5566 or check out their website: www.heardmuseum.org.

Lone Star Legends

Daddy took Nicholas to Texas Motor Speedway last night to watch the Lone Star Legends races.

What is unique about Legend cars is that they are 5/8-scale replicas of American automobiles from the 1930s and 1940s. They are smaller and at $13,000 each they are much less expensive than traditional race cars. This means that it opens the door for average people to get involved in racing without the need for big corporate sponsors. All Legend cars have the same parts, engines, and tires. This ensures good racing, at a low cost, so the race is determined more by the drivers' skills and mechanic setup instead of being about who can spend the most money on top of the line engines and tires.

Besides the low cost, another benefit to these smaller cars is that children as young as 8 are able to race them. Nicholas is already counting the days until he can get out there and drive one!

During a break in the races last night, there was a water balloon throwing contest. Nicholas said he wanted to do it. I'm so proud of him because usually he is too shy to want to do anything in front of a large crowd. But he did it and he and Daddy both won one of these cool racing t-shirts!

I think the boy is hooked!

Prepare for Takeoff At the Astronaut Training Center

We spent the morning at the Astronaut Training Center in North Richland Hills. We all had fun. The activities are geared for ages 6 and up so Rachel spent a lot of time in her stroller. But Nicholas' training was fun to watch so she actually seemed to have a good time too. I did let her out of the stroller a few times so she could try to copy some of the things she had watched big brother do in his training.

We started training in the Countdown Theater where we took a ride on a historical video tour of America's race to space. We learned of the challenges that scientists and engineers had to overcome in the face of the intense pressure and scrutiny given to the Apollo missions past and future. It was cool because we got to see video of Neil Armstrong and even Alan Shepard who, we learned at NASA, was the first American in space.

Then Nicholas was trained on how to use the reduced gravity simulator. Astronauts have to train for walking around in a reduced gravity environment such as Mars where the gravity is 38% of the gravity of Earth or the Moon where it is only 16.67% of the Earth's gravity.

After watching Nicholas and the other kids do this for quite a while, she insisted on trying it too. She knew how to get into position but just stopped at that point.

There were lots of educational boards around the training area with pictures and information about space and astronauts. We learned about the moon and then Nicholas got to use the lunar landing simulator. First he landed the lunar module and then controlled his character to exit the craft and walk on the moon. He liked this a lot.

Rachel liked trying to press the keys on the keyboard.

Next Nicholas was trained on the zero gravity simulator which gives the feeling of zero gravity in 2 dimensions. This was a rather impressive contraption and definitely one of Nicholas' favorite activities here.

Rachel watched from her stroller and here's what she had to say after Nicholas finished...

Next it was time to don a spacesuit and walk on the moon!

Getting his air tank and hoses attached to his suit...

Wow, he's one cute looking astronaut!

Nicholas descends the ladder from the Apollo and approaches the moon...

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind...

Reading the plaque that the astronauts of Apollo 11 left on the moon.

Just for informational purposes, here's a image of the plaque.

Picking up moon rocks with a long "grabber"...

Nicholas had a lot of fun with the R/C rover.

And to quote the famous words of Neil Armstrong...

Astronaut training for your little one costs $15 and it was worth it. We were there for over three hours and had a great time. The Astronaut Training Center is located at 6720 NE Loop 820, (SE Corner of 820 & Rufe Snow Dr) in North Richland Hills, TX. They are open from 10:00 - 3:00. Also, they are only open during the summer so if you want to go, get going or else you'll have to wait until next summer. You can call them at 817-788-2926 to find out their exact schedule and last day of operation for this summer.

Hitting the Trails at the TRAC

We are continuing our missions as part of the Nature Mission Challenge. We won't complete all of the missions because we just have too many other things we want to get done this summer. However, it is great participating in the ones we do get to do. Today's mission is at the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas. We had to explore the Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban hardwood forest in the United States, and locate or find evidence of 5 animals and then identify one fact about each animal. We were given a backpack complete with field identification guides, magnifying glasses, a compass, a pack of colored pencils, and a notepad. We were on our way!

Just outside the door, Nicholas found a cicada. It was dead so he didn't mind posing for pictures!

On to the trails...

Nicholas always likes to have a walking stick when we go out on trails. Boys and sticks, sticks and boys - they are truly inseparable.

We saw lots of different colored dragonflies.

We found lots of different webs which are evidence of spiders or caterpillars.

There were lots of cattails around the Cattail Pond, of course.

I learned that when cattails mature, they explode to spread their seeds by the wind. We saw several of these exploded cattails around.

We also could not identify this bird. At first we thought it was a heron but as we zoomed into the picture we didn't think he had the right head and beak to be a heron. But it was helpful to have my camera with me so we could take pictures of the things we saw before they darted off so we could look back and identify them later.

Next along the trail, we came to the bird blind, the perfect place for hiding to watch and photograph birds and wildlife. We stopped here for a rest while we had our snacks and drinks.

The kids loved going up and down the stairs and looking out all of the different windows.

Nicholas had a keen eye to spot a bunch of snails on some branches.

There were lots of offshoots of smaller trails from the main trail so we had to keep an eye on the map to make sure we knew where we were. Nicholas used the compass and helped to keep us on track.

There were lots of grasshoppers. These were Rachel's favorites because they always seemed to hop around right next to her.

The Overlook trail was neat because you could see the tops of skyscrapers in downtown Dallas!

Nicholas found an interesting hole. I wonder what kind of bug or animal made it?

Check out this giant yellow and black beetle. He was kind of scary looking and was just staring at Nicholas like he was about to jump on him.

After we finished on the trails, we stopped back by the main center to go through our identification books to complete the information needed for our mission.

Then we spent some time looking at all of the great exhibits inside the center. There is a cool bird tracker station like this one HERE where you can log the types and locations of birds you see and study what other bird watchers have logged.

This was a great hands-on exhibit which demonstrated for Nicholas the power of water in changing the land. He was able to move different water faucets in different directions to change the course of the "rivers" and therefore change the shape of the landform (sand, in this case).

Nicholas was excited to see the skull of a longnose gar. He likes this scary looking fish for some crazy reason!

There were several great exhibits like these that showed pictures of birds or animals and then you could press a button to hear the bird call or animal sound. What a great way to learn bird and animal identification!

I've never seen a soft shelled turtle but this little guy looked like he had a piece of carpet on his back!

I love the trays of nature treasures. There were lots of these on display. We have tons of nature stuff that we've collected over the years and I'd really like to get them organized and in some kind of case like this with identifying names.

Enjoy time with your kids in nature and encourage them to learn about the world around them and the impact they have on it.