Monday, June 02, 2014

Night at the Museum – It’s Transforming

by Lou Lunte, deputy state director

Have you ever spent a night at a museum?  Tyrannosaurus roam the halls, mummies, ancient Romans, monkeys, and Neanderthals all wander in and out of exhibits. Well, not exactly, but a night at the Idaho State Museum of Natural History can be transforming in another way.  For the last five years my wife and I have volunteered to help chaperone 120+ 8-12 year-olds for a parent-less, adventure filled night at the Museum of Natural History in Pocatello.  Amazingly, this was the Museum’s 25th year of hosting this event for children, mostly from east Idaho, but also from Wyoming, Utah and even California.

Waiting at the front door of the Museum to greet families as parents dropped off their children for the night, I remembered back several years when my own daughters were able to be “pod” members, hanging out with other boys and girls amongst the dinosaurs and fossils.  My daughters had so much fun learning what happens when you drop gummy bears in dry ice, or mix Alka-Seltzer with soda or feel a snake crawl up your arm.  The museum is on the Idaho State University campus so the night starts with groups of the children going off with professors and graduate students to explore a suite of sciences, from nursing, to botany, to chemistry, to engineering and many more; all through hands-on and fun activities.

Photo Credit Lou Lunte

Coming towards me was a somewhat harried looking but smiling mom escorting her bright eyed daughter, sleeping bag and knapsack in hand.  “Are you ready for a fun night,” I asked the girl.  “Yes!” came the enthusiastic reply.  “Have you been to the museum before?” I asked.  “No, will I see dinosaurs?” she replied.  “Yes, and much more,” I responded, as the girl cheerfully headed through the door to start her night at the museum.

From a chaperone’s point of view, the night went amazingly well – only one sick child, one missing professor and a few moments in the wee hours to nap.  As we awoke the children from their slumber under the various museum exhibits and got them ready to return to their parents, I wondered what they thought about their night in the museum.  The little girl I greeted the day before was now leaving, pulling her mom by the hand and talking non-stop about what she’d done.  “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes, that was so cool!”  Turning to her mom she asked “Can I come back, please?  Look mom, there’s the goo I made!”  The mom was smiling and the two headed out, to show the “goo” to dad.

Photo Credit Lou Lunte

All the boys and girls leaving that day were sharing stories with families of their amazing night at the museum.  Reflecting on why I so enjoy volunteering for this event, it’s what I see and hear from the children as they leave in the morning.  Sure, it’s exciting to hang out in the museum with a bunch of other children and stay up past midnight eating pizza, but what I hear the children talking about as they leave, more than anything else, is the fun they had with science.  Yes, science!  They cheered on the physics graduate student as he shot smoke rings out of a 30 gallon barrel over their heads in the large auditorium.  They then frantically raised their hands to answer his questions about – why, and how.  This took place in every laboratory that night – the boys and girls had fun and shared their curiosity about how things work.

Photo credit Lou Lunte

As the last of the children and parents left the museum that morning, I had to smile as I wondered if all those parents knew what they were in for next.  For I knew from experience that beyond all the fun the children had that night, a transformation had also taken place for many of the children present – as the parents might soon find out!

Had I only known - my daughters went to the reptile session during their night at the museum! 


Anonymous said...

Idaho Public Television co-sponsors the Night at the Museum - also called Science Trek. Lou

Anonymous said...

Science Trek, a.k.a 'the night at the museum' was begun 25 years ago in 1989 as a partnership between the Idaho Museum of Natural History and Idaho Public Television. This successful partnering has brought several thousand 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade children onto the Idaho State University campus for an enriching experience with science and the opportunity to work with real scientists. Please, always remember it is first and foremost Science Trek. Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Just a note ~ The lovely photos Lou has posted were taken during the Science Trek adventure taught by Dr. Chuck Peterson. Dr. Peterson has shared his knowledge and love of reptiles with the children for so many years I've lost track. The children always return from their experience with the reptiles with a new understanding of their importance and habits. Dr. Peterson is ensuring the next generation of scientists will be ready to continue the study and protection of Idaho's reptiles.