of an Exhibition
by Paul Orselli
Published on July 19, 2008
Museum: Liberty Science Center
Visit Date: July, 2008
My three sons (ages 13, 10, and 8) gave Liberty Science Center’s outdoor exhibition called “Wildlife Challenge” a whirl recently, and they had a great time.
There are many high-minded arguments that science centers make about their exhibits being “educational.” But, let’s face it, sometimes our visitors just want someplace to flex their muscles as well as their minds, and to blow off a little steam in the process.
Wildlife Challenge, an outdoor obstacle course with a light-handed content overlay relating to animal locomotion and behavior in the New Jersey landscape, is a breath of fresh air (literally!) for every young visitor to the Liberty Science Center. Each of the exhibition’s set pieces is placed around a nicely landscaped area with paths, shrubs, rock walls, and seating areas.
Young visitors get to complete a series of themed obstacle course stations as they move through each wildlife challenge. They can “Scamper Like A Squirrel” on a set of balance beams before they dash like egrets into a maze-like “salt marsh” complete with misters overhead and a squishy substrate below.
One of the activities my sons enjoyed most was the “Worm Wiggle.” Dozens of large (perhaps just under three feet in diameter) inflatable exercise balls were tethered underneath a low canopy of netting to hold them into place. Wiggling just like a worm, young visitors needed to find the interstitial spaces to move to the exit of this station. (Kudos to the LSC team for finding a simple and economical way to create this truly "immersive"experience!)
Visitors scurry through pitch black culvert pipes in the “Rat Ramble” (my favorite comment about this section from my son Philip, the future entomologist, “It smells like ants inside here!”) before moving through a fairly standard “Spider’s Web” made of large ropes, to climb the “Falcon Flight” tower for the grand finale ride down a zip line.
But what are kids really “learning” from the Wildlife Challenge exhibition? Perhaps that some things inside (or in this case outside) a museum can be mostly about having some gross motor fun rather than being force-fed a college semester’s worth of information about a given area of science content.
In speaking with some of the LSC exhibits folks, it was clear that their in-house development and installation of Wildlife Challenge was a bit of “fast, cheap, and out of control” but the LSC staff clearly put a lot of heart into their efforts, and it shows in the smiling faces and boisterous laughter of the satisfied visitors to this outdoor exhibition.