Wildlife Challenge

Review

of an Exhibition

by Paul Orselli

Published on July 19, 2008

  • Description:

    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.

Latest Comments (4)

Gross motor fun

by Wendy Pollock - July 21, 2008

Thanks to you and your boys for a timely reminder about the importance of smiles, laughter, and being outside. Makes me want to go sniff out some ants.

Wiggle like a worm!

by Beth Kelley - August 21, 2008

Thanks for sharing this exhibit! This is awesome! Not only do I agree with you that sometimes visitors just want to flex their muscles, more and more research is finding that people learn more if they are engaged and active, so I bet your kids will remember more from this experience than they would if the same information had been slapped onto placards and stuck up on the wall. It’s too bad they don’t have this kind of thing for grown-ups.

for adults too

by Kathleen Mclean - August 23, 2008

I’ve heard from staff there that adults use it too, but this has caused some problems. There were four ambulance calls in one week. silly adults.

Safety Follow Up

by Greg Gallimore - September 19, 2008

Pleased to say that after we worked out the “bugs” there were no ambulance calls after the second week of operation. It is true that adults enjoy it too and the zipline was too much of an endurance challenge for a few individuals. We hope to present a case study in the coming months. If you notice behind the zipline in Paul’s first picture you can see what appears to be a wall of sticks. This is an immersive stick sculpture tunnel created by Thin Air Studio and the LSC staff. Check out their work – http://www.thinairstudio.net/ThinAirStudio/Past_Works.html

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