The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is one of those attractions that are conveniently located in the heart of the city, right near a few other attractions. Due to its convenient location at 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, this museum is a favorite for us to visit. One of the things I love about this museum is that it’s indoors and opened all year around. There have been times when the weather wasn’t so nice and we made plans to be outdoors, but we had to cancel. Instead of sitting home moping, we hopped in our car, and in 15 minutes, we were at the museum for a day of discovery.
The Academy of Natural Sciences was established in 1812, but didn’t open their doors to the public until 1828. The Academy has been making scientific discoveries for 200 years, and they are a prominent natural history museum that dedicates their abilities to sophisticated research, education, and public action in biodiversity and environmental science. Guests to the Academy have the chance to get up close with dinosaurs, learn about all kinds of animals, explore a butterfly garden, and investigate the outdoors. The museum provides hands-on learning for all ages, from changing interactive exhibits to a kid’s discovery center, a dinosaur fossil dig, and opportunities to engage with real working scientists. When visiting the museum, be prepared to step back in time, as well as explore natural sciences for the 21st Century.
My older kids always liked learning about dinosaurs and would often play with their toy dinosaurs when they were little. Now that they are older, they are still interested in learning new information about them and digging a little deeper into the history of these amazing creatures. Now Ayden on the other hand, he loves dinosaurs! He loves everything about them. He enjoys playing with his toy dinosaurs, watching dinosaur movies, pretending to be a dinosaur, reading about them, looking at their pictures, and visiting dinosaur attractions, just like his older siblings when they were preschoolers. Visiting the Academy of Natural Sciences is a perfect way to spend family time together and enjoy dinosaurs at the “Dinosaur Museum,” as my kids call it.
When you check in at the front desk, you can’t help but notice the enormous skeleton of a T-Rex. You can ‘bout guess that the Dinosaur Hall is the first section to explore! My kids are varying ages, so it’s nice for me to observe the differences in how the older ones explore versus my preschooler. Ayden reminds me so much of Donte, Kaiya, and Mikayla when they were his age. Ayden gets excited when he sees the skeleton of the 42-foot long T-Rex weighing about 7.5 tons, but he’s a little wary at first to get up close to the life-like animatronic dinosaur! My teens Donte and Kaiya take their time reading about some of the dinosaurs in the hall, while my pre-teen Mikayla reads mostly the headlines and relies on me and her siblings to provide more info on what she sees. She prefers the activities that she can interact with and likes engaging in pretend play with Ayden.
In addition to the T-Rex, there are more than 30 species to learn about. You can also find dinosaur eggs, sculptures, footprints, paintings, paleontologist tools, and the anatomy of a Stegosaurus. There is even a green-screen video studio where visitors can project their own images into the dinosaur world, which is always fun to watch. No matter how many times my family visits The Academy, we are always excited about what lies ahead in Dinosaur Hall!
The Big Dig
The Big Dig is a nice transition from the Dinosaur Hall because it enhances children’s learning with hands-on activities where children can pretend to be paleontologists digging for fossils. Before entering the dig, the little “paleontologists” are provided with safety goggles and a chisel and/or fossil brush. As my kids dig, they eagerly wait for their discovery. What do they find? It looks like they’ve uncovered the skull of a Lambeosaurus and the arm and claw of an Ornithomimus. In addition to the fossil dig, children can engage in dramatic play with magnetic dinosaur pictures that they can move around. The Big Dig is a great experience for kids whose style of learning is preferred through hands-on activities or being mobile.
Butterflies are so pretty! A trip to the Academy is not complete without a walkthrough of this lush, tropical garden swarming with beautiful butterflies as they settle on colorful plants. These butterflies are from Central and South America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia, and I’m glad they made their way to Philadelphia for us to enjoy! You may find as many as 150 butterflies and about 30 different species on any given day. It varies because they generally live for about one to two weeks and the museum receives them from around the world every week. In the tropical garden, you will find butterflies flying; eating at food stations; landing on plants to take a rest; and, if you look up, you will find some on the walls and ceiling! As you walk through, be careful to not step on any of these flying beauties because they land wherever they desire. And on your way out, double check to make sure none of the butterflies are hitching a ride with you!
Have you ever wanted to get close and personal with exotic wildlife animals, but not to the point that you would run away from them? Well, the dioramas at the Academy can help you out with that. The dioramas are amazing displays of animals, from both near and far, and some are animals you may have never seen. The dioramas give visitors an opportunity to explore various animals from all over the world in their natural habitat. The dioramas look like the real thing, thanks to the special materials and equipment the artists used to create the animals and the backgrounds. I remember when my kids saw the dioramas for the first time. At first glance, they thought the animals were real and they didn’t want to get too close. After explaining to them what it was, they got up close to look at the animals and kept asking if they were real.
There are 37 dioramas to see and most of them were made between the 1930s and 1950s. You will see dioramas displaying bears, mountain sheep, lions, ox, bison, moose, gorillas, pandas, tigers, yak, and many more! Look at it as a walking wildlife tour of North America, Asia, and Africa – how exciting! The older kids really enjoyed learning how the dioramas were made by watching a video and exploring the gallery showing the tools and materials used to create such amazing animal displays.
Exploring the outdoors is something my family loves to do! We enjoy nature walks, playing (or relaxing) on the beach, watching creepy critters, and learning about various animals. It wouldn’t be surprising for you to find out that Outside In is another family favorite exhibit because it brings those outdoor opportunities inside (again, the reason for this museum being a perfect year around attraction)!
This exhibit is an interactive section that is geared towards children under eight, but believe it or not, my older children of 14, 13, and 11 still find it interesting. Having Ayden as their little brother gives them an excuse to check out the beehive, study various nature items under a big microscope, meet some reptiles, gently touch a rabbit or a turtle, or play on the sandy beach. For me, it’s a chance to take a rest from all the activity and watch my kids explore while I relax on the comfy seats!
As you can tell, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University provides many opportunities for visitors of all ages to explore, discover, and learn! Have you ever visited the Academy? What did your family discover while you were there? If you haven’t been, what would you like to explore when you go?