Exploring California: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Saturday, we took a short road trip north to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History with the Grasshopper and her Grandma and Grandpa.

The Grasshopper had a great time.  We let her lead the way and explore the museum as she felt inclined.  As she encountered different exhibits, we talked to her about them by asking a series of questions.  We’ve found that, for her, this is a good way for her to learn.

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For example, the museum has a blue whale skeleton at the entrance that you can walk into and touch.  She loved this and wanted to be right up in the bones.  This gave us the opportunity to talk to her about bones.  Understand that about half of the books we read together are science-related, so she’s been building on this knowledge for a while.  This is a chance for her to see the things we’ve read about up close.

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What do bones do? Help us stand up.  Can you find the whale’s ribs (she’s been talking about ribs lately)?  That’s right!  What do our ribs do?  Protect my heart.  Where is your heart?  Where do you think this whale’s heart was?  I think you’re right?  Do you think it was a big heart or a little heart?  Biiiiiiiig heart!  I think you’re right!  Do you remember if a whale is a mammal or a fish?  I don’t know.  Well… let’s think about it.  Do whales breathe fresh air in their lungs?  Uh-huh.  …  Mammal!  That’s right Grasshopper!  What do you think baby whales eat?  Do you think they eat fish?  mmmmm…. No, they drink their mommy’s milk.  That’s right!  Do they drink a lot or a little do you think?  Remember, a baby whale is bigger than Papa!  A lot!  I bet you’re right!  I bet it takes a lot of milk for a baby whale to grow up big and strong.

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Then she ran to the whale’s head and had Grandpa lift her up into the head.

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Grasshopper, do you see teeth in this whale’s mouth?  No. No teeth.  What do you think it uses to eat?  I don’t know.  It uses a special kind of part in its mouth called baleen to eat a teeny-tiny animal called krill.  Do you want to know how baleen works?  It’s like when Mommy makes pasta.  You know at the end how Mommy pours the pasta through the strainer in the sink and the water flows out through the holes, but the pasta stays in the strainer so we can eat it?  It works just like that.

Aside from the whale bones, the other big highlight (for all of us!) was the butterfly exhibit.  I’ve been to a lot of butterfly exhibits.  Usually, they’re huge, glass pyramids with exotic greenery and lush waterfalls.  This exhibit was a simple building with net ceiling and walls to contain the butterflies.  Inside were plants that can grow happily in the local environment.

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It was the smallest butterfly exhibit I’ve ever been to.  It was also by far the best one I’ve ever seen.  The Grasshopper was able to have many close encounters with the butterflies.  She even found one that landed on my back!  And another tried to land on her pink shoe!  It was very exciting.

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The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History isn’t a child-oriented museum, but by letting the Grasshopper lead and explaining things in ways that she can understand, we were able to bring her into the experience and make it enjoyable for her.

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Sure, we didn’t get to see the hall of minerals, which I was actually pretty interested in.  We also spent way more time looking at dioramas than I probably would have.  But that doesn’t really matter.  By letting her lead and teaching to what she was interested in, she learned much more and had a much better time than she otherwise would have.  We all did!

 

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