Every time we took the Holland Tunnel when my kids were younger,, we would pass the Liberty Science Center and they'd beg to stop. But the museum has been closed for two years, and my teens have outgrown family trips to IKEA and the desire for interactive museum experiences.
Luckily, I still have a 9-year-old — the perfect candidate for the newly reopened science center, rejuvenated after a $109 million expansion.
As a casual museum visitor, I didn't really see the need to redo the museum — I always thought it was pretty fantastic. But it was lean in offerings for younger kids. That has changed with the new "I Explore" exhibit, designed for ages 2-6. There is a huge ball machine that lets kids explore physics from a very rudimentary basis; and a rock xylophone, where young visitors can channel their inner caveman into music. City kids will likely be drawn to 'slice of street' where they can see what goes on under a sidewalk.
If your kids are in the preschool age range, they are too young to have experienced 9-11, but they will still be interested in "Skyscraper! Achievement and Impact", where there are beams recovered from the World Trade Center. It is particularly poignant to come here after taking the PATH train from downtown, walking right by Ground Zero. There are benches surrounding a beam, and WTC video clips. There is also a scientific exploration of why the towers collapsed.
Kids can use blocks to build a city on a street grid, or a computer program to create a community of single-family homes, apartment buildings and skyscrapers. There's a crane children can operate to excavate a site, and a wind tunnel to test the strength of their buildings. They can explore building from the perspective of an architect, an engineer or a construction worker.
If you are speaking to your kids via text message or one-word grunts these days, take them to 'language karaoke' in "Communication" where they can learn a new language incorporating Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and, cockney rhyming slang. They can use a stylus to write in clay, and a brush to try calligraphy. Younger kids can work with Magnadoodles and gears to explore language patterns. The exhibit stays current; in one area, you can send a text message and create a route through cell towers, fiber optic cables and satellites. Graffiti goes high-tech with digital 'markers' at a 10-foot-long Graffiti Wall. Fun! :)
If you remember Liberty Science Center's previous incarnation, some exhibits will look familiar. The Rock Climbing Wall is back, though now that my kids are bigger, the wall seemed smaller. You can still test your arm strength by hanging from a bar, have your height announced after you step onto footprints, or try to make a giant soap bubble in 'Wonder Why'. 'Energy Quest' is back, where you can examine alternative energy sources. The museum always had fish and a touch tank; the new exhibit, "Our Hudson Home", teaches kids about the river environment and how to protect it. Here, they can operate a crane and change water currents.
At "Infection Connection", you can play a computer game using antibiotics to wipe out an infection. Remember this next time your child has a cold and you harass your pediatrician for antibiotics, 'just to be safe.' After seeing the microbes in the subway car theater, you may want to break for lunch — and thoroughly wash your hands first. Or you can explore the predator/prey relationship at "Eat and Be Eaten".
Through January 6, 2008, LSC has a traveling exhibit, "Islamic Science Rediscovered", which features a huge interactive world map and hands-on exhibits on scientific concepts.
LSC doesn't allow kids under 2 into its IMAX Dome Theater. Their IMAX, the largest in the country, currently has three films, Hurricane on the Bayou, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, and Roving Mars. The Joseph D. Williams Science Theater, for all ages, has the new movie, 3DSun. There are also labs where scientists work and offer demonstrations.
When I was telling my 14- and 15-year-old about our visit to LSC, they reminisced about the touch tunnel (no longer there), and agreed that they were still interested in what the museum has to offer. Good thing. It's truly a place for the whole family.
Where: Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ
When: Open daily through September 2, 9am–8pm. After September 2, open Tuesday–Friday, 9am–5pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9am–6pm.
How much: exhibition only: adults $14; juniors (2-12) and seniors, $11.50; under 2, free. Combination ticket: exhibits, theater, IMAX: adults, $22.50; juniors and seniors, $18.50. There is now timed ticketing to combat the traditionally crowded museum.
How to get there: PATH, NY Water Taxi or NY Waterway to Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. If you drive, parking is $5.
For directions/ more information: (201) 200-1000 or www.lsc.org.