“You mean, we can take one of these HOME???” my daughter asked incredulously, standing over a tidy row of (preserved but still very lifelike) furry-legged tarantulas, each larger than the size of my hand.

The subject of her sheer elation was also my greatest fear. In true mom fashion, I did a quick mental tap dance and replied “well, yes, but you’d need to get a LOT of points.” She looked at me skeptically, and I could see the wheels turning as she tried to figure out how to quickly amass thousands of points.

The Nature Exchange

The Nature Exchange. Photo by Jill Footz

We were standing in The Nature Exchange, the newest permanent gallery at the TELUS World of Science – Edmonton, and surrounded by an impressive array of natural artifacts. The gallery is beautiful, spacious and serene – and an ideal setting for children to transform into scientists.

The Nature Exchange

There’s plenty to do in the Field Station. Photo by Jill Footz

It’s divided into three sections – the Trading Centre, the Field Station and the Animal Zone – each offering unique and interactive hands-on learning opportunities.

The Nature Exchange

Iggy the bearded dragon. Photo by Jill Footz

The furthest section, the Animal Zone, includes a number of special homes for critters including Alphie the corn snake and Iggy the bearded dragon. There’s also an expansive collection of hand puppets, perfect for a little critter creativity.

The Nature Exchange

Microscopes include screens for sharing with a group

The Field Station (home of the aforementioned tarantulas)  offers opportunities for hands-on science. There are microscopes to peer into (they also project images onto video screens so kids don’t have to fight for space!), a rock and mineral fingernail scratch test, and event a scat identification game! The Field Station encourages visitors to become nature explorers and use their senses to solve mysteries. (Fear not, parents, the only sense involved in the scat station is sight!)

The Nature Exchange

The Trading Centre is a popular place. Photo by Jill Footz

The Trading Centre is arguable the piece de resistance of the Nature Exchange. It houses rows upon rows of bins filled with everything from rocks and minerals to shells, pinecones and yes, the tarantulas and their creepy-crawly friends. Young scientists can collect points to trade for these items.

The Nature Exchange

Choose from thousands of amazing items. Photo by Jill Footz

The process is simple – gather items you find in nature. Kids are encouraged to bring in *most items, but the fun (and education!) doesn’t stop there. Kids who learn something about their item and share their knowledge verbally or through field notes, a report, a drawing or a photograph will earn extra points. Points are accumulated on an account you set up right at the Trading Centre and can be used to go nature shopping!

The Nature Exchange

Write a report on, take a photo of or draw a picture of your item! Photo by Jill Footz

*There are a few rules governing trades. On one of our trips we brought a feather we found in our yard. We were gently told that bird items, including feathers, nests and eggs are among the items that aren’t accepted. We were given the chance to share what we learned about our feather and asked to return it to nature. Bones, antlers, endangered items, historical objects and real animals can’t be traded – but young scientists can photograph, draw or report on these items and trade their findings that way.

The Nature Exchange

Nature-lovers! Photo by Jill Footz

So now the race is on in our house to score points to trade for nature’s treasures! As for me, I’m hoping something becomes more enticing than the tarantulas… Maybe the Centrosaurus!*

(*Centrosaurus is not for trade – the impressive fossil is on load from the U of A.)

The Nature Exchange

The Centrosaurus is not for trade. The fossil is on loan from the U of A. Photo by Jill Footz

The Nature Exchange at the TELUS World of Science Edmonton:

When: Open daily during science centre hours
Where: 11211 – 142 Street, Edmonton (map)
Cost: included with day admission or annual pass
Website: telusworldofscienceedmonton.ca