“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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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!
*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.
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.)