Educational Travel and the Benefits to Children

The bright oranges, yellows, greens and blues that define the motif of the EdVenture Children’s Museum almost emanate the smell of good, clean, fun.

The 67,000-square foot museum is a little jewel in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. Where this big little city’s haunts can become repetitive (how many summer movies can a child possibly see?), EdVenture’s $18 million facility provides surprises with every visit.

Of course the term “museum” may strike boredom in the hearts of children, who may already be bound in what will seem like an interminable road trip. But it’s less of a museum and more a giant playground, filled with 350 hands-on exhibits about science, culture, technology and everything in between.

The high ceilings and glass facade feel more welcoming than daunting. More than likely (depending on a child’s individual attention span), before parents have had a chance to pay for admission and grab the little green “e” stickers, the loud pattering of feet lead to Eddie. Known as “the world’s largest child,” this smiling 10-year-old is about twice the size of the statues in the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in Washington, DC. (That’s 40 feet.) Clocking in at 17.5 tons, Eddie’s decked out and ready for an adventure, equipped with a ball cap, backpack and a giant dragonfly named Flutter on his finger.

Adjusting his clock-sized watch for time changes is actually somewhat of an event. At the lower level, most folks snap pictures at his feet, while further up, children can play around in his insides, literally. You can see his 500-pound heart, and his brain is always brimming with electrical activity. The backs of his eyes, teeth and inside his ears and spine are, well, de-grossed, and accessible to children like a big McDonald’s play area.

If you stay on the first floor, the “Body Works” area delves into details about human parts and functions. The techie kids will gravitate towards the “Grossology” trivia game, where you can learn about what scabs are for, among other topics not quite suited for the dinner table. A virtual volleyball game places your face on one side of a beach volleyball net on TV and can sense when you try to spike your ball to score. (Yeah, it’s hard.) Plus, there are useful tools such as a growth chart, weight scale and blood pressure machine. Oddly enough, along with lessons on dental hygiene, there is a timeline made up of different toothbrushes used through the ages.

Across the hall, “World of Work” begins in a slightly unusual way. There isn’t a shrine to the office, the telephone or the personal computer, but rather, multiple family portraits line the walls. Then all the fun of an interactive classroom begins. There’s a grocery store, complete with tiny registers and child-sized shelves with all of the canned goods and produce you can stuff in a basket. Instead of pretending to play a fireman, farmer or a licensed driver, there are full-sized vehicles to explore, including a John Deere tractor, a fire truck and a cherry red VW Beetle.

On the second floor, “My Backyard” is aimed towards children 3 and younger. It features a big pile of red, green and brown leather leaves and the S.S. Shrimpy – a boat made all the more exciting because of a slide it features on the end. All the while, the grown-ups can enjoy the sounds of nature at Camp Piney Woods.

Venture to the other side of the building (with rest stops at a couple of colorfully painted park benches) and there is the “Over the Horizon” area, a space dedicated to world cultures. Families can travel to West Africa in “From Here to Timbuktu.” The exhibit takes folks from the coast to go fishing, through the rainforest to spy on animals and into the savanna, where the real delta sand is as pliable as Play-Doh.

The exhibit was created in-house and will be traveling after its stint there. One of the most popular spots in Timbuktu is a green-screen area with a flat-screen TV and a video that senses when the little ones enter the area. A band and West African dancers appear on the TV to teach traditional dances.

There’s even more to EdVenture, but it’d be a shame to spoil all the surprises this place holds. However, if you’re there, you might miss the outdoor exhibits, so look for those just outside the entrance before you leave. Also, there’s the Coke Clubhouse on the lower level, where you can grab some Domino’s Pizza or McDonald’s. Even if you don’t order any food, you’ve gotta see how you order and receive a Happy Meal.

However, after spending a few hours exploring all there is to experience at EdVenture, you’ll probably be famished.

If You Go

EdVenture Children’s Museum

WHEN:

Winter Hours – Labor Day to Memorial Day

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

Summer Hours – Memorial Day to Labor Day

9 a.m-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Noon-5 p.m. Sundays

WHERE: 211 Gervais St

COST: $7.95; $5.95 for ages 2-12 and

younger; free for children younger than 2

MORE INFO: (803) 779-3100; www.edventure.org

EXTRA: EdVenture features some insanely cool summer camps where kids 3-12 can learn about firefighting, musical theater and even forensic science.