Explore the Academy of Natural Sciences with Kids

Posted on: May 28th, 2010 by

Last week, we were invited by the “Milk the Moment” Campaign and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to visit the museum and participate in milk awareness activities. We’re sharing the details and our Academy of Natural Sciences review in the article below.


What a treat. My boys love dinosaurs and milk so I knew the day had the potential to be very memorable for all of us. We arrived at noon and started our adventure by visiting the Milk tents. (For more information read my blog on Fun things to do with Milk). For this blog, we’ll focus on the Academy of Natural Sciences.


We were greeted by Matt Osiecki, Director of Facility Sales and Food Service. He showed us around the ground and first floors. He even took us through the back of the house. There was nothing exciting to see there, but my boys felt extra special knowing they were getting to see something most people don’t. From there, Matt took us up to see the dinosaurs and hung out with us for a while.


Bless his heart, I think Matt would have stayed with us all day if we needed. :) But we agreed to part ways. He didn’t want us to feel rushed and I didn’t want him to feel like he had to slow down his day to accommodate us. He assured me if I needed anything all I had to do was ask. Throughout the day, he checked up on us to see how we were doing. Great guy! So when you visit the Academy (which I know you will) tell him, Jenn said Hi.


When you first visit the museum, make sure you have a map. The layout of the building can be a bit confusing. There are 4 floors available to the public. But one of those floors, splits at one end forming a lower level and a mezzanine level. If you are able to manage stairs, the layout isn’t so much an issue. It’s when you are traveling with a stroller or walking toddlers that it becomes a challenge. There are 2 banks of elevators. One stops at all the floors but the lower and mezzanine level. The other only stops at the split levels and the 2nd floor.


We’ll start, floor by floor. On the ground floor is the entrance facing 19th Street. The Ecology restaurant and live animal center are here. Matt tells me the flooring in the Ecology restaurant is made from recycled tiles and the silverware is made from biodegradable cornstarch. We brought our own food so I can not speak to the quality or value of the food. The initial eating area seems smaller compared to most other museums. It does appear there is a larger room used to accommodate groups or large crowds on busier days.


In the live animal center, we were able to see mccaws, a fox, and an iguana. My 22-month old got such a thrill watching the iguana. They were both down at ground level. We sat and watched as the iguana ate his lunch and then made his way up his very own rock climbing wall. Cool. Next, we watched the fox running in and out of logs and houses and drinking from his own stream.


The dinosaur hall is off of the 1st floor and is split between a lower level and a mezzanine level. Both provide ample opportunities for hands-on learning. There were plenty of fossils to feel. Although, The Big Dig was closed. I know the boys would have enjoyed pretending to be paleontologists. But they still had fun stepping into a dinosaur movie, walking like a dinosaur, acting like dinosaur prey, and moving their bodies in an attempt to get another dinosaur to move it’s body.



When we explored Dinosaur Hall further, we discovered an area where visitors could observe the museum’s researchers prepare fossils for display. What a great idea. Kids who love dinosaurs would love to see a real paleontologist at work and ask questions. There’s a missed opportunity here that the Academy should play up more. The walls were clear with slotted screens that seemed to allow for conversation.  Unfortunately, my children’s attempts to engage the staff in conversation did not go well. There were 3 individuals working, but none interested in talking with us. :(  We moved on and did meet a wonderful young man, who had a dinosaur claw, a T-rex tooth, and dinosaur poop to show us. Oddly, even though I have boys, no one wanted to touch the dinosaur poop. LOL


The beautiful butterflies are on the 1st floor. The design of the room is very family friendly. A large butterfly resting on a flower sculpture makes a great photo opportunity. I was thankful my children were cooperative. There are a few doors to pass through before you arrive at the butterflies, but that is for their protection. You won’t mind that especially because it makes it possible to bring a stroller through the room. Once inside it’s warm. Dress in layers so you don’t have to leave the butterflies, because you’re too hot. There is a wonderful multitude of butterflies, more colors than I’ve seen before and larger than I’ve seen before. (Certainly worth the extra $2 to see them.) Taking pictures is hard because the butterflies are constantly in flight. So look to the feeding spots for good pictures. Before you leave make sure you check out the Atlas Moth, almost as large as an adult male’s hand, you’ve probably never seen anything quite so large. You’ll also want to view the case displaying butterflies in all stages of their metamorphosis. Who knew their cocoons came in so many sizes and colors?


The 1st floor’s North American Hall and the 2nd floor’s African and Asian Hall provide visitors with life-size versions of animals of the past and today. Animals we don’t get to commonly see. Now, Yak wasn’t just a word that starts with Y. Yak was a buffalo-looking animal, that’s huge!


Our final floor, the 3rd floor is awesome. Called Outside In, it provides an outdoorsy-feeling playroom. There were trees and tunnels to climb in, puzzles to complete, books to read, animal skins to feel, shark teeth to dig up, and animals to pet. I could go on and on. What a cool room for parents and kids. Kids can play through exploring while parents can take a moment to rest. Here, the staff was engaging, pleasant, and accommodating. In the time we were up there, my children were able to feel a shark jawbone, and a live lizard, rabbit and guinea pig. My middle child ran around with a stuffed globe  singing “I’ve got the whole world in my hands.” My oldest became obsessed with a butterfly puzzle, that he just had to solve. (Unfortunately, the gift shop doesn’t carry that one.) And my toddler played peek-a-boo with the animals. What a great day.


We finished with a trip to the gift shop located on the 1st floor. There is a diverse selection of items for visitors of all ages. Prices start at $.50. We purchased a Dinosaur Clipboard Activity Pack (reviewed in our Toy Review Tuesday blog) and a squeaky lizard for under $2.


Now that you are interested in visiting the Academy of Natural Sciences here are a few more things to consider.

  • Stroller/Handicap Accessible — YES! The exhibit areas are spacious. At no point did I have difficulty navigating my stroller around the exhibits or through hallways. The challenge was just finding the right elevator to move between floors. But once you understand it, that challenge resolves itself. I was impressed that even the outer bathroom doors could be automatically opened. No more straddling the door while trying to get the stroller through.
  • When to go– As it turned out, we didn’t arrive till lunchtime. Yet, this worked in our favor. A short time after arriving, the school field trips left. We were able to explore the museum freely at our own pace without crowds. We were the only ones visiting the butterflies when we were there, the only ones to sit and watch the iguana at play. As a mom this meant more freedom for my kids. Even the toddler was released from his stroller to explore. ;) Without large crowds I could still see them if they got a few steps ahead and they could see the exhibits up close and play in the play areas without being crowded out.
  • Parking– Because of it’s location parking can be difficult. There are many parking lots convenient to the museum, but I felt the parking cost was expensive. For the 3-4 hours we were parked in the Logan Square Garage the typical charge would have been $26. With the museum validation it was $20.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. Matt, my boys and I thank you. Their adventures were the topic of our dinner conversation and will be relived many more times in the coming weeks. We can’t wait to come back.


This Academy of Natural Sciences review was made possible by the generosity of The Academy of Natural Sciences who provided Jennifer Auer and her children with complimentary admission to enjoy the museum.


Check out our other reviews of family attractions in our Field Trip Friday series.



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