When the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum officially opens Sept. 21, visitors might do a double take. Composed of 150 exhibits on 8 acres, the Adventure Garden’s fun atmosphere feels more like a theme park crossed with a hands-on science museum. Its founders toured children’s museums and gardens nationwide to come up with the interactive displays, which meet national and state curriculum for life and Earth science. And like the best museums, the Adventure Garden presents the material so that all ages can enjoy and learn. My family was treated to a sneak peek of the gardens in August. Here are a few highlights.
- Even though the First Adventure area is aimed at toddlers and babies, I had to drag my middle- and high-school daughters from the exhibit, where kids are encouraged to climb a 9-foot ant sculpture, harvest toy vegetables, hop along a lily pad stream path and explore a maze, among other activities.
- In Incredible Edibles, exotic and everyday crops from different corners of the globe were planted next to whimsical props. For instance, amid living corn stalks were oversized giant steel ones, one with a gas pump attached and a plaque explaining the crop’s many uses beyond food.
- In Plants Are Alive, kids are taught about photosynthesis with giant models. For instance, they are encouraged to dissect parts of a flower, from the petals on down, and then re-assemble them.
- In the Pure Energy Learning Gallery, wind, water and solar energy are explained through hands-on labs. For instance, in Follow the Flow, a large Archimdedes screw shows how water can be moved from different levels. My daughters were glued to the Water Blasters, hand-powered water guns, shooting at targets to trigger paddles and other hydraulic motion.
- Inside the Exploration Center, which feels like entering an actual science lab, visitors can do simple experiments and solve CSI mysteries (such as identifying what’s been eating insects in a bog) through smart screen stations. In another indoor area is the OmniGlobe, a virtual, touch screen sphere that displays data maps of everything from Facebook connections to real-time weather data, topography and ocean currents.
- After we left the Exploration Center, we checked out the live rooftop garden that adorns the center, as well as the Texas Skywalk and treetop canopy.
- One of my favorite areas was called Kaleidoscopes. Kids could play with an actual 6-foot kaleidoscope and learn about how math, such as the Fibonacci sequence, dictates plant patterns, while adults could be inspired by the plant design. One area asks visitors to find radials, spheres, spirals, stars and serpentine-shaped plants, and then shows succulent potted plants that mimic those shapes, next to photos of real-life examples such as stained glass windows.
The Dallas Arboretum has high expectations for its Adventure Garden.
“Science scores of American children are the lowest of all academic areas tested, with Earth sciences the lowest of all,” says Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Honorary Chair of the Adventure Garden. “If our education system is going to keep up with the needs for our country, we have to interest children at a much earlier age in science, engineering and math. I believe that the Dallas Arboretum’s Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden does that by teaching science creatively.”
This garden is worth a trip to Dallas; don’t miss it.