Visit another country without leaving America

Growing up in America, it’s easy to become a little spoiled and take for granted some of the things we view as a necessity. We tend to overlook the huge blessings in our lives that people around the world would only dream of – like running water, air conditioning, electricity, and even toothbrushes.

I, myself, am guilty of failing to give much thought or appreciation for the incredible resources God has placed in my life. When I see my children throwing tantrums for not getting a certain toy, not getting their face painted or not being treated with ice cream, I know that they have no idea what it’s like to go without and most likely never will.

But to give them just a tiny glimpse into the life of another child on the other side of the world, our field trip this week was to the Compassion Experience, put on by Compassion International. This a free, family-friendly event that takes you on a journey inside the lives and stories of two children living in poverty in foreign countries.

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The entire immersive experience is actually housed within a truck and tours the nation, making stops in 150 or so cities. I had seen it come to our city quite a few times, but I never did get around to taking my kids and didn’t really know what age would be appropriate to expose them to some of the themes in the presentation. Of course, the baby had no idea what was going on and wanted to get down and play, but my older daughter was at a good age to understand, ask questions and learn.

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Upon entering the experience, you are given headphones attached to an iPod and a choice of either listening to a kid-friendly or adult version of the story. We, of course, chose the kid-friendly version and headed behind the curtains into the first of two different life stories.

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If you are concerned about the content that your children will be exposed to, they will e-mail you a link (if you registered in advance) to preview the story. The presentation we attended incorporated some sensitive topics of poverty, alcoholism, drugs, crime, infant mortality, child incarceration, and violence. I thought the content of the presentation was tastefully done and all child-appropriate.

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As you enter the different rooms on the audio-guided tour, you are transported to another world and feel like you are in their world as their story unfolds. You will see the food they eat, clothes they wear, where they live and schools they attend.

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It is truly eye-opening and such a great way to safely expose your children to how other less-fortunate children may live, see how God can use people to help others, and hear about the difference Christ makes in those lives.

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We found it to be quite impactful and a great way to bring up certain discussion topics with your children. The Compassion Experience comes to our area at least once a year. Check out their website for their current touring schedule and find an event near you.

Bones and Beetles at the Museum of Osteology

Our first field trip season has begun! We will try to visit a local educational site of interest every week and write a blog post detailing what we experienced. Last week, we visited one of our favorite field trip locations that we frequent quite regularly – the Oklahoma City Zoo (which we absolutely love). This week, we wanted to take a closer look inside those same animals and explore their skeletons.

Of all the places in the world, did you know that Oklahoma City is home to the first and one of only two skeleton museums in America (the other is in Orlando)! I had heard of the Museum of Osteology several years ago, but I never did get around to checking it out.

I saw that Groupon and Living Social both were having deals for admission tickets, so I snagged tickets for $8 total for myself and my oldest child (children younger than 3 are free). Tickets are normally $8 for individuals 13 and older and $7 for children ages 3 to 12.

We decided to make our visit on a Friday around lunchtime, so when we pulled into the parking lot of a rather unimpressive-looking building, there were maybe 5-10 other cars. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, besides maybe 3-4 other groups of visitors.

As you enter the museum, you are greeted by a massive whale skull. Also, don’t miss the beetle exhibit in the front area of the museum on the opposite wall from where you pay. My daughter was instantly drawn over to the sight of thousands of tiny flesh-eating beetles cleaning off a skull of a fox. It’s rather creepy, while also intriguing.

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Once you go through the double doors into the main exhibit hall, be sure to grab a scavenger hunt sheet hanging on the wall to the left. These are grouped by various ages. It will help keep the kids engaged and might help make your visit more informative. I’ve also read that you can get a prize if you complete it, but I didn’t find out about this until after we left.

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What I also found out is that you are supposed to start by going counter clockwise through the exhibit hall. We didn’t do that and later found out that it would have made more sense. So head to the right after you grab your sheet.

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We were just so amazed and enthralled by the impressive whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, the enormous elephant structure, and just the vast array and variety of animals on display throughout this space. From tiny little hummingbirds to gigantic whales and everything in between, it was truly amazing to see the inner skeletal structures of creatures of every kind. Even the baby was “ooing” and “ahhing” at what she saw!

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There is also an upstairs portion with even more skeletons on display. The kids were starting to get a little restless at this point, so we didn’t get to look as intently at the specimens on that level.

For the kids, there is a little exploration area on the second level with books to read, postcards to color, skulls to touch and explore, puppets, puzzles, and video clips. My kids really enjoyed getting to do something interactive and had fun playing for a little bit.

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Since it is rather small, it may only take a couple hours to see everything. We spent about an hour or so but could have easily stayed a little longer if the kids were older.

Overall, we were truly impressed with this museum and recommend it to all families looking for a unique and interesting experience.

A Visit to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Lodge

For my thirty(mumble mumble)-something birthday this year, my hubby and baby joined me on a more local adventure. We drove past endless stretches of grass and plains as far as the eye can see, with the occasional cow or two, to visit the home and store of one of the first bloggers I followed…The Pioneer Woman.

Ever since I heard about her building a restaurant in Oklahoma, I knew that I would be planning a visit sometime, and a birthday day trip sounded like a great idea. We were able to send one of the kids to the grandparents’ house but decided to bring the baby along, since she is still nursing.

From the Oklahoma City area, the drive was right around two hours to the quaint little town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. There was quite literally nothing around but cows and windmills up until you pull up on this small two-lane road into town.

Look for the line of people outside a building and you will have found the Mercantile. Pawhuska is not a town set up for bustling tourism, however I can see it being built up in the next few years to accommodate all the tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of Ree and her gang and try her famous comfort food.

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Yes, there was a line of at least 50-60 people out the door waiting to eat at her restaurant, so we easily decided to forgo lunch there and headed straight inside the retail side. We did go on a Saturday, so the inside was equally busy with people around every corner. With so many people in there, we just briefly perused the plentiful displays of colorful floral tableware and unique and entertaining gifts and headed upstairs to the bakery and sitting area.

The upstairs was a spacious open area, and I’m confused as to why that isn’t another restaurant portion of the Mercantile. Unless I missed it and didn’t see it all, it appeared that the main restaurant downstairs was a rather small area. However, I didn’t really get to thoroughly investigate because of the hoards of people on the restaurant side…so I could be wrong. Although, it is a nice big sitting area to eat your baked goods and hang out.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to eat at the deli on this visit, but we did purchase several bakery items – all of which were delicious, decadent and definitely had a boatload of butter. My favorite was probably the brownie with the caramel middle.

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After we ate entirely too much sugar, we went back downstairs to obtain a coveted ticket to the Lodge from the cashiers (the main reason I wanted to visit the Mercantile that day). The Lodge is where the Pioneer Woman films her Food Network cooking show and is located on the Drummond land. Check the Mercantile website for dates that they offer tours at the Lodge. (Tour is probably a misnomer, as it was more like an open house)

With our super secret ticket (directions) in hand, we drove the 20 or so minutes on bumpy and dusty gravel roads (you will need a car wash afterward) past the wild horses, down a steep hill to the Lodge.

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We took a few photos and videos of all the rooms, enjoyed the beautiful views outside and basically just snooped around the entire home/building. There were (I think) four nice guest rooms, a huge prep kitchen in the back, an enviable walk-in pantry and, of course, the “set” of her cooking show.

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Our field trip to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Lodge was pretty neat and helped bring the Internet/TV Pioneer Woman to real life for me. I definitely recommend visiting The Lodge. Try to get to the Mercantile early in the morning and visit on a weekday to hopefully avoid the long lines at the restaurant.

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We even spotted a couple of friendly (and incredibly lazy) ranch dogs roaming the property and inviting guests. One particular dog laid right in front of the entrance without even flinching when visitors had to step over him. I think the dogs were my baby’s favorite part of the trip.

Have you been to Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile or want to visit? If you’ve been, what do you recommend ordering? 

Exploring the Dallas Children’s Aquarium

So I’m finally getting around to writing about our field trip to the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park that we visited while we were in Dallas a while back. It is right next door to the Texas Discovery Gardens, so we just took a short trek across the street over to the Children’s Aquarium after we had our fill of plants and butterflies. Read about our Texas Discovery Gardens field trip here.  Or, you can watch our YouTube video and subscribe to our channel. 

Dallas has a much larger and much more expensive aquarium downtown (the Dallas World Aquarium), but this one is more suitable for younger children and requires much less walking. Perfect for my little ones (and me carrying the baby in the carrier).

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You enter the through the main door, pay the entrance fee of $8 for adults and $6 for children (ages 3-11) at the front desk, and then you’re free to explore the exhibits. Most of the tanks are about eye level for smaller children, so they can easily engage and get a better look at the different aquatic creatures and at information about them.

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Even though this is a fairly small aquarium, taking us only a couple hours to explore the entire facility, the exhibits were well-maintained and contained quite a few interesting animals. We found the albino alligator and sea turtles to be pretty fascinating.

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The highlight of the entire trip, though, was the stingray exhibit. Don’t miss them! You have to go outside to the back outdoor tanks to see them. But you don’t just get to see them, you can touch them and feed them! The aquarium offers food for you to purchase, but these guys are super friendly and conditioned to eat from strangers, so you don’t need to buy the food unless you really want to.

We spent a large part of our time out there interacting with these interesting creatures. They would swim right up to the side of the tank with their faces out of the water like they were wanting to be petted. It took quite some time for my daughter to muster enough courage to stick her hand near those slimy things, but once she did it, she loved it!

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You also don’t want to miss the touch tank just inside the aquarium entrance, where you can pet a chocolate chip sea star, a sea urchin and other little underwater critters. Remember to wash your hands before and after petting the sea creatures in the designated wash stations.

We all had a really fun and memorable time at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park and recommend that you bring your little ones here to explore some underwater life. My daughter still talks about how she got to touch a stingray.

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park 

Address > 1462 1st Ave, Dallas, TX 75210
Phone469.554.7340
Hours > 9 am – 4:30 pm seven days a week (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Websitechildrensaquariumfairpark.com
Admission > Adult $8 | Youth (3-11) & Senior $6 

 

Strolling through Texas Discovery Gardens

Last week while we were in Dallas, I decided to take the kids to Fair Park to see the Texas Discovery Gardens and the Children’s Aquarium (our helpful tips are bolded). I would recommend going to both in one trip and making a day (or morning/afternoon) of it. The gardens are literally steps away from the aquarium, and each one only took us about an hour or two with young children (you may be able to stay longer and do more with older children).

We started off that morning with a traffic-filled 30-minute drive into the South Dallas/Fair Park area. If you have never experienced Dallas driving, expect lots of cars and crazy highway interchanges at pretty much any time of the day. Of course, I am used to Oklahoma City traffic, so it may actually be an easy drive compared to where you live.

Our first stop was the Texas Discovery Gardens. I was especially interested in seeing the butterfly house and thought it would be a neat experience to explore a two-story, glass-encased butterfly habitat.

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We went on a Tuesday, which we found out was pay what you want Tuesday for admission. Regular admission is $8 for adults and $4 for children.

As you enter the main lobby and entrance, several small aquariums with critters (insects/snakes/fish) line the walls and open area. So we, of course, had to peer inside and examine the contents of each one before making our way to the gardens and butterfly house.

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I will say that the insects were pretty neat, so I would suggest that you make a stop to investigate that area. My older daughter enjoyed looking at the insects, as I tried to read all the signs to her and tell her about each one.

After that, we made our way through the hallway (again lined with more insects/frogs/etc) and out into the gardens.

I fully expected to stay much longer out there, but the weather was rather warm and muggy already that morning, which therefore resulted in a hot and sweaty (aka whiny) child (who is also very frightened of bees and other flying insects).

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We made a quick pass through the main lawn, pond, the outdoor butterfly gardens, and the large fountain and quickly returned to the safety of the indoors.

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We did actually get several bug bites while we were there, so I would recommend putting on bug spray before heading into the gardens and butterfly house. 

After returning inside, we headed up the stairs to the entrance of the butterfly house. You enter through some carefully-timed sliding glass doors into a beautiful, lush garden with butterflies flitting around freely. They keep it fairly warm and humid in there for the plants and butterflies, so be prepared and pack some water. 

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I found it to be a pretty surreal experience and loved watching these delicate insects flying all around me, finding the birds, and seeing inside an active beehive. My daughter, the one who is afraid of flying insects, thought it was cool for about two minutes and then wanted to bolt out of there as fast as she could.

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The baby, who was in the carrier, loved watching the butterflies and squealed in excitement (very loudly, might I add) as they would fly past us. I’m not sure if strollers are allowed in there, but I would advise against bringing one in there if at all possible. 

As you exit the butterfly house, there was an educational cart, where you could touch butterfly wings, see butterflies emerging from chrysalises, and other interesting things probably. We didn’t stay in there long enough to do those things because apparently, butterflies are dangerous and could probably kill small children (according to my daughter).

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I, unfortunately, didn’t get very many photos during the whole visit but did enjoy our brief tour of the Texas Discovery Gardens, especially the Butterfly House. We also learned a few interesting facts about butterflies and other insects.

I was going to write about the aquarium in this post but will save it for the next one since this one is getting so long.

Texas Discovery Gardens Fast Facts

Address > 3601 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. | Dallas, TX
Phone214.428.7476
Hours > Open daily from 10 am – 5 pm. Final admission is sold at 4:15 pm. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Eve and Day.
Websitewww.txdg.org
Admission > $8 Adults | $6 Seniors (60+) | $4 Children (3-11) | FREE for children 2 and under

Free Indoor Kid Activities in Dallas

This last week we headed down south of the border, the Oklahoma border that is, to Dallas again. But this time we just tagged along as part of Daddy’s work trip. He travels fairly often these days, but we can only go if it’s within driving distance since last minute airplane tickets can get pretty pricey.

We were going to be in Dallas for about three days, but I didn’t have too many activities planned because getting around with a young child and baby without Daddy can be exhausting. The weather was the typical hot and muggy Texas summer heat, except for the last day we were there, so we tried to stay indoors as much as possible.

The first day we headed to the Galleria to kill some time before we could check into the hotel. There is one of those carpeted play areas with the plastic structures on the third floor by Nordstrom. My little ones had quite a time crawling, climbing, and basically just running amok through the jungle-themed kids area. I was happy to let them explore and get some energy out by crawling through the tunnels, climbing up the steps, pretending to drive the jeep, riding in a canoe and jumping off the tops of various jungle creatures.

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Another highlight for my older daughter was the American Girl store by the Galleria. It’s not actually connected inside the mall, but we just walked from Nordstrom a few steps outside to get there. We didn’t go to the second level, which appeared to just be the salon and bistro. The first level were all the displays of dolls and accessories that she could touch and play with. Her favorite area was the Wellie Wishers section that had a playhouse, some interactive nature activities, and of course little baby dolls, strollers, high chairs and cribs.

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We also paid a visit to IKEA while we were in Dallas to pick up a few things (namely a cheap high chair without fabric to clean). I was more than willing and excited to drop off my older child in their supervised play area (which looked super fun through the windows – let me know if they are if your kids have been), but she refused to be left there and wanted to shop with me. She really enjoyed just playing in the upstairs kids furniture area, trying out the little beds, sitting in the kid-sized chairs and just touching and looking at all the things. We even ended the IKEA trip with a one dollar soft serve ice cream cone.

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On the last day, we again had a few hours to spend waiting for Daddy to get off work and set off to the local Barnes and NobleWe love books and bookstores, and B&N has a pretty neat kids area complete with a stage, mini tables and benches, and even a Thomas train set. In addition to a decent selection of books, there are also toys, games, stuffed animals and vintage Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie dolls. We read some books, looked at the toys and games, played with all the My Little Ponies stuffed plushes, and left the store with a few books from the 75% off clearance shelves.

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We were able to beat the summer heat indoors, while keeping the kids entertained and occupied. Some moments of our trip were super challenging with little ones, but these little field trips can present teachable moments. 

I had the opportunity to talk about jungles and what ancient ruins are at the mall play area, teach my daughter about doing laundry and ironing at the American Girl store, mention information about Sweden and Swedish food at IKEA, and read books about different characters and topics at Barnes & Noble. 

Stay tuned for the next post about the garden and aquarium we also visited on this Dallas trip. 

Our field trip in Fort Worth

If you’ve been following along with us, then you may know that we recently made a trip to Dallas last weekend with our friends and six children under the age of six. So what did we do with all our kids?

We actually trekked over to Fort Worth, about 45 minutes away from where we stayed, to visit the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History. Yes, we used our local Science Museum Oklahoma membership and got in free as part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program. However, parking in the lot for the science museum did cost us $7.

My husband and I had visited years ago pre-baby and maybe even pre-marriage for a special Star Wars exhibit (the hubs loves everything Star Wars) and another time for their special body exhibit with the plasticized human bodies. This time we visited with kids, and it was like a whole new museum to us.

They have several different traveling or special exhibits that change throughout the year, so it’s never the same each time you visit. I had checked online to see what was featured when we would be visiting, and Clifford the Big Red Dog and Dora & Diego were two of the special temporary exhibits. This is the main reason we wanted to come here with all our little ones. Curious George is coming this fall, so that may be another good time to visit with little kids.

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As soon as you enter the building (after you get through the whole ticketing area), you are greeted by a huge dinosaur skeleton and a view of the outdoor fountain display. You can head upstairs on the left to their special Dora & Diego exhibit, planetarium (which is included in general admission), cattle raisers museum and special 75-year anniversary exhibit, or make a right and explore the Clifford room, the children’s museum (with a whole outdoor water part), gift shop, and dinosaur display.

As expected, Dora & Diego and Clifford were huge hits with the littles. There were such neat and interesting hands-on activities in each of those exhibits. My oldest daughter had the most fun playing at the Animal Rescue Center and Rocket Ship in Dora & Diego, and she loved dressing up as Clifford and playing with the giant dog bones at the Clifford exhibit. There are also little padded and gated areas for the babies to play in a few of the exhibits. The kids could have easily played much longer, but we only stayed about four hours before we adults had reached our limit.

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We had also planned to visit the Stockyards that afternoon to see the cattle drive and didn’t want to miss it. Every day at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., real-life cowboys and actual Texas Longhorns make their way down Exchange Avenue for this touristy spectacle lasting only a few minutes. We snagged some fairly decent patio seating at Trailboss Burgers just moments before the cattle drive began and got to see it from there. It was also perfect for our entire crew of crazy kids because they could run around outside and be noisy without really disrupting anyone.

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After dinner, we checked out a few of the shops around the restaurant, tasted a few samples, let the kids ride a tiny carousel machine and then headed back to the hotel pool for the dive-in movie. We had a fabulous time in Fort Worth and could have spent so much more time exploring but will come back another time to take in more sights.

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Fort Worth Museum of Science & History Fast Facts

Address > 1600 Gendy St. | Fort Worth, TX 76107
Phone > 817.255.9300
Hours > Monday – Saturday > 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. | Sunday > Noon – 5p
Websitewww.fwmuseum.org
Tickets > Adult $15 | Junior (2-18) $12 | Senior (65+) $14

Our visit to the Exploration Place in Wichita

You may have never thought about taking a trip to Wichita, Kansas, but we recently visited the Exploration Place there and were quite pleasantly surprised. We were wanting to take a quick day trip somewhere within a couple-hour drive (because our littlest one isn’t the best car rider) and wanted to find something kid-friendly.

Since we have a science museum membership at Science Museum Oklahoma, we like to try and visit participating museums of the ASTC Travel Passport Program for free. We have loved this benefit and have taken advantage of it several times when traveling.

With our membership pass in tow and lunches packed, we headed up I-35 to the land of plains and toll roads apparently. Be prepared for stops at the toll booths when you’re traveling through Kansas. From the Oklahoma City area, the tolls will cost you about $2.50 one way. You’ll also want to pack lunches if you’re going to the Exploration Place around lunchtime because the food options are slim to depressing (envision hot dogs on rollers). However, the views from the eating area are quite enjoyable.

The Exploration Place is housed in a beautiful piece of architecture pretty much on top of the Arkansas River. With large floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, you can enjoy several different views of the river and the nearby Keeper of the Plains statue. Our baby also really liked watching the ducks swimming in the water.

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Although this museum is not very large compared to others we’ve visited, it has many interactive features and has several engaging exhibits that my daughter loved so much she didn’t want to leave. Her favorite was probably the three-story castle with activities centered around medieval life. There were horses to ride, a play kitchen to cook in, a blacksmith room, dress up clothes and lots of little nooks and crannies with interesting hands-on elements.

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From now until January 1, 2018, there is a special traveling exhibit on display called the Hall of Heroes. If you have a superhero or comic book fan in your family, it would be a great place to take him. There is a Batmobile replica, movie memorabilia, several superhero statues and different science-based activities. One thing that I did notice was that it was really loud in that area, so it was kind of difficult to listen to some of the displays with video or sound.

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Also included in the admission is mini golf, which I thought was a pretty good deal. The 18-hole course is set right along the river, so you can enjoy the views outside as well (but don’t putt with too much enthusiasm because your ball will roll into the bushes and possibly into the river – not that I would know or anything *cough, cough*). There is also apparently an Exploration Park portion of the museum outside, but we ran out of time and never got to it or saw it.

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We spent about five hours at the museum and probably could have stayed a little longer, since our daughter seriously wanted to play there all day long. But we all got “hangry” (especially Dad) and hot from playing miniature golf outside and the museum closes at 5 p.m., so we headed to a Braum’s down the street for ice cream (no trip is complete without ice cream) and dinner and called it a day.

If you are looking for a quick day trip or just something fun for your family, I would definitely recommend the Exploration Place. Check out their website to see what special exhibits may be going on when you plan to visit.

Watch a video of our visit here. 

Exploration Place Fast Facts

Address > 300 N. McLean Blvd. | Wichita, KS 67203
Phone > 316.660.0600
Hours > Monday – Saturday > 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. | Sunday > Noon – 5 p.m.
Website > http://exploration.org/

General Museum Admission
Exhibits* Dome Do it All
Members Free
Adult (12 – 64) $9.50 $5.00 $12.50
Senior (65+) $8.00 $4.00 $10.00
Youth (3 – 11) $6.00 $3.00 $7.00
2 and Under Free Free Free