NORWICH, Vt. -- The Montshire Museum of Science introduces children to the wonders of the natural world through engaging, hands-on displays and exhibits in the modern, open spaces of its education center.
The small-town museum offers a city-quality experience to budding scientists at its 110-acre site near the Connecticut River. While firmly in Vermont, the museum's roots can be traced across the river to Hanover, N.H., the home of Dartmouth College. When the college's museum of natural history closed in the early 1970s, local residents collected some of its contents and opened the Montshire in a former bowling alley. The museum moved to its present location in 1989. The influences of both states are found in its name, a blend of their last syllables.
There is much to savor here. Long, bubbling tubes show the density of various liquids. Children can learn numbers in different languages from the face of a clock. They can also make the wind blow, create giant bubbles, solve puzzles, touch a fossil, and pedal an elevator up and down.
Preschoolers have their own haven, Andy's Place, where they can explore a tree house and its surroundings. Live animals, insects, and fish inhabit the museum. Meal time is not to be missed as fish, toads, and frogs get hand-fed with tongs and forceps. Turtles, trout, bass, and salmon are among the species in the ground- floor aquariums.
Upstairs, a tightly knit honey bee colony shows the relationships of the queen, drones , and workers. Be sure to spend time with the leaf cutter ants. You will be fascinated watching hundreds of busy ants march, haul, and chew their way along clear tubes like morning commuters headed to work through a tunnel.
The Montshire doubles as the visitors center for the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises 7.2 million acres of the Connecticut River watershed area. Be sure to see the center's huge mounted moose and display cases teeming with butterflies, moths, beetles, and dragonflies.
Discovery at the Montshire isn't limited to the indoors. The outdoor science park opened in 2002, and in warm weather it is a whirlwind of fountains, bubbles, mist, and moist adventure. Visitors can bang out a note or two on the giant stone xylophone or become hypnotized by the wind wall as fluttering steels disks blown by the breeze take on the appearance of waves in water. The property also has several miles of trails, sprinkled with interpretive signs, for year-round exploration.
Contact Marty Basch, a freelance writer in New Hampshire, at firstname.lastname@example.org.