Over the past few years, there has been a sudden boom in indoor play spaces for kids in Northern Virginia. Play structures, inflatables, and arcade games are fun, but we were excited to see something new and different open in Woodbridge. Open Discovery at Engineering for Kids at the Lake Ridge STEM Discovery Center is different than anything I’ve seen offered in the area. Focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – Open Discovery gives kids a chance to explore and play. Our family, me, my husband, and my 5 year old daughter, were excited to check it out.
The discovery center is a large open space with different areas to explore. We started in “Imagine. Design. Build.” where my husband and daughter set to work creating their own ball run with magnetic tubes and brackets.
They also liked creating marble runs with flexible tubing. It was fun to see what would happen when you moved different pieces of their construction and my daughter was fascinated by trying to see how many loops she could make a marble do.
Another area that they really liked was “Kelvin’s Builders”. This area featured giant building blocks that could not only be stacked, but fit together with holes and long cylinders. After building a giant wall, we made steps and a bridge that was taller than even the adults.
We love blocks in our house, and the giant ones were definitely the highlight of our time. My 5 year old decided that even though she liked everything, the big blue blocks were here favorite part of our morning.
For Lego fans, there were bins and bins of Legos to build with. We liked the giant Lego wall – it was fun to build on a wall instead of on a flat surface. You can build a Lego car and race it (or crash it) on a giant Lego raceway which all of the kids in our session enjoyed. The Lego robots looked like fun too, though they were definitely for older kids or a kid with a parent’s help.
You could easily spend your entire open discovery time perfecting your robot creation and driving it through the space. You can even create your own robot sumo battles! There were also computers in the back to explore (though we never got that far – in fact, none of the kids there were touching the computers – the hands-on building was way too much fun). It also appeared that there are plans to expand the toys offered as it’s a new space and there were far more bins than there were toys.
My chief complaint is about the hours. Even during the summer, they are only open for open discovery on weekends and evenings. It’s because the space is being used for camps during the day on weekdays, but it would be nice if they had some weekday mornings available as well.
It’s also a little pricey – $20 for a 90 minute open play session. However, the discovery center is staffed, and you are permitted to drop off your kids. Using the center as a drop-off makes the $20 much more reasonable. The only other thing that we didn’t like is that the session is 90 minutes because we could have easily played for much longer.
The bottom line
I joked the entire time that it was hard to tell who was having more fun – my daughter or my husband. They both LOVED it. Building and creating things is something that they love doing together anyway, and this was an opportunity to do it on a much larger scale. They’re already talking about going back.
Before you go
- Open Discovery is offered evenings and weekends. The sessions for summer 2014 are: Mondays – Thursdays: 5:30p.m. – 7:00p.m. Saturdays: 9:00a.m. – 10:30a.m. 11:00a.m. – 12:30p.m. 1:00p.m. – 2:30p.m. 3:00p.m. – 4:30p.m. Sundays: 1:00p.m. – 2:30p.m. 3:00p.m. – 4:30p.m.
- Each Open Discovery session is $20. A membership is also offered and is a phenomenal deal if you live close by or have multiple kids. Members receive free admission to two sessions per month, free admission to one kids night out event per month, a discount on all programs (addtl. Open Discovery sessions are $16 a month for members), and a T-shirt, lanyard, and membership card for each child. Membership fees are $45 a month and cover the entire family. If we lived close enough, we would definitely take advantage of a membership.
- Kids of all ages will enjoy the center, and it was easy to see how different age groups could play in different ways. Because of all the small pieces (especially in the Lego area), it’s probably best for ages 3 and up.
- Parents do not need to remain on site while their kids play. There is a lounge area with drinks for parents and WiFi is available. For our family, it was more fun to play together, but if you have older children, they might enjoy building on their own.
- There are large clean bathrooms in the center and changing tables are available.
- Camps, kid’s night out, birthday parties, and special events are also offered. More details can be found on the website.
Photos by Mara Surridge.