Our family loves Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Our plans for Dutch Winter Wonderland were snowed out so we thought a perfect alternative would be the Lancaster Science Factory. The museum is housed on one floor of a warehouse. While it looks small from the outside, the factory is chock full of activities to keep you busy for hours. The museum is geared toward ages 8 and up, so I was unsure if my 5 1/2 year old would find anything to enjoy.
Boy was I wrong. As soon as we paid our entry fee: $6.50 for children and $8 for adults, we spotted K’nex tables set up for the under 5 crowd. There were pictures to guide us, but it’s really about your child’s imagination to create whatever they want using K’nex pieces.
I found the light and vision exhibits boring. The color filter, changeup and illusion disks didn’t illustrate the difference in the way colors are seen. Maybe I was missing something? I also thought the section on electricity and magnetism was a bit dull. The Crank Power exhibit shows the bumper and lights of a VW car and several sized fans. By turning each crank, you are connecting power to generate a device.
All it seemed to do was make the fan stronger. That was probably the point, but if it didn’t even peak my husband’s interest, there is something wrong. The electrical circuits display reminded me of my junior high science fair because my project was about what objects conduct electricity. They could have gone out of the box with this, but stuck to showing how to light a light bulb and how to make a motor spin. I left wanting to learn more. The magnetic sculpture, a separate exhibit, was cool if only to form a sculpture out of metal hex nuts.
I sound like a Debbie downer, but honestly, my family and I did enjoy the museum a lot. We played a nursery rhyme on the bongophone and got to simulate an earthquake. My daughter thought it was so cool that she could build a structure, then regulate the strength and speed at which the earthquake crushed her building. Other structural engineering tables included building a Catenary Arch, Ceiling Beam, and Truss Bridge.
Kids of all ages will love the “Mechanics and Motion” exhibits. Four different ball tracks: Galileo, High Road/Hilly Road, High Road/Low Road and Identical demonstrate the various ways a ball will accelerate based on the path being flat, hilly, curved, etc. Each of us took a turn setting our colored balls in motion at the same time to see which one would reach the end in the fastest amount of time.
Mini-Racers is a similar concept where you build a K’nex car and race against your teammates using an actual timer. You can even build your own roller coaster using wooden pieces and watch the ball along the “ride.” There were also four pendulum exercises with the Sand Pendulum being the most unique.
Perhaps our favorite activities were part of the Fluid Dynamics exhibit. You can launch a tennis ball sky high, build a dam, inflate a hot air balloon, make a paper airplane, step on a simulated hovercraft or use a whisk to learn about wind shape and position. There is a small enclosed area perfect for toddlers called Earthmovers filled with balls, dump trucks, and pulleys. I had to pry my husband and kid from the Air Play area.
On either side of the room are air tubes. A ball is inserted and travels through the air in the tubes above you, next to you and so on. It shoots out the other end. What kid wouldn’t find that entertaining?
For those wanting more of a mental challenge, sit down to one of many puzzles or brain teasers like Army Ants, Horse and Cowboy, or Tangram. Cyclograph reminded me of the geometric stencil activity I remember as a child known as Spirograph.
While there is no dining cafe on site, there is a science cafe which serves up hands-on lab lessons in the kitchen on certain occasions. There is no designated gift shop, but they do sell Pi and Periodic table t-shirts and a couple science toys. Earlier I mentioned the K’nex tables. You can weigh-n-pay meaning you can keep what you build. Prices range from $4 for a 4 oz. creation to $26 for 2 lbs. The Lancaster Science Factory is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. Free parking is located across the street.
There isn’t much in the vicinity in terms of dining, but in nearby Ronks, Jennie’s Diner is a must. If staying overnight, I highly recommend the Fulton Steamboat Inn in Lancaster. They have a ship playground, pond where you can feed ducks and koi, and a guppy love program where your kids can adopt a fish during their stay. Plus, it’s right near Dutch Wonderland.