This post is first in a series on educational field trips and activities in the Houston, Texas area (and beyond). Feel free to add ideas for additional trips in the comment section and we'll try to cover and report back on those, too.
First up is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Not quite the American Museum of Natural History in New York (it takes several hours to tour the Houston museum, a life-time to explore the Manhattan version) it is still an impressive and modern structure settled in Houston's lovely Museum District across from the equally pleasant Hermann Park Conservancy.
The permanent exhibits we toured were Ancient Egypt (just opened Spring of 2013 and absolutely worth a look), Paleontology (again, cannot compare to New York or Washington, D.C. museums but nicely designed and contained some oddities that gave us a laugh or two), Gems and Minerals, Energy Hall (a glaring commercial for the Texas oil industry, but take a ride in the Geovator -- that will kill several minutes), The Americas, African Wildlife, Chemistry, Malacology (the study of molluscs), and Texas Wildlife. We did not see the Planetarium or any Giant Screen shows this trip.
Perhaps the most impressive exhibit at the museum is the Cockrell Butterfly Center which contains much more than stunning butterflies from around the world; it is home to the delightful Brown Hall of Entomology (think everything creepy-crawly displayed in an engaging and educational way) and the breathtaking Rain Forest Conservatory -- a 3-story glass structure built around a 50-foot waterfall. This structure contains the butterflies along with colorful, exotic plants.
The most exciting news for homeschoolers is the educational programming offered at the museum. Labs covering dissection, engineering, and anthropology can be organized for grades 7 and up, and for the younger set -- dissection, wildlife, biology and time labs, to name a few. Simpy contact the museum to organize your class or piggy-back on an existing class (a Google search of homeschool classes at HMNS will typically display some results to choose from).
We haven't had a chance to take any of the classes, but will happily share our experiences when we do. Overall, we enjoyed the Houston Museum of Natural Science and are looking forward to the next visit!