Museum of Nature is one of our favorite museums in Ottawa. Whenever we go, we end up spending an entire day exploring exhibits that we’ve already seen and there is always something new to discover. Something we missed before. So if you’re visiting Ottawa, the Museum of Nature is a must-see for the whole family.
1. Arrive early.
Yes, I know, you hear it all the time. But the reality is, that there are significantly less people first thing in the morning, than later on in the day. So, I encourage you to get there right at the opening as it will definitely be worth it.
2. Monday is the day to go.
If you have that option, I find that Mondays are the best during the summer. I think it may be because most of the day camps just get to know their kids and don’t plan big trips for the first day of the camp. It seems that there are less trips visiting the museum on Mondays. This means that your children will have a lot more opportunities to play on the interactive stations.
3. Special exhibits are definitely worth the price.
I understand that the entrance fee for the whole family can be pricy, but the special exhibits at the Museum of Nature are amazing. Over the years we’ve seen several of them. Each time my kids come out with huge smiles on their faces and with plenty of new and fascinating knowledge. The exhibits are always very interactive and child-friendly. So your kids will definitely love it.
4. 3D movies are fun.
We’ve seen several of those over the past few years as well. My kids really enjoy feeling surrounded by the nature through this experience. Having said that, when they were younger, they had a hard time sitting through a 30+ minutes film about nature, no matter how interesting and educational it was. So after the first movie, I waited until my little one turned 5 before I took my kids to see another movie again. And I have to say, it was a wise decision. Now, they love it and ask to see a movie each time we’re visiting the museum.
5. Don’t lug your stuff, drop it off.
Not many people are aware that the basement area of the museum holds an area with lockers. We use them all the time. For only a loonie, you can drop off your jackets or backpack and walk around hands-free. It is very convenient, especially in the winter.
6. Bring your lunch.
In order to save some money and eat the food I know my kids will enjoy, I always pack a lunch. What I love about the museum is that you have many options for a place to eat your lunch. If it’s very hot or very cold, you can eat in the cafeteria. However, there are also some picnic tables near the mammoths. They are a perfect option to get some fresh air and return to the museum after a short break. If you are adventurous, like my kids, you may want to grab a blanket and have a picnic with the dinosaurs on the East side of the museum. Whatever your choice, I’d definitely recommend bringing your own lunch.
7. Exploring the museum – start from the top.
We always start from the top and make our way to the basement over the course of the day. Depending on the time of the year and placement of the special exhibits, I find that the fourth and third floors always hold a great balance of interesting things to explore. The special exhibits are usually located on one of those floors. The interactive activity centre, with hands on activities led by the museum staff can be found on one of those two floors as well. So it is a perfect balance of educational and hands on fun to keep the kids interested, occupied and happy.
8. Take the stairs down.
Take the elevator up, but use the stairs going down. Look up in the beautiful glass cube to see the octopus. Your kids will love it. Also, don’t forget to look down onto the lobby from one of the top floors to enjoy the architecture of the building and the beautiful mosaic floor on the ground. Well worth taking a look at.
9. After lunch explore the other three floors going down and ending up in the basement.
The first floor exhibit is probably my kids’ favourite as it holds life-size dinosaurs. The basement on the other hand is their favourite hands on activity centre. Depending on the time of the year we visited, we’ve always come home with some new, wonderful creations that often relate to the special exhibit.
10. Explore the grounds.
Weather permitting, I’d encourage you to walk around the building, take in it’s wonderful architecture and visit the dinosaurs and the mammoths on either side of the museum. You’re kids will love looking at them, hiding behind them and climbing on them. If you’re anything like me, it will also be an awesome photo opportunity for your and your family.
11. Bring a rock.
If you’re exploring the natural parts of Ottawa by visiting parks, beaches, campgrounds, etc. ask your children to find a unique rock or other piece of nature that they really like. Write down as much information as you can about it – where you found it, when, were there more rocks like that one and so on. Bring it with you to the museum and ask one of the museum staff about the Nature Trade program. Your kids will discover other treasures brought to the museum by other children in a display case on the third floor. Talk to the staff member there and you never know, you’re piece of nature could be on display too.
My kids’ top 5 favourite activities
These come from the mouths of babes. I asked my kids after our last visit what they liked the most this time around. And here is what they said:
1. The activity stations in the special exhibit.
As the kids walk in, the first thing they go for is the activity centre. They grab a card and stamp it as they walk around the exhibit and learn more about the dinosaurs. My daughter, the diligent child, actually reads all the challenges and does what she is asked to do to complete it. My son, the more adventurous out of the two, prefers to just collect the stamps and enjoy pressing all the buttons that make noise. In the end he learned what different kinds of noises dinosaurs used to make and had fun while doing so.
2. Wild Bird Clinic in the bird exhibit.
This one is probably our all time favourite. You can move eggs and birds around, “drive” a rescue truck, heal birds and do all kinds of other things to help birds survive and thrive. It’s definitely a highlight of this exhibit. However, the entire exhibit is peppered with hands on activities from recognizing bird calls, through bird watching to figuring out migration patterns. The exhibit has plenty of hands on activities for all ages.
3. Digging for fossils.
When you go to hand over your perfectly beautiful rock and admire finds other children brought to share, make sure to dig for fossils as well. The staff will explain the activity to the kids, hand them a big rock, some vinegar and a brush, protective gloves and eyeglasses, and off they go to see if they can find fossils hidden in the big chunk of rock. My kids loved it, and I’m sure yours will too.
4. Making dinosaur’s teeth or claws.
In the basement, hidden behind the theater is a wonderful discovery area for kids. One of the activities my kids loved is using clay and molds to make dinosaur claws and teeth. The kids had a choice of several molds and with help of the staff worked on their projects. Once completed, we left them there for a while to harden and came back at the end our exploration to collect our “fossils”.
5. Colouring the dinosaurs.
This activity is suitable for anyone who can hold a crayon. Simply place a white piece of paper over a clipboard layered with a raised dinosaur cutout and scribble with your favourite colour to reveal several different shapes of dinosaurs. You can make it as colorful as a rainbow, or as black as the earth that covers their bones layers and layers below. Be prepared to take home several art pieces by the end of this activity.
These are only a handful of the great activities the museum offers to its youngest visitors. Watching them engage, enjoy and learn is always a pleasure. And learning some new, interesting facts myself didn’t hurt either.
Overall, the museum is an amazing place to spend the day for people of all ages. It most certainly is one of our favourites and we can’t wait to go back.