If you’re looking for a first-rate educational group trip in Michigan, check out Impression 5 Science Center—where kids of all ages learn science by playing it.
Kids would rather play.
News flash: If you ask a group of kids if they’d rather (a) learn science or (b) play, they’re going to choose play. Everyone knows that playing is good for kids. Ever since psychologist Jean Piaget published his theories about child development in the 1950s, we’ve known that play is essential to brain development, that it builds cognitive and motor skills, and that it helps instill values like sharing and cooperation.
But there’s new evidence to suggest that play doesn’t just help children learn. It’s actually how children learn.
There’s something about kids and science.
Put kids and science together and something magical happens. Just ask Erik Larson, executive director of Lansing’s Impression 5 Science Center. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t witness the sense of wonder, curiosity, excitement, and unbridled joy that children radiate when they’re exposed to hands-on science. “Kids are born as natural scientists,” Larson says. And he should know. A native of the Lansing area, he started going to Impression 5 as a toddler and has worked there in some capacity since age 14. This connection helps explain Larson’s lifelong love of science and his desire to spark that same passion in others.
A child’s work is play.
It turns out there is empirical evidence to back up Larson’s theory about kids as natural scientists. Dr. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkley and co-author of The Scientist in the Crib, discovered through two decades of research that child’s play bears a remarkable resemblance to the scientific method. According to Gopnik, “infants and very young children have intuitive theories of the world around them,” and they constantly “use data to formulate and test hypotheses and theories in much the same way that scientists do.” Gopnik and her team learned all this by watching children play.
Their findings have important implications for education policy: Instead of listening to lectures, memorizing facts, and taking tests, students should probably be spending a lot more time playing.
Impression 5 Science Center
Impression 5 Science Center – so named because it engages all five senses – was established in 1972 and moved into its current Lansing location (a repurposed lumber mill) in 1982.
At Impression 5, “play”—synonymous with exploration, experimentation, and discovery. —is the main event; learning is serendipity.
Exhibits cover approximately 35,000 square feet of informal learning space, including:
- SPECTRUM explores the properties of light and color—including old favorites like the shadow wall, new activities like light painting and a life-sized light mosaic, and hands-on experiments with lenses, prisms, mirrors, light sources, and primary colors.
- NANO – “a world you can’t see” – introduces nanoscale science and technology and allows kids to explore the world on a microscopic scale.
- BUILD ZONE welcomes all builders (and knockers-down of buildings) to a world where thousands of Legos, life-sized Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, PVC pipes, tubing, and giant blocks bring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to life.
- POP! A BUBBLE EXPERIENCE lets visitors explore the chemistry of soap and the structure of bubbles; create forms and colors; and stand inside a giant bubble.
- MI NATURE lets kids use technology (and inquiry skills) to explore Michigan’s living systems—birds, fish, ponds, and plants—through the eyes of a naturalist in the field.
- ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM – In addition to letting kids play with magnets, electricity, and circuits, this exhibit shows how electricity is generated from solar and wind energy, and how chemical energy is converted into electrical currents.
- MAKE YOUR OWN MUSIC -- This exhibit lets kids try out a variety of real musical instruments to explore sound waves, feel vibrations, and see what sound “looks” like.
- SIMPLE MACHINES -- This back-to-basics exhibit teaches the engineering concepts behind pulleys, levers, inclined planes, and other simple machines.
- GIANT EYE -- A seven-foot model of the human eye invites kids to explore the anatomy of the eye and the mechanics of vision.
- SPIN -- Kids think they’re spinning themselves silly, but they’re actually learning about momentum, rotational motion, and torque.
- THROWING THINGS -- Students use a trebuchet to launch weights across the exhibit floor while they explore the laws of motion, ballistics, and energy transformation.
- WATER ROOM -- Students explore concepts of buoyancy, density, flow dynamics, measurement, and water pressure; all this, plus a giant groundwater model that explains where water comes from.
- FIRST IMPRESSION ROOM – a special space where budding scientists from birth to age four, along with their caregivers, get to crawl, climb, play with water, and challenge themselves with smart board activities.
Welcome to field trip heaven.
All kinds of groups – youth organizations, church groups, Scouts, senior citizens, adult group homes, preschoolers, homeschoolers, and school kids — visit Impression 5 by the busload.
It’s one of Michigan’s most popular field trip destinations for school groups. Kids love Impression 5 because it’s fun. Teachers love it because (a) it’s fun, (b) the exhibits and workshops align with Michigan curriculum standards for science, and (c) the staff specializes in customizing school visits to complement whatever science topic is being covered in class. A field trip usually lasts around two and half hours and typically combines “free play” at the exhibits with a pre-arranged interactive workshop on a topic like biospheres, circuits, force and motion, light, magnets, static electricity, or polymers (i.e., slime). There’s even space for students to eat a brown bag lunch.
Students pay the reduced rate of $5.00. Admission for teachers and chaperones is free.