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Polar bears and penguins, oh my!

by Zach My kids love the Canadian Museum of Nature, but there's been a distressing new development: as they get more familiar with the place, they're making their way through the exhibitions faster and faster. One day a couple of weeks ago we had flown through the Blue Water, Fossil, and Mammal galleries, and I was wondering if we were going to finish early, and how exactly I would keep things afloat for the rest of the afternoon.   Then, on the third floor, we bumped into a sign in front of the Special Exhibition gallery that stopped the kids cold. This wasn't any old foam board-in-Plexiglas sign. It was a mini-display in itself, with a large, rotating model of the earth slowly turning over and over. Sitting on the south pole was an oversized penguin, and on the north pole was a polar bear. We had found the new temporary exhibition, Ends of the Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins.   After convincing the kids not to try wrenching the penguin and polar bear off the globe, we made our way in. The first thing that greeted us was a life-sized polar bear (a relative of the one in the Mammal gallery?), surrounded by several other interactive displays and games. The kids were a bit nervous of this new polar bear, but quickly moved past, and started exploring. And what a lot there was to explore.   The highlight of the exhibition was probably the penguin slide, in one of the back corners of the exhibition. It's a low, gently-sloped ramp, shaped like a big chunk of ice hauled up from the Antarctic. The really adorable part, however, is the many penguin costumes stored on benches to the side. The idea is for the kids to dress up as penguins and slide down the ramp on their bellies, using the soft fabric of the costumes to go a touch faster than they otherwise would.   The first time we went, the kids were game for the costumes, and I bitterly regretted not having my camera as they waddled around the exhibition, pretending to be penguins. I also tried not to think about how often the costumes might, or might not, get washed.   We've had a couple of visits since, and my kids, like most others, don't really attempt the costumes anymore, but just start launching themselves down the slide, running back, and doing it again in this kind of perpetual motion machine thing that young kids are capable of. You can really see the different parenting styles coming out in these kinds of situations; do the parents wander off and look at other displays? Do they hover (like me)? Do they let the kids climb directly back up the slide, or do they have to go around? Note there's no attendant here, and no posted rules, so it's something of a Darwinian playground.   There's a whole lot else to see, too. There's a replica of the kind of scale that scientists use to weigh polar bears, and that visitors can use to see how their weight matches up to that of polar bears at different ages (there's no numbers, just a chart). The kids together weigh about as much as a six-month old polar bear cub, while I'm the equivalent of a remarkably mature bear. Yay.   There's loads more to see and do, including a mini-den for kids to crawl into, a penguin-chick feeding game (with a guilt-inducing message when you don't manage to feed the chicks), a replica of the hut used by early explorers of the Antarctic, and several video displays describing the animals and geography of the two poles. At least I think that's what they do, as the kids tend to run by videos of scientists talking, however passionate they are about their work.   The exhibition began way back on January 28, and is only open until April 10. If you want to check it out, head out there soon.   If you've seen the exhibition, what did you think? And, what are yours and your kids' favourite sections of the Museum of Nature?

Zach is a dad to a four year old girl and two year old boy. He sometimes blogs. He is often blogged about by his wife over at Capital Mom.