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Visiting the Vale Earth Gallery

By AndreaMy daughter and I had the opportunity to attend the newly renovated Vale Earth Gallery opening at The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. This Gallery is open to the public on November 30th but we had the chance to see it the day before.

Our family has been members of this museum for two years now. Having this membership is one of the best educational investments we’ve made for our children ages 8, 4 and 8 months. The child-friendly and interactive displays pertaining to natural history and natural sciences have lent a hand to school projects, personal interest and regularly satisfy the inquisitive minds of two of my three oldest children with their countless questions relating to our natural world.

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when found out which exhibit was reopening. This particular exhibit was not one we visited regularly – not because it wasn’t well done, The Canadian Museum of Nature does not do anything poorly – but because it hadn’t appealed to the kids who were always with me. I’d enjoyed seeing the beautiful glass-encased minerals but just found myself imagining what beautiful earrings they’d have made.

That being said, I am not an expert on this or any topic of natural science. I am just a mom who wants to foster her children’s interests and provide them access to the information and experiences this museum has to offer.

My oldest daughter, Hannah, age 8, (aka. Nature Girl) has had a rock collection since she was two. I think every child has hunted for beautiful stones on a beach, a forest or a park at some point in their lives. I borrowed books to help identify these rocks but found the task of identifying and classifying minerals to be daunting.

To my delight, I found this new exhibition helped fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of mineralogy. Even better, my daughter was completely engaged in the displays and interactive features this permanent display has to offer. Fortunately when my children are engaged, I have time read and learn myself. The gallery starts at the beginning – literally. We read about the “big bang”, touched and examined meteorites that have fallen to earth and learned about the earth’s layers. She was particularly captivated by learning the consequences of a change in the solar system (ie. the absence of Jupiter or change in distance of between earth and the moon).

Around the corner she had the opportunity to control a 6-ft animated globe. She discovered how the plates divide and what the world would look like if the water evaporated.

This exhibition allowed us to see some of the most extraordinary mineral formations, some of which she has in her own personal collection. You have the opportunity to see an animation of how rocks and minerals form and what makes a mineral a mineral. A favourite highlight included the opportunity to view minerals under fluorescent light. You will be pleasantly surprised in what happens!

A compliment to the current Nature Unleashed temporary exhibit is an interactive opportunity to make a volcano or cause an earthquake. Visitors can also make different rocks with the Sedimentator (which makes sedimentary rock), Magmanator (makes magmatic rock) and the Metaporphicator (makes metamorphic rock). Another complimentary feature was the sedimentary rock face from Saskatchewan featuring embedded fossils. Children love to search for items – especially when they’re looking for a T-Rex’s tooth!

Hands down, the most popular part of the display was the replica of a limestone cave. The opportunity to be immersed into this realistic environment with dripping waterfalls and the challenge of identifying cave features and creatures was a great experience.

I feel this exhibition was designed with children in mind. The gallery used video, interactive consoles, comic strips, experiments, actual samples and simulated environments to engage children and their senses at their height level. I also feel it filled a huge hole in the museum’s content.

Every visit to this museum involved a mandatory “visit to the dinos!” but I suspect we’ll be adding a “visit to the rocks!” as well.

PS – Ok, I did find the earrings I’d like too! ;)

I am a wife and loving mom to three amazing children ages 8, 4 and 8 months, who continue to fascinate me with their inquiring minds and desire to discover. I learn through them.

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