I was invited to a preview of the new Cook Museum of Natural Science that opened on June 7th and let me just lead with OH MY GOODNESS!!! It was awesome, and I can’t wait to take my kids back.
When I arrived, we had an opportunity to taste much of the menu from Natures Table. I couldn’t have been more impressed! Fresh ingredients, fun flavors and lots of kid pleasing options as well.
Nature’s Table Cafe
I was delighted to be presented with a FULL PAGE (type 10 font) of gluten-free options when I asked if they had any gluten free menu items along with many no-sugar added choices. Not only that, but they made sure to communicate that everything is prepared fresh, so if there are ANY dietary restrictions, they can easily accommodate it.
All of their sandwiches and wraps came out with warm meat and cold produce. It was seriously delicious. I was also excited to realize that Nature’s Table is located outside of the ticket-required area. This means that it’s not only an option on days we choose to visit the museum, but also on days that I want to grab a healthy bite to eat when we are in the area as well.
Field Trips & Classrooms
After lunch, we moved on to a tour of their three main classrooms, and let me tell you, the detail of thought that they have put in to these spaces was IMPRESSIVE. Each room focuses on a different purpose: organic exploration, technology/innovation and one room geared towards younger children. This museum is definitely a field trip destination!
Microscopes, terrariums, 3D printers, maker space bins, animal puppets, books, dissection tables, projectors and computers were peppered throughout the classrooms. As a home school educator myself, I was SO excited to see all of the different learning opportunities that we will soon have access to.
Cook Museum Exhibits
After we were done in the classroom area, we moved on to the museum. There was so much diversity in information and presentation style, keeping the kids engaged every step of the way! As we wondered through the different areas they all fell into three categories, ocean, caves and forests. So pretty much every part of our physical world. It was absolutely fascinating and the technology that was used to make every part of our earth interactive, touchable and interesting was impressive.
They have taken full advantage of technology in making the exhibits, but I also noticed that they paid special attention to incorporating tactile exhibits as well. My description of the “Sand Table” will not do it justice, so let me just say, it was worth the visit all by itself. We also got to view a large bee hive from 360 degrees and even crawled inside of a beaver damn. I have a wide age range of children but I assure you, there is something for every age.
My husband and I both discussed numerous exhibits once we got in the car and we as adults found the entire experience very enjoyable and we both would go again in a heartbeat. My kids were immediately asking when we could go back.
Designed for Young Minds
I asked my girls what their favorite parts were and they didn’t hesitate to tell me about the 2-story interactive forest and the GIANT aquarium was their favorites. It seems that the museum’s designers thought of just about everything kids would love. Little stools were placed strategically all over the place, making even the taller exhibits accessible for little ones. It was so nice as a parent, to not have to constantly be lifting children up so they can see. The same stools were by the drinking fountains, bathrooms, and classrooms.
Accommodations for Families with Special Needs
Speaking of bathrooms, all of the bathrooms had changing tables. ALL of them! (Even the men’s bathrooms!) There were at least two bathrooms specifically set up to accommodate handicap access. One of them was a family bathroom, which is a HUGE deal.
I worked with handicap kids once upon a time, and sometimes you just need a private space to help them, and do what needs to be done without others eyes and ears around. An accessible restroom makes the Cook Museum a much friendlier place for parents of differently-abled children. I also stumbled upon a Baby Care Room where there is a comfortable chair, a little toy mounted to the wall, and a changing table. Yup! They essentially provided a nursing room for moms who don’t want to nurse in the public area so they don’t have to nurse to the sound of flushing toilets!
Become a Cook Museum Member!
The science that is presented is not only beautifully executed, but has such a very intentional Natural Science focus, and there really is little to no overlap with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. So yes, I think you should get a membership to BOTH of them because they are very different in educational focus.
- Eat when you get there. It is kid friendly, healthy, and delicious.
- Bring a stroller. There was a lot to look at, and a decent amount of walking for little legs. There was plenty of floor space for a stroller throughout.
- There were bathrooms close at every turn and lots of staff to point us to the closest one.
- Bring a few bucks to spend in the gift shop at the end. There were lots of puppets, puzzles, drawing supplies, books and many other educational activity packs to browse through.
Cook Museum of Natural Science At-a-Glance
Address: 133 4th Ave NE, Decatur, AL 35601 (map)
Cost: Adults $20 | Kids ages 3-14 $15 | Ages 2 and under FREE | Military $17
Hours: Monday – Thursday from 9AM – 6PM
Friday from 9AM – 7PM
Saturday from 9AM – 8PM
Sunday from Noon – 6PM
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Jenni McCarty is a wife, mom of four, l'il bit granola, jean-wearer, iced coffee drinker, home schooler, more than just a little obsessed with photography, frustrated organizer (see “mom of four”) yet ironically logical, Pinterest addict and Facebook follower, sufferer of ADCD (attention deficit crafters disorder), displaced Alaskan. She opened Jenni M Photography in 2012 and she really enjoys blogging about her personal family adventures whenever she has a chance.