A science museum for children: an idea worth exploring
For the past few weeks, I've been in the United States with my children, indulging in that most American of summer past times - and no, it's not baseball and barbecues.
We've been sitting in traffic jams that stretch for miles along the highway, waiting to get into or away from any number of different beach towns. We've basically been driving up and down the northeast coast from one beach-related traffic jam to another, with various family events - a reunion, a wedding - serving merely as interruptions to our time on the road.
I will say, however, that each of the beaches we went to was glorious -almost worth the endless hours in a sweaty car. The beaches we visited seem relatively unscathed by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeast last fall.
The mere mention of the hurricane's effects unleashed a veritable storm of questions from my kids: Why do hurricanes happen? What is beach erosion? Can erosion be stopped? How? What causes the tides? Where do waves come from?
I don't think my children are unusual in their curiosity about the natural world: anyone who has spent any time around kids knows that children have an almost insatiable curiosity about the world around them, a curiosity that unfortunately seems to drain away by the time we all reach adulthood.
We google answers to sports trivia or pop music lyrics; we become, it seems, less and less interested in the "why" of things as we get older. With children, of course, the "why" can go on forever until you almost find yourself wondering why you ever wanted your little darling to learn to talk in the first place.
What children don't realise, however - at least not until they're older - is that many of their questions about nature, animals, weather and people are about science. Children are born scientists: they are curious, often fearless and willing to engage in all kinds of learning if they are given the opportunity to get their hands dirty.
This summer as we travelled around in the US, I noticed that at almost every place we visited, there was a children's museum, or a nature centre, a discovery centre, an "exploratorium" - all places where children of any age could find out more about the world. After one workshop at a nature centre, my 8-year-old asked me yet another question: "Is there something like this in Abu Dhabi?" And for that, I didn't have an answer.
So, of course, I consulted Google for more information but the internet oracle was not particularly helpful. It told me that the wonderful Abu Dhabi Science Fair will return this fall and that there are regular monthly children's workshops at Manarat Saadiyat (we've done some of these workshops, which are fantastic but so popular that it's difficult to get a spot). But where, I wondered, was the dedicated space for children to learn about science, technology and the natural world?
To live in Abu Dhabi these days is to live inside a city reinventing itself: towering cranes seem a permanent part of the landscape, as do the temporary billboards touting the marvellous developments going up just behind them. Out on Saadiyat, New York University rises out of the sand like a ghostly ship, and the Louvre's outlines are becoming clear as well. And while I've yet to see plans for a children's science museum, I've seen announcements for the new mall at Yas, the new mall inside the new airport terminal and even Saadiyat's new mall, which will link to all the museums.
It's enough to make a person wonder who exactly will be doing all that shopping and whether any of these shops will be different from the other shops in the other malls in Abu Dhabi or Dubai or the shops in London, New York, Bangkok and Paris?
Do you suppose any of these malls will have a "discovery centre" in them, where at one station kids could learn about magnets, at another wave theory, and at yet another try their skill at maths puzzles?
Wouldn't it be great if down the hall from a high-end electronics store there were a place where children (and, OK, maybe some parents too) could learn how all that newfangled technology actually works?
A children's science museum: that seems like something worth driving to, even if you have to sit in traffic to get there.
Deborah Lindsay Williams (mannahattamamma.com) is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi
Updated: August 7, 2013 04:00 AM