Children’s Science Center Lab Inspires A Love Of Learning STEM

 


There is a hidden treasure tucked away in a corner of Fair Oaks Mall that you may have walked past a dozen times without realizing it. Just down to the right past Lord and Taylor sits the Children’s Science Center Lab where my kids were lucky enough to spend a special day with me. We played music on a slime piano, experimented with kinetic energy, and programmed a robotic arm. Did I mention my children are 3 and 5 and neither of them is a skilled programmer or engineer? Not yet anyway!


The Children’s Science Center Lab in Fairfax is an interactive exploration center where children, families, and school groups can learn about and experience fun science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles. In the Lab kids of all ages have opportunities to explore and create. The facility is especially focused on preschool and elementary aged visitors, but also great fun for a playful, inquisitive, hands-on oriented tween, or teen.

Designed by children’s museum and science center experts, the Lab includes both traditional and interactive exhibits with activities that change frequently. As soon as we walked into the well lit and brightly painted Lab, my kids hopped up on the stools at the Experiment Bar where we could order from a rotating menu of experiments. Our “STEMtender” set us up with a slime experiment where we simulated volcanic lava. I read the instructions on the screen out loud to my kids and we followed the easy directions. My daughter loved helping her brother measure and pour the ingredients and both kids went wild when the “lava” started fizzing.

We next wandered back to the Tinker Shop where my kids were able to create, build, and deconstruct and then do it all again. They worked hard with the materials provided to build hovercrafts they could test themselves in a vertical wind-tube. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful offering suggestions and ideas on how to achieve different results from each experiment. My son was so proud of himself and I was amazed that my 3-year-old who usually can’t sit still for a minute was having so much fun with science.

My son also loved the Discovery Zone which is specifically zoned for children aged 5 and under and he impressed me building shapes and structures using the oversized Lego blocks. My daughter couldn’t tear herself away from the Robotic Arm where she took on three different challenges including programming the robot to stamp emojis on paper, conducted a marble run, and even played a musical tune. It surprised me that even when she was unsure of what to do next she would use her logic and reasoning skills to try things differently and learn from her errors. As a mom of a daughter, I’m aware of the importance of STEM education for females but it never occurred to me that I could find opportunities for my girl to learn and explore science and education outside of the classroom in such a fun way and at such a young age. I realized that when it comes to science and math perhaps I’ve been underestimating what my kids are already capable of learning.


The Lab’s schedule includes events like an Exotic Animal Encounter, Fish Feeding Frenzy, and Seahorse Science Tales, along with their regular Budding Scientist and Budding Bookworm programs. On June 15, the Lab will celebrate its 4th anniversary. After receiving a generous grant from the Philip L. Graham Fund, the Lab has been able to refurbish three existing exhibits and add two brand new interactive exhibits: Pixel Pegs will be added to the Discovery Zone and Air Rockets will reside in the Inspiration Hub in June! The Lab is available for birthday parties, camps, and offers programs for Girl Scouts. There are daily rates and yearlong memberships as well.

The Children’s Science Center Lab also provides Family Nights which is a program offering science activities for local schools. The Center’s Family Science Night is a 90-minute evening program that brings hands-on activities to your school to make STEM fun, accessible, and appealing to today’s students.


In addition to the Lab and community programs, the center is working to fulfill the vision of a full-scale, world-class, interactive science museum to be located in Dulles, VA. This new STEM-focused resource will serve an estimated 300,000 guests annually, including children, families, schools and citizens of all ages. It will be located on donated land at the Kincora development in Dulles and will be 10 times the size of the current Children’s Science Center facility at Fair Oaks Mall.
The Children’s Science Center is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and there are many ways to get involved. In addition to accepting donations, the Lab is always looking for volunteers and ambassadors. To learn more about the Lab visit childsci.org and sign up to take an Inspiration Today. My first visit to the Lab was a fun and unique experience for my kids and me. I hope more parents will take advantage of this special place right in our backyard.