Sunday, 17 November 2013

Herstmonceux Science Center


Yesterday for Ollie's birthday we descended on the Herstmonceux Science Center with a bunch of the best friends a family could wish for.  Before we moved to Sussex I had never heard of it, but it certainly deserves more recognition as a first rate family attraction.  I usually go in the summer, especially during school holidays to take advantage of the great program of extra events and shows on offer, so I wasn't sure how going there in potentially stormy mid-November would work out.

I expected rain, and thought that even with the worst weather there would still be enough inside activities to keep the kids amused for a couple of hours.  On the day it was clear and sunny, so the couple of hours easily expanded to fill the whole afternoon until it got dark at 4.30pm and the site shut.

We were a group consisting of adults and children from almost two to eight years old, which at a traditional party would have consisted of increasingly frayed adults trying to entertain and contain the exuberance of the kids.  This venue was such a great alternative because there was so much to play with that appealed to the littlest with no idea of the science concepts behind the displays right through to the the adults (who I'm sure won't mind admitting are all quite geeky in their own fields of expertise).  The patience of the demonstrator handling the solar viewer was phenomenal as each of our kids managed to lean on it and swing the telescope of target.  The hands-on-approach means that the kids pick up knowledge about cause and effect and scientific observational skills without realising they're doing it.  The center also has a great breadth of topic material, which I found a relief when we first went because as much as I admire astronomy it's one of the areas where my knowledge has planet-sized holes.  With an unfenced pond though I was glad of the extra adults to keep an eye or two out on for the small people.

For the first time since I've been visiting the center we took part in the tour of one of the domes, which was a fun and informative retrospective on astronomy from the founding the the Observatory at Greenwich to the present day, including the founding of the Herstmonceaux site when light pollution became too great for the Greenwich Observatory to function effectively in the 1950s.  We were also treated to seeing the dome open up, which prompted a lot of interest from Toby (it gave him something to look at while he munched the fig roll he had begged from another family).

After the tour we had lots more fun playing with the indoor and outdoor exhibits.  Science doesn't get a lot more physical for small children than climbing up a helical DNA strand ladder or swinging on a rope from a huge lever.  The indoor displays have been refreshed with new activities at least a couple of times this year, but the boys favourite as always was the outdoors display of different ways of raising water with lots of handles to turn and water to splash.  This time a close second was the overhead train track complete with a train powered by the kids turning a handle.

A perfect visit was completed with a huge moon on the East and a glorious fiery sunset to the west.  All of the images here are courtesy of
the skill and artistry of David Fisher.  Part two of the day was a visit to the torch parade and fireworks at Robertsbridge with Matt's folks and friends, which was phenomenal.  We told Ollie everyone had come out and put on the fireworks for his birthday.  When the finale went off, filling the sky with silver bursts of rockets Ollie shouted "look, they've done domes like at the observatory for my birthday - this is the best birthday ever!"

A massive thank you is due to everyone who made this day perfect from start to finish.