We went to the National Space Centre in Leicester recently. Is anything more exciting for a small boy than actually seeing a real rocket close up? I’d never been before so didn’t know what to expect but as a family we have thrown ourselves whole-heartedly into the experience and we’ve got a lot out of it.
To help the boys get the most out of the experience I started preparing early. I particularly wanted E (who is 4) to have the chance to start thinking about all the different topics that the centre covered, space flight, the solar system, the universe, working in space and even aliens so my first stop, like any good blogger was Pinterest. I went on a hunt for resources, crafts and book ideas and came up with quite a few (have a look here) and a couple of requests to fellow bloggers on Facebook and Google+ turned up even more. I’ve done a round up of some of my favourite ideas here so if you feel like building your own solar system or making some moon dust before you visit the space centre pop over for some tips. I’ll also be posting a list of my favourite space related books later this week. I’ve done some uni level physics courses since having E so I’m reasonably confident talking about a lot of these topics and Hubs is an engineer which handily helps him deal with the aspects I’m not so hot on but both of us found E actually came up with some quite challenging questions so I’m glad we had some resources to help us start talking about these things in a way he would understand.
We arrived quite soon after opening and there were loads of parking spaces which is always a relief. I did notice there was an entire (empty) row of disabled parking spaces but no parent and child spaces which did make me think they might be expecting families with older kids. Our tickets had been prebooked but unfortunately we still ended up waiting quite a while to get in as the ticket desk staff seemed a bit confused about who they were supposed to be dealing with and then had problems finding our booking but they were very friendly so it wasn’t really a problem.
The main centre is divided into sections covering everything to do with space. My favourite was the planet area, describing each in turn. Hubs loved the ‘into space’ area that focused on rockets, how they are made and how they function in space. E loved the brilliant show in the planetarium which talked about the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe and ‘tranquility base’ which had a range of hands on exhibits where he could try to mine moon rock or move his chair through space. It was a really comprehensive range of exhibits that was well presented and engaging. My only criticism would be that with so much information to get across, they did rely heavily on the written word which was a bit frustrating for E who obviously needed us to read it all out for him.
Seeing the rocket in the main tower really was impressive and probably the highlight of the day for all of us. The exhibit included a lot of detail about the world at the time of the space race which added another cultural dimension to the experience.
While some of the centre was a bit advanced for E, poor old T really was a bit young to appreciate most of what was on offer but they have tried to offer something for the little ones, with astronaut costumes for them to wear in the rocket section, some colouring tables half way round and a little play room but to be honest I probably wouldn’t choose to take a toddler again as he did find it a bit frustrating. The multiple levels were also difficult with the pushchair due to the small lifts, not all of which were working and they didn’t have any highchairs in the cafe which I was surprised by as that is something you can usually expect.
I’d really recommend the centre for adults or families with older children as it was full of well thought out, interesting exhibits. Personally, I think very young children won’t get a lot out of it and for those children in between (say 3-6 years old) I’d really suggest doing some preparation in terms of talking about the topics before hand and reading some age appropriate books to help them make the most of it. We’ll definitely go back again when the boys are a bit older.
[Note: We were given a free family ticket for the National Space Centre by the MoneySupermarket Vouchers site for the purpose of the review. All thoughts are my own.]