Future Ticia 2019 is here, it’s ten years and a few months later and the Austin Science and Nature Center is still a favorite field trip for our family. When the kids were in early elementary we probably headed there about once a month, maybe even more often. I’m leaving the old material with comments where it’s out of date and will update it with current pictures after our field trip on Thursday. It is probably the best elementary or preschool Austin area field trip.
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Visitor Center at the Austin Science and Nature Center
Yesterday we went to the Austin Nature and Science Center. I love this place, it’s on the other side of Austin from us, so I tend to not remember how cool it is.
There are about five different areas in there to explore and even after spending 2 hours we did not spend anywhere near all the time we could have.
First, there’s a visitor’s center with three areas:
1. recreation of the natural habitat with a cave to walk into and rocks to climb on and a tree that you can lift up pieces and see what’s inside. My kids have easily spent an hour there enacting different adventures they’ve come up with. It’s really hilarious.
This is from our field trip in August 2019, about 10 years after I first wrote this post. You’ll notice that cave isn’t quite as impressive in relation to them. This time they were much more intrigued by the traveling exhibit about carbon nanotubes.
2. an explore nature center, you can pull cleaned animal bones, rocks, and various other artifacts off shelves and look at them under big microscopes and feel them. Also, you can bring in artifacts to be examined and earn points to take home some of the stuff they have on exhibit.
3. A trading counter. This has been my kids’ favorite part to explore. When you bring in something from nature to trade and tell them all about how and where you found it and as much as you’ve learned about it. Then you will get points for the items you brought, and then you can turn around and spend your points on items other kids have brought in. There are some amazing items you can find there, animal skulls, various bug molts, a snakeskin, the variety is quite spectacular. (I’ll get an updated picture when we go there on Thursday)
Head outside to the best free zoo in Austin
This is the first time we actually looked at the animals they have here. They’re all native animals that have been rescued, so there are quite a few birds and coyotes and such. There’s also the world’s cutest raccoon that used to be a pet and now loves to play games with visitors. They had so much fun talking about the different animals.
Future Ticia 2019 here, there are three different portions to the zoo. First, is the portion shown up above, this includes several small reptiles or amphibians, and some birds. It can be a nice break after visiting the other two areas because it is inside and somewhat air-conditioned, but it is also the first part you will run into after you exit the visitor center.
The second area is the rescue mammals. Most of these are former pets that really shouldn’t have been pets. Why would anyone choose to have a skunk as their pet? Because all of these animals are habituated to people, they cannot survive in the wild. There are also a few animals that have been injured, usually in an accident with a car, and they also cannot be returned to the wild because of a permanent injury. We came on field trips to specifically observe this area when studying land animals.
The third area has mostly birds, and all of these are permanently injured. There are some amazing birds of prey to observe, and I love to watch the roadrunner who is in the same area as a tortoise. We went on several field trips to observe this area when we were studying Flying Creatures.
Next on your visit to the Austin Science and Nature Center: Dinosaur Dig
Superman is on the left (I put these labels in here because otherwise in 2 weeks I’m going to look at this picture and have no idea which child is which, it’s really sad; Future Ticia 2019 here, it really was necessary)
There’s a dino dig site. They’ve made cast replicas of some dinosaur bones found in the area and you can dig it out of the sand and pebbles. There’s a nice supply of shovels to be used. My kids love this area. Of course, we did this backward, and we should have gone here first and then the water, but we just did the water twice. There is also a giant dino rib cage you can walk through, and if you’re feeling creative, you can pretend you are caught in jail or a trap or any number of other ideas my kids had fun playing over our many trips here.
Finally, play in the water at the science and nature center
Future Ticia 2019 here, after a few times going to the Austin Science and Nature Center, I figured out the best way to enjoy it is to end at the creek. It cleans off all the sand, and by the time we’ve walked back to our car in the Texas heat, we’re almost completely dry.
The water area is really just a shallow stream that you can walk through and jump from rock to rock. At it’s deepest it get to about knee level on my 2-year-old. It’s perfect. It can be slippery though, so be aware of that. Now my kids just take their shoes off and happily splash in the water.
Three Big Tips for visiting the Austin Science and Nature Center
- Bring up to 5 items from nature for each child they’ve found, and have them practice what they will tell about it.
- Pack a lunch. You can spent a very long time here.
- Head to the creek last, so that you clean off all the sand and dirt from the other play areas.
Ways to extend the learning from this field trip
- Homemade Zoo Animals Book
- Animal Observation Form
- Why do birds have different types of beaks?
- Create a bird-watching station
- How to design the perfect animal habitat