Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age

Today, we had the chance to go to one of the few museums in the St. Louis area that we’ve never visited–the Missouri History Museum.

The reason for our trip? To see a special traveling exhibit, on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago–Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age.

For some inexplicable reason, I have always loved wooly mammoths. Maybe it’s because they found a skeleton of one near where I grew up, so I heard a lot about them. Or maybe it’s because they’re just so darn cute. But when I heard that this was going to be a featured exhibit at the museum, I knew I really wanted to go, even if it didn’t directly tie in to anything we’re learning about this year. The only problem? While admission to the museum is free, admission to the exhibit is most definitely not. And let’s face it…when you have a family of six, (soon to be seven), admission costs are a big obstacle to going to this kind of thing.

But then I learned about “Homeschool Days” at the Missouri History Museum. They run one such day every month from September to May, featuring a variety of topics and exhibits. The best part? Free admission when you pre-register. I’ve been planning this field trip for months, and praying that I wouldn’t have any pregnancy complications that would prevent us from attending. Thankfully, we were able to go, and we had a great time. I, especially, was impressed with the activities that they had scheduled to go along with the gallery visit.

I was also very impressed with how they handled registration/distribution of materials. One week before the scheduled event, they open up registrations online. And, as I’m always up at four a.m. these days anyway, I’m guessing I was one of the first to register, which was actually a good thing, as space is limited, and it was very crowded, even early in the day. When you get to the museum, you’re directed to a specific room to pick up your (free!) tickets, as well as a packet of information, including a map showing all of the scheduled activities for the day, and additional activities to do at home, including some fun mammoth role-playing games.

We chose to go to the main exhibit hall right away, and I’m thankful we did, because by the time we were done looking at everything, there was a 40 minute wait due to the exhibit being filled to capacity. The only drawback to the exhibit was that there was no photography of any kind allowed…I would love to share some pictures of the cool things we saw and did, but descriptions will just have to suffice.

I was most impressed with all of the hands-on activities. While there were plenty of “do not touch” signs, as you would expect, there were also plenty of places with signs that said “please touch me,” which the children loved. They got to feel a replica mammoth tooth and fur, for example. There were also lots of interactive activities, such as a mechanical tusk which the children got to operate, (with a joystick), to pick up “dinner” and “feed” themselves. There was also a lifting station, to see if you could pick up one of the many bales of hay worth of food a mammoth would have eaten in a day–we needed Daddy’s help for that one! Another cool display demonstrated the difference between the sound of elephants, (and mammoths), trumpeting, and the feeling of the vibrations from their “rumbling,” which is another way they communicate with each other, but humans can’t hear. We were also very interested in all of the size comparisons between the different kinds of mammoths, (from the seriously giant Columbian mammoth to the relatively small pygmy mammoth), mastodons, and modern-day elephants. There was so much to see and do in the gallery, it was a great way to spend a morning!

After looking at another of the museum’s permanent exhibits, we went in search of one of the activities the museum was presenting. We decided on making mammoth masks and/or puppets. And, for the record, I joined in myself, and made a puppet. No big surprise there…like I was going to come home without having made a mammoth craft!

By that time, we were ready for lunch, so we cut our losses and left. But there were plenty of other activities in which we could have participated had we so desired, and they all sounded really cool! They had a math workshop, split up by ages, dealing with the big numbers that are encountered when talking about big animals. I thought this activity, in particular, really sounded worthwhile, but unfortunately, it was scheduled right at lunchtime. They also had a play in their theater, as well as a story time for smaller children. There was even an opportunity for children to talk with one of the museum curators.

There are four more cities scheduled to host this exhibit, and two additional blocks of time scheduled for potential other cities. If it’s coming to an area near you, I highly recommend you take some time and visit–it’s a great, interactive learning experience, appropriate for all ages!

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