Bringing the Outside In

By Jessica Lopa, Founder and “Dean” of Mommy University

My family absolutely LOVES visiting The Academy of Natural Sciences (or the “Dinosaur Museum” as my kids call it). There is always so much to see, do and learn, which allows for hours of family fun. We love exploring all the exhibits at the Academy, and everyone has their favorite space.

My older son loves seeing the dinosaur fossils, while my little one begs to see the animal dioramas as soon as we get there. My husband loves the rotating exhibits such as Reptiles, Tarantulas, and now Dinosaurs Unearthed. In this article, however, I am going to tell you all about my favorite space at the Academy, Outside In.

Outside In is a fun, interactive play space at the Academy.
Outside In is a fun, interactive play space at the Academy.

Outside In is an amazing space filled with hands-on learning fun. It is geared toward kids ages 3-8 years old, as it plays right into their love of animals, sensory learning, and imaginary play. What I love is that Outside In is a confined space, as it has only one entrance/exit. This decreases the chance of kids running off in different directions, or to other areas of the museum. It also offers parents areas to sit and relax while they watch their kids play and learn.

Outside In brings the love of the outdoors INSIDE the museum. It is a fun way for kids to learn about and explore the great outdoors while staying cool from the heat, dry from the rain, or safe on a wintery day. It allows kids to learn about the outdoors all-year round. Outside In offers some amazing spaces for kids to learn through play. My boys could spend hours in this one area, as there is so much to do. In this article, I am going share some of my family’s favorite spaces to play in Outside In.


Amazing Spaces in Outside In

Examine specimens up close with the giant microscope.
Examine specimens up close with the giant microscope.

The Giant Microscope

My son loves this station, as he is able to really investigate different pieces of nature. Kids can place various objects, or even their own hands under the giant microscope and see it up close on the screen in front of them. This sparks conversations about what objects look like and how they differ. At times, museum staff will even place insects under the microscope for guests to examine.




The Eagle’s Nest

The Eagle’s Nest is my little one’s favorite area, and he runs right for it as soon as we enter Outside In. This space consists of a large pretend eagle’s nest with three large eggs to play with. My boys always make new friends in this space with whom they create fun games and stories. This area is wonderful for teaching kids all about eagles and how they care for their young. It also offers gross motor fun and sparks the imagination.

Play with eggs and learn more about eagles at the eagles' nest.
Play with eggs and learn more about eagles at the eagles’ nest.
Search for shark teeth at the shark teeth dig site.
Search for shark teeth at the shark teeth dig site.


Shark Teeth Fossil Dig

This is my older son’s favorite space to explore within Outside In. Along the back wall kids can sift through sand to find various shark teeth fossils. On the wall is a picture chart showing the shark each tooth belongs to. This is a fun, sensory learning activity that kids can enjoy together or independently. It is a wonderful way to learn about sharks and fossils.






Hold and touch live animals.
Hold and touch live animals.


Live Animals

During your stay at Outside In, the staff will bring out a variety of animals. From rabbits to turtles to bugs, there is always something cool to see and learn about. Kids can also touch/pet the animals, allowing for even more hands-on learning. In addition to being able to touch live animals, guests can also observe a variety of animals, reptiles and bugs throughout Outside In. My kids love walking around, observing, and learning about different creatures.



Rock Trivia

My son loves the rock trivia area, as he is very interested in learning about volcanoes and meteorites. This area is located along a small wall in the center of Outside In. The wall is lined with various rocks with question cards hanging above them. It is a real hands-on learning experience, especially for the older kids in the room. Kids can learn about where rocks and minerals come from, as well as the different colors and textures they possess.

Play and build sand castles at the beach.
Play and build sand castles at the beach.

The Beach

You don’t need to go down the shore to enjoy the beach! The Academy offers year-round beach fun within Outside In. The beach space is a large sandbox filled with sand toys allowing for hours of sensory play. While playing, kids aren’t just building sand castles, they are also building fine motor, language and social skills.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to love Outside In at The Academy of Natural Sciences. What area would your child explore first?

This article was originally posted by the blog Mommy University. A note from the author:

We are so unbelievably excited and honored to partner with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Mommy University was provided a membership in exchange for sharing with our readers all the amazing Academy adventures for the entire year including brain boosting exhibits, events and programs. I hope you will follow us along this incredible journey!

Photos courtesy of Jessica Lopa/Mommy University.


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