A shopping mall might not be the first destination that comes to mind for STEM-focused fun and learning with the kids. But when it houses a place like the Children’s Science Center Lab, it makes perfect sense.
The interactive exploration center opened last summer with a mission “to instill a love of learning STEM in all children by providing unique opportunities to explore, create, and be inspired.” They do this through engaging exhibits and fun, interesting experiments, just about all of them hands-on, with something for a variety of ages. We visited shortly after they opened (I only recently realized I never wrote about it), and the kids had a fantastic time exploring them all.
The Lab is sectioned into four exhibit areas:
The Inspiration Hub shows real-world applications of STEM through stations like Chain Reaction, where you manipulate wall mounted ramps and wheels to move a ball from point A to B. Catching the Wind has guests design wind turbines then test them in a small wind farm. There is also a Gear Table, a whole room where you can build with Keva planks, and computers to participate in the design of the future Children’s Science Center.
The Tinker Shop welcomes kids to build, test, and deconstruct with a variety of hands-on projects. We send a good amount of time making flying crafts from paper and tape, then testing their flight capabilities in a vertical wind tube. Kids can also work with circuits and robotics and dissect machines and toys.
The Discovery Zone is designed for ages 5 and under, but my kids had some fun in there, too. That section has a special focus on collaborative learning with parents, caregivers and educators. There’s an Imagination Playground, Light & Shadow Play, and early hands-on science Discovery Boxes.
Finally, the Experiment Bar invites guests to explore the wonders of science through a rotating menu of experiments. With the help of staff and a tablet with instructions, they made magnetic slime and did some fun tests with it. Plus, they got to bring it home!
While the Lab can be experienced by ages 2 and up, it’s especially focused on preschool and elementary aged children — but can definitely be enjoyed by younger and older kids. And along with the permanent exhibits, the Lab occasionally hosts special events with varying themes for different ages groups.
The Lab is a great place to keep in mind for foul-weather days and when you’re seeking educational play. It’s also perfect if you want an outing with the kids and need to do some shopping, too. 🙂
The Children’s Science Center Lab is located at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax at the crossroads of US Interstate 66, Route 50 and West Ox Road. It’s on the lower level in the corridor off the Sears court, just past Cold Stone Creamery, on the left. Hours are 10am – 6pm daily, with occasional extended hours until 8pm. Admission is $12/general, $11/military & seniors, free for 2 and under, and tickets can be purchased online or at the Lab entrance.