Visiting the Burke Museum with kids is very different now than it was before the pandemic. But there’s still plenty there to amaze, inform and entertain.
What’s changed: The alcoves that used to have books and hands-on activities now have empty tables. Hands-on elements of displays are now “deactivated.” A couple seem like relics of remote and oblivious time. (Example: “Scents of Washington State,” with a row of little jars to lean over and sniff. What were they thinking?). The museum reset all the touch screens to play video loops, which babble in the background everywhere you go. When you enter most exhibits, there’s a sign telling you whether to walk clockwise or counterclockwise.
But while you may not be able to touch, there’s more here to see than anyone can absorb in one visit.
You could see the changes as an opportunity to get a new perspective on the museum. Instead of going straight to the interactive things, families have space to notice different things.
From the art and everyday objects in the cultural exhibits to three-dimensional web of life in the Biology gallery, there’s plenty to spark questions and conversations. A chart on the floor of the Paleontology exhibit maps out geological time, from now to the beginning of the fossil record. (If they included the origin of the universe, it would be down the street, in the Henry Gallery.)
The Paleontology gallery was my favorite, and not just because of the many amazing mounted skeletons. (Though those are super cool). In between the wow factor, there’s a perspective fossil record gives us about the forces that shape the world, and how species rise and collapse. One detail that stays with me: a soil sample from Montana with the iridium layer left from the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs.
See science at work
Which brings me to another great thing about the Burke Museum. You not only learn about the the world, you learn about the methods scientists use to understand the world. On the second and third floor galleries, you can look through windows into the labs where scientists work with the collections. Kids learn what science is made of: careful, hard work, with people observing, recording, counting and measuring.
In these weird times, it’s great to have such a reminder of the strength of the scientific method.
But the biggest reason to go to the Burke Museum might be this one: it is a safe, pleasant place which is not your house. And on days when it’s crummy outside, we all need that.
Fighting the temptation to touch
Still, the need to avoid touching is a challenge. Kids are always touching things. It’s part of the job of being a kid.
Over the next couple of weeks, the museum is adding decals on the floor to invite movement. For example, tracks on the floor in the biology gallery will invite kids to try and walk like different kinds of animals, says Andrea Godinez, the Burke’s Public Relations and Marketing manager.
Another strategy: give your kid something to hold onto. Maybe a stuffed animal friend needs a tour of the museum. (The drawback of this strategy is that you now have to keep track of the special stuffed animal, as well as the kids, how well everyone is distancing and which way “clockwise” is.)
Take your time
Or you could occupy them with a game. The museum has a “Husky Scavenger Hunt” setting kids in search of stuffed huskies around the building, with the aid of a map. (Bonus: the map also gives your child something to do with her hands.)
You could make up your own scavenger hunt, if you wish, with challenges such as “find an animal with more than 20 teeth.” Or you could let the kids set a scavenger hunt for you. Though if your kids are like mine, the questions will be way too hard (“find an animal with exactly 32 teeth”) which I find a bit much, given that at best I get 70 percent on the “which way is clockwise?” challenge.
Also, keep in mind you can go at your own pace. Although your ticket has a specific time for when you begin your visit, you can stay as long as you like, or you can take a break, go outside or stop for a kid-friendly meal at the Off the Rez Café, and then come back.
“You can go outside and come in as often as you want,” Godinez says.
Hours and prices
The Burke Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $22 for adults, $14 for kids aged 4 to 17, and free for kids three and younger.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, and other “First Thursdays” of the month the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with free admission. To get entry, reserve tickets online. This month, the Burke Museum is one of only two museums in town participating in First Thursday (the other is the National Nordic Museum.)