Is it safe to visit a museum? What are the cleaning protocols? Will my kids like it? These are the burning questions swirling around in these unique times. Richmond on the Cheap sent writer Lindsay Garrison to review the new Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia and to find out what it’s like to visit the popular and engaging attraction at this time.
My family has been long time fans of the Science Museum of Virginia. Permanent exhibits include: racing an Olympic champion sprinter, playing air hockey against a fierce opponent: a robot, and measuring the speed of your soccer ball kick. All of these can be found on the first floor, along with several other interactive exhibits. While this would be enough to make any family add the Science Museum of Virginia (SMV) to its rotation for indoor activities; the current exhibit, ‘Mental Health: Mind Matters,’ and the careful attention to visitor safety makes this a top choice activity for families in Virginia.
From the moment tickets are purchased online, SMV prioritizes your safety without compromising the experience. Each ticket is purchased for a designated 90 minute slot. Upon entering the museum, each family has an individual table noted with the party’s name, stickers that represent tickets, and a stylus for each person in your party. The stylus is key, because most of the exhibits have activities that are hands-on. By using the stylus, visitors refrain from touching the same surfaces as others. In addition to the no touch check-in, and minimizing high touch point surfaces, hand sanitizer abounds. The stations are placed at exhibit entrances and all throughout the museum. As a final step to ensure visitor safety, volunteers are in the museum helping to maintain social distancing.
During our visit, we first spent about 20 minutes with the permanent exhibits. We never grow bored of these. “The robot beat me again but I am going to keep practicing for when we come back” said my three year old after his intense air hockey match versus the robot.
Before heading to the new exhibit, Mind Matters, we rode the elevator to the second floor makerspace, FORGE, and my first-grade daughter’s favorite activity: creating your own wallpaper. “I love choosing the colors I want and seeing the wall covered in butterflies,” she tells me as part of her plea to make her own bedroom walls resemble her creation. STEM, coding and computer loving kids are sure to love FORGE. SMV offers workshops for children 8+ in their makerspace.
The absolute best part of our day was spent visiting Mental Health: Mind Matters, the SMV’s current exhibit. We talk and read a lot about feelings in our family, but mental health is not something we have ever talked directly about with our children. I worried the exhibit might be over their heads or have part we should skip; I was terribly wrong. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, taking what we learned and saw in this exhibit opened so many conversations with both of my children.
The exhibit is incredibly engaging for all ages. The worry shredder in particular was a hit for us. We wrote down several worries and fed them into the shredder, and I have to admit it was very liberating. “I shredded all my worries. They disappeared and I will never see them again” declared my son. That activity is one we will certainly recreate at home.
Other highlights include: logic, memory, and facial expression/emotion recognition tests, exercising your way to feeling better through dance, a four person game to learn more about symptoms of various mental health issues, and creating art as a way of relieving stress. Like my daughter, Eloise said, “I always knew dancing made me happy. Now I know to do it, especially if I am sad”.
Parents and children will connect in the children specific portion of the exhibit. Snuggling on a bean bag chair and reading Duck & Goose How are you Feeling? with my son was an especially tender moment. In this area there are also several books geared toward helping parents support children through mental health concerns.
The most poignant part of the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit for me was comparing mental illness to other conditions like asthma. There should not be stigma or shame involved in mental illness. This analogy is a reminder we all could use from time to time and creates a bridge of empathy and understanding.
As a parent, teacher and friend, I want to protect everyone I love from struggling with mental health. Unfortunately, as Mind Matters shows us, that is not always possible; but, given the tools demonstrated in the exhibit I am reminded of ways to help maintain good mental health; and ways to support those suffering through mental illness.
Our family had some important conversations on the way home from the museum, with the resounding theme that no matter how our children are feeling they can always tell us. Families who visit this exhibit will be grateful for the conversations that derive from it, just as we are.
The “Mental Health: Mind Matters” exhibit will be at the Museum through August 29, 2021.
Entry to “Mental Health: Mind Matters” is included with Museum admission. Museum members and children two and under are admitted free. The Museum offers discounts for military, teachers and EBT cardholders. Museum operating hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry on Wednesdays in April is $10 admission.
Richmond on the Cheap contributor Lindsay Garrison is a Richmond, Virginia based mom to two young children. A graduate from Chesterfield Schools and Randolph-Macon College, Lindsay is proud to call Richmond home. In the years prior to planning activities and outings with her own children, she was a French teacher. During her tenure she earned accolades for her creative teaching style and ability to connect with her students. Lindsay now applies the skills she learned when she was planning student trips to France, to her own family adventures. She can’t wait to take her own children to France one day! Follow the Garrison’s family adventures on Instagram: @thegarrisonsrva
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