Monthly Archives: October 2012

Cockrell Butterfly Center

We have visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science on many occasions, both for organized field trips and casual family visits.  Recently we visited the Cockrell Butterfly Center for the first time with our Homeschool Group.

The center is divided into two parts: The Brown Hall of Entomology and the Rain Forest Conservatory spread over three stories.  While not forced, there is a general flow to the exploration.  (Don’t worry, if you want to back track or need to make a quick trip to the restroom, there are several short cuts.)  Visitors enter on the main museum level.  Be sure to bring your cameras as there are numerous photographic opportunities.

We were immediately encouraged to go upstairs to the “Amazing World of Arthropods”.  Our group spent over an hour in this highly interactive area.  Not only does it showcase live creatures (hissing cockroaches anyone?), there are also video presentations, a quiz-like game for multiple players, lift-the-flap discovery boards, and a Chrysalis Corner where we watched new butterflies hatch.  One of my favorite parts were the giants casts made so that we could see what an ant’s tunnel system looks like.

After a bit, we entered the rain forest section.  We were absolutely blown away by the number of butterflies about.  We had to be incredibly conscious of the fact that they would land on the ground where we were walking.  Almost immediately they began to rest on any child who stood still for a few moments.  (Not every child thought this was fantastic and one became quite upset.)  The walkway winds around and downward through the habitat allowing plenty of opportunity for kids of all heights and interests to have a convenient view of a variety of plants and butterflies.

As we made our way to the main level, we were thrilled when an employee took the time to show the kids where butterflies had laid their eggs on various leaves.  She even gently pulled some higher leaves within view so that we could see the caterpillars on the back.

Again the walkway descended and we made our way past a fabulous waterfall.  (See featured image at very top)  After spending another hour, we passed through the main rain forest exit leading directly into “Entomologist’s Lab.”

We were greeted by microscopes, books, and trays of bugs to examine.  There were also several exhibits on how various cultures make meals from an array of insects.  Again, several video screens offer an in-depth look into topics such as bee keeping while interactive games allowed our children to help the spider hunt down their meal of flies.

Visitors are then directed back up to the main level for the “Land of Beeyond”.  Lined with several benches, this is a great spot for Dad & Mom to relax while kids continue to explore.  They can pretend they are in a giant bee hive, sort wooden shapes into various plant structures, or sit and read.

Recommended ages: Any.  Those who normally have toddlers in strollers might consider parking them for this adventure.  While there are elevators & ramps in most areas ~ you’ll find it cumbersome to explore in this fashion.  We were pleased with how the exhibits had something for all ages and heights.

Anything we wish was different? We’ve had friends who have gone in the past who had the opportunity for more interaction with the bugs and even a green iguana.  Perhaps we missed it or they weren’t doing it on this particular day, but it would have been nice to have posted times for special animal showings.  It would have been great if the reading nook had contained books about bugs.  Most of them were just “generic early readers”.  It was definitely a missed opportunity.

How do I set up a trip?  For an individual family visit, tickets can be purchased online or at the door.  On this visit we booked via Field Trips and received the school group rate of $2.50 per person.  We have found HMNS to be receptive to homeschoolers, incredibly flexible, and excellent at communicating regarding what to expect.

A note about parking.  There is a parking garage adjacent to the museum for $10.  Those on school field trips receive a discounted rate of $6 (payable inside at the box office).  There is a great deal of free parking around the museum.  These spots have a 3 hour maximum.  Within a very short walk, there is free parking at the Houston Garden Center.  This also has a 3 hour maximum.  However, when it’s not busy (like during the school year) they generally don’t enforce it.  You’ll know they’re tracking if they chalk your tire.  😉

What else is there to do nearby?  For additional admission costs, you can explore HMNS’s Permanent Exhibits, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Burke Planetarium, or Special Exhibits.  HMNS is directly across from Hermann Park.  There are numerous places to spread out & picnic as well as playgrounds and walking paths.  We have often “made a day of it” and visited Houston Garden Center, Japanese Gardens, or the Reflection Pool.  Each of these are free admission and within walking distance.

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Categories: $5.00 or less, $5.01-$10, Elementary, Field Trips, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blue Bell Creamery

Texans have been enjoying Blue Bell’s creations for over a century.  Blue Bell ice creams and novelties have been a dessert staple in the South since the 50’s and their territory continues to grow.  Despite their expansion and much to the chagrin to those on the West Coast and far North ~ it’s only available in 20 states.  They offer tours in Brenham, Texas as well as Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama.

We recently enjoyed our second visit to the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham.  Both times we’ve toured with our homeschool group and been pleased to receive a significant discount over the “walk-in” rates.  We were impressed both times and will continue to recommend this tour, both for it’s educational value and high “fun” factor.

Tours run Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 3pm.  The guided part last about 45 minutes, however, I would plan on at least 90 to allow plenty of time to explore the Tour Center, Country Store, and Baseball Museum.  Be sure to call ahead to reduce wait time as reservations take precedence over walk-in guests.  Also, during the winter months ~ the factory is often closed one or two days a week due to decreased production.

The learning begins even before the tour starts.  The tour center is filled with video presentations about Blue Bell, how certain products are manufactured, and the history of their products.  There is a large “timeline” that covers 20 linear feet of wall space.  Cameras are not permitted on the tour to protect the privacy of the employees, but don’t leave your camera in the car.  There are tons of “photo ops” in the tour center and after the guided portion through the factory.

On both visits we have been impressed with the personality and knowledge of the tour guide.  They convey of deep level of respect for Blue Bell and their fellow employees.  Both women were also quick to encourage the children to ask questions and give plenty of time for observation.  Utilizing either stairs or an elevator large enough to accommodate several strollers/wheelchairs, our party headed up a level and meandered along several corridors.  Before arriving at the factory portion, the walls were covered in posters of nostalgic and current flavors of ice cream as well as many novelty items.  Our guide covered some history of both the owner and the creamery and provided stats pertaining to the manufacturing process.  After a short walk, we arrived to a series of windows overlooking how ingredients are stored, mixed, and packaged.  Employees working down below often smiled and waved much to the delight of the kids on our tour.  This last visit, we had the honor of watching the first batch of their newest Christmas flavor “Gingerbread House” ~ gingerbread, sprinkles, and marshmallows blended together with vanilla icing ice cream.  Our children also enjoyed watching how ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, and Rocky Road were made.

We learned what the different “rims” mean to shoppers ~ Gold, Brown, & Blue.  We also learned how the company decides which flavors are year-round, which are seasonal, and which are temporary.  And yes, they really do “eat all they can and sell the rest.”

The tour ends at an ice cream parlor where all guests are treated to a free (and generous!) scoop of ice cream.  Any extra scoops are $1 each.  There’s a “Country Store” adjacent where you can select from a variety of Blue Bell Merchandise for sale.   There are plenty of tables & chairs to share flavors and talk of the favorite parts of the factory.  After wiping your face & washing your hands (yes, sinks right there in the parlor) it’s another flight of stairs down to the baseball museum.

There’s additional picture opportunities outside with several statues and an antique ice cream delivery truck.

Recommended Ages: Any.  We found the staff and the experience to be positive for any age.  Everyone from toddlers to teens had a great time.

Anything we wish was different?  That there were TWO free scoops of ice cream! 😉  Really, this is a great tour.  As a field trip coordinator, I wish they communicated via e-mail.  Everything is via phone and a confirmation comes in the mail.  However, they are incredibly flexible when it comes to enrollment changes and it is truly a “homeschool friendly” facility and tour.

How do I set up a trip? You need to call them.  You can find more information about tours and contact information on their website.  The cost varies depending on the time of year and whether it is a group or individual tour.  Our tour as a homeschool group in the Fall was free.

What else is there to do nearby?  Both times our tour was earlier in the day and we enjoyed picnicking at nearby Fireman’s Park.

Categories: $5.00 or less, Brenham, By City, By Cost, Day Trips, Factory, Free, Tours | Leave a comment

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