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.