I absolutely love taking my kids out and about to explore and do new things. We've done all the museums, and love going to all of the incredible parks, libraries, and outdoor movie screenings in our hometown, San Antonio. But sometimes you just want to get out and try something new. So the kids and I drove up to Johnson city the other weekend to check out the Hill Country Science Mill about an hour north of the city. We arrived just in time for lunch and enjoyed the rest of our afternoon playing, learning, laughing, and fueling our curiosity. I'd love to share our visit with you--and hope it inspires your own trip out to this incredible interactive science center!
We started off with lunch at the Lady Bird Lane Cafe
(which is connected to the museum). A friend recommended the food there, and I was impressed to see that they had a great selection of organic and all-natural items on their menu. I went with the bacon, tomato, avocado, and Havarti cheese sandwich, and the kids all had organic hot dogs.
I loved the overall aesthetic of the museum building--they repurposed an historic feed mill built in 1880 (y'all know how much I love reuse).
The museum is focused on science and technology, so when you check in the kids get a badge to scan at a kiosk in the lobby and create their own avatar (who's bilingual, btw). They use this badge to check in at the different stations throughout the museum, and record their favorite exhibits. After your trip, the kids can take their badge home and track their experience online. It was fun watching the avatar pop up when the kids scanned their badges, which made learning about the exhibits even more fun.
The first things you see in the lobby are a large K'NEX ferris wheel created by a local high school student, and a musical fruit stand that used electric currents sent through different produce to create music--the kids needed no explanation at all with that one and jumped right. That's how it was with all of the exhibits and activities, actually--it was fun to see them excited about trying everything out.
The first main room after the lobby included a banana piano, an AC/DC station that the boys got to try out some electrical current experiments on, and one of my favorites, an augmented reality topography map made from sand. Every time you increased or decreased the depth of the sand, the projected topography map would adjust with it to create bodies of water, valleys, and hills--it brought playing in sand to an entirely different level! This room also had an interactive chemical reactions screen where you could combine different elements and learn about what they created when put together.
The next room featured an explosion station which used electrolysis to demonstrate the transformation of electrical energy into chemical energy, launching a ping-pong ball up a tube with a nice loud bang--my boys loved this one, of course! My favorite was the giant spirograph, and the boys put on their zen faces for a game of Mindball to see who could calm their brainwaves to move a ball across the table.
The silos along the back of the building housed an immersive experience in each room. The Fractalarium was mesmerizing--the light installation was built to resemble Romanesco brocolli. The colorful LED lights changed in waves and the mirror table helped get a great view from below.
There was also a cell phone disco in another silo. When you used your phone in the room, the electromagnetic waves made the wall of lights dance up towards the ceiling--and the shut off as soon as you stopped.
Some of our favorites in the Bio Lab were the 3D video station which allowed you to pick up and manipulate objects in virtual reality, and me be the photo geek that I am, I absolutely loved the cell phone microscope station. Along with real microscopes and slides, you could use your cell phone camera as a microscope to view premade slides of various items. I can't remember what it was, but I took a snapshot of one of the slides with my camera in the photo above.
I was also intrigued by the recycled jellyfish installation off in the corner!
One of the boys' favorite stations was the build-your-own K'NEX race car. After building their cars (which they spent about 45 minutes immersed in creating), they got to race them across an electric track.
Another room around the corner had a giant globe that showed all of the airplanes in the skies all around the world in real time (the U.S. probably the most lights!).
There was also a 3D theatre where we got to sit back and enjoy a show all about bugs. It was really well-made (and narrated by Judy Dench), and it was a great break from all of our running around. The show runs on a schedule, so be sure to check out the times at the front desk so you don't miss it!
There was even more to explore out back, with a giant lever (great for tug of war), a kinetic sculpture, and a giant wave pendulum. There are also art displays in some of the silos you can access from the back, but unfortunately you can only see them during designated tour times and we missed out those--another reason for us to go back!
Overall we had an incredible time, and will definitely be recommending the Science Mill to all of our friends with kids. There’s still so much more for you to see than what I shared here, too. For a hands-on immersive experience integrating science and technology for kids--this is the probably best place around!