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Make Friends with a Butterfly: Visiting the American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural HistoryWinter puts a serious crimp in our weekend fun. In warm weather, a lovely Saturday morning can be found at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a short walk from home. There, Felix, a very active three-and-a-half, sprints and plays to his heart’s content while Mommy and Daddy take turns exercising. Finding indoor activities that accommodate our son’s high-energy, hands-on approach to life is tough, but we figured something at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) would appeal to him, and if it didn’t, the meadows of Central Park spread out just across the street.

AMNH’s dioramas of mounted animals gorillas and giraffes, deer and wolves, displayed in recreations of their natural habitats caught his attention for a few minutes. I don’t think he’d ever realized how big some of these animals were in real life! They also sparked an interesting discussion about how you can tell the difference between living and dead creatures.

One of my favorite things about traveling with my son is how he questions everything for example, on our walk to the Museum we saw the moon in the afternoon sky. “Why is the moon awake in the daytime?” Felix wondered. And then: Is it the same moon we see at night? Why, when we walk, does it follow us? He often reminds me the world’s an amazing place.

From the dioramas we toured the rooms full of dinosaur bones. As a boy, I had a thing for dinosaurs, or at least a book about dinosaurs that I loved pouring over. Felix has less of a context, and besides, the bones don’t move and can’t be touched. The electronic kiosks scattered around the exhibit did both. A click of a button and they illustrated how the continents spread from one large mass (Pangaea) to their current positions. Felix took this journey through time again and again; he likes pushing buttons.

After a quick, disappointing run around the ramp that surrounds the Hayden Planetarium Felix thought we were going to ride an actual spaceship to the stars, not look at models our turn came to visit The Butterfly Conservatory. A tropical forest full of evergreens grows inside what looks like a hybrid greenhouse/bunker on AMNH’s first floor. Butterflies hung from the boughs and flitted through the air, settling to insert their long proboscises into plump orange wedges. Felix entered a calm state of intent watchfulness. When a black and blue spotted butterfly landed on a branch a few inches from his face, Felix waved at it. The butterflies wings pulsed up and down, and Felix waved again. They seemed to be having a conversation through gesture. “You saying hi to that butterfly?” I said.

“Don’t look at me, Da-da,” Felix said. “I want privacy.”

Ok, then. The boy took his time walking through the exhibit, waving hello, watching the butterflies eat, asking questions about their wings. We saw chrysalises and caterpillars, and the heat provided a welcome break from the February chill.

We never did make it to Central Park.

 

Nuts and Bolts

The American Museum of Natural History is located at 79th Street and Central Park West in New York City. The Butterfly Conservatory exhibit runs through May 27, 2013. For information about hours and planning your visit, check out the Museum’s website.

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