Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our Trip to the Imagination Station

We met up with some friends that live in Toledo who have kids around the same age as ours to enjoy a day at the city’s science center – the Imagination Station.  What’s great about the place is that you can combine education with entertainment equating to a whole bunch of family fun.  The Imagination Station is full of interactive experiments, science lessons, and play opportunities that make the experience interesting to kids, and kids at heart, of all ages.

As you first enter the building before you even reach the admission counter, guests are greeted by an extraordinary metal structured puzzle where people whiz balls through a maze that resembles a life-sized version of the board game “Mouse Trap”.  Our kids could have spent the whole just playing here without ever entering the science center itself.  After spending about twenty minutes juggling puzzles through this metallic maze, we moved on into the Imagination Station. Admission is affordable with adult entry (ages 13+) $9, children (3-12) $7, babies and toddlers are FREE, and grandparents get a senior discount (65 and older) $8.

The first thing we came upon was a team of wandering “scientists” demonstrating how to make “smoke hoops”.  The machine they were using created these puffs of smoke that turned into round hoops that drifted through the entry hall.  It was a fun welcome that amazed all the kids and gave all the adults in the crowd a chuckle.

The main atrium hosts a number of special exhibits that we all found pretty fun and interesting.  There is the BOYO which allows people to bungee themselves upward into the air when they pull down on the device; a tennis ball shooter where you launch balls high into the air with the hope of having them land in a target; a roller coaster simulation that bounces you around; and LIVE REPORT which allows you to record an ESPN style sportscast in front of a green screen that is displayed on various TV screens for everyone to witness and enjoy.  There is also the HIGH WIRE CYCLE where you ride a bike across a tight rope 20 feet above the floor.  I have to admit I politely declined a ride … sorry I wimped out!

Branching off from the atrium are several themed areas to explore.  Each has a multitude of experiences to investigate and play with.  We went with a group of kids ranging from 3 to 5 and I have to admit some areas are more suited for older ages than others.  For example, there was a really interesting traveling exhibit on display called Mindbender Mansion that was full of challenging puzzles I would have really enjoyed to work out, but which was just too difficult to do with young children.  Also there is a learning area themed for Engineering where people can design and build airplanes, boats, buildings and bridges.  This would be great for tweens and teens but a little advanced for our merry band of mischief makers.
Other areas where more adaptable for enjoyment by families with children of any age.  For example, the MIND ZONE is full of illusions showing how the mind interprets information.  I was amazed by one demonstration where you touch a COLD pipe a get the feeling it is red HOT wow!  All the kids in our group enjoyed the distorted gravity room where you run through a mock up house that is angled so steep you can hardly keep your balance.  The ENERGY FACTORY has exhibits that use magnetism in a variety of puzzles, games using sunlight to accomplish tasks, and robotic arms you can tinker around with. You may want to bring a change of clothes for WATER WORLD because our kids got soaked!  This area includes a water vortex table (watch out for the bowling ball!), play tables where kids can divert water flow,  learn about erosion and race toy sail boats, and a chamber where you can experience standing in hurricane force winds.

Our kids favorite area was the LITTLE KIDSPACE which is a play area for children kindergarten age and younger.  This is where we spent the bulk of our time at the Imagination Station.  My son loved the fire truck with working siren and lights.  My daughter’s focus was racing around the tree house themed playscape.  Both of them enjoyed shopping at the pretend grocery store and being doctors at the miniature hospital located in this play area.  If you have children in preschool or kindergarten, going just to play at the LITTLE KIDSPACE would be a worthwhile trip in itself.  If you live in the Toledo area, an annual family membership is $70 and would be a good investment if you want to bring your little tots more than once to enjoy the LITTLE KIDSPACE.

We had lunch at their  cafeteria, the ATOMIC CAFÉ, which had a very kid-friendly menu and also a Panini menu for adult tastes.  I was impressed that the menu was priced at about the same rate as going to a fast food restaurant versus the high-prices you often see when eating at a museum, theme park, or movie theater.  That was a very nice surprise for this budget conscious dad!

We arrived right when the science center opened 10 am on a Saturday morning and were pleased that it wasn’t very crowded and we could really enjoy all the displays. Unfortunately, it became very crowded in the afternoon and larger crowds at this facility can really damper the experience.  I highly recommend a morning trip where you plan on wrapping up your stay by around 1 pm.  Parking is also an issue with no nearby parking and you’re being required to find a deck, lot, or street parking a few blocks away.  We were easily able to find street parking nearby but found that several of the parking decks and lots were closed on the weekend when we went.  Also if you go on a weekday you will have to deal with all the people who work downtown when finding a spot.  The Imagination Station does offer valet parking for $7 and that actually probably is a very good deal that you may want to take up if you make a trip to downtown Toledo.
As a geek dad who enjoys having fun with science, constantly learning new things, and combing education with entertainment, I highly recommend a trip to the Imagination Station if you have the opportunity.  Hey, if you go on Father’s Day, the geek dad in your house gets in FREE with a paid child’s admission.  Not to forget the geek moms out there – moms get in FREE on Mother’s Day with a paid child’s admission too!
For more information on the IMAGINATION STATION, visit

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