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Child's play: Fernbank set to open exhibit about environment

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
 Joseph Macauley, 6, and his sister Sofia, 7, test out a hands-on video display on archaeology on Wednesday at the new NatureQuest exhibit at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. 

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Joseph Macauley, 6, and his sister Sofia, 7, test out a hands-on video display on archaeology on Wednesday at the new NatureQuest exhibit at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. 

ATLANTA — Fernbank Museum of Natural History will officially open its expansive new children’s exhibition, Fernbank NatureQuest, on March 19.

The nearly 7,000-square-foot exhibition is one of the most significant additions to the museum since the world’s largest dinosaurs moved into Fernbank’s Great Hall in 2001.

The $8 million exhibition will offer Fernbank’s youngest visitors a different kind of museum experience, where children will be engaged through more than 100 interactive encounters as they explore an immersive, nature-inspired environment filled with live animals and hands-on learning, according to a news release.

Fernbank NatureQuest will allow visitors ages 2 through 10 into a world that belongs to the young with a working clubhouse built among the giant trees. Visitors can climb up a tree and cross elevated rope bridges for an aerial view of the immense expedition that awaits.

Special interactive opportunities exist in every nook and cranny. Highlights include “night vision binoculars” that reveal the landscapes and inhabitants in the twilight hours; a realistic archaeology dig with layered artifacts for exploration; a traversable cave filled with fossils, geodes, echoes and speleothems; a magic mirror that brings objects placed in front of it to life, including an acorn that grows into a tree and a fossilized trilobite that suddenly stirs again after 500 million years; and a simulated river that ripples as you cross and scatters with fish when you “splash.”

“When we set out to design a new children’s exhibition over four years ago, our goal was to create an experience where visitors would be challenged, engaged and able to explore in ways that cultivate curiosity — just like real scientists,” said Fernbank’s President and CEO, Susan Neugent. “This was our opportunity to create a museum experience like no other, where children are part of the exhibition, not just observers. The sophisticated experiences in NatureQuest will inspire further investigation year after year.”

Inside the clubhouse, visitors can find exploration cards that offer tips on how to explore, where to look and what to search for next, including suggestions for parents on how to investigate each habitat, special scavenger hunts for deeper explorations and “ologist cards” that provide a directed investigation of the exhibition through the eyes of different scientists, such as an archaeologist, geologist, a zoologist, a marine biologist and others.

As visitors set off on their journey, they’ll be able to explore the clubhouse as well as six diverse ecosystems: the ocean/estuary, swamp, pine flatwoods, forest, waterfall/river and caves. Each region offers a reflection of what can be found in Georgia’s ecosystems while revealing the habitats they provide for a variety of animals.

“Fernbank NatureQuest speaks to visitors in a way that children’s exhibitions haven’t typically done in the past,” said Cindy Sheehy, Fernbank’s Director of Family and Children’s Programming and a key member of the exhibition design team. “The exhibition empowers children to learn without directions by featuring activities that are open-ended with something to see, something to investigate or something to do literally everywhere you go with no set path on how to get there.”