Down to the final weeks of summer and looking for something fun and educational to do with your family? The Schiele Museum of Natural History & Planetarium in Gastonia is a great place to take your kids! I’m almost embarrassed to say that my kids are 7 and 5-year-old twins and I’m just now discovering it. I’d had mom friends mention it over the years but I never got down there, thinking it seemed out of the way, down I-85. But a couple of weeks ago, we were looking for something new to try and decided it was time. And we were so glad we did!
The two main things we learned…..
1. It’s not at all hard to get there. It was an easy 30-minute trip from door to door and just a few turns off of I-85 South. When you go in the morning, you’re heading against traffic. You drive right past Starbucks and Chick-fil-A at the Cox Road exit, so you have a great mom pick-me-up on the way in, and lunch option on the way out! And parking at the museum is a breeze.
2. The Schiele Museum is worth the trip because it’s a much newer, more spacious and upgraded option than what we have in Charlotte. I grew up going to the Nature Museum near Freedom Park (now Discovery Place Nature) and it will always be near and dear to my heart, but it’s long overdue a renovation. The Nature Museum is supposed to close later this year – and stay closed for a couple of years – to undergo a major transformation. That lost time is precious for those of us with young children, so in the meantime and at some point in addition, the Schiele Museum is such a great option.
Exploring the museum
Behind the museum: We got there mid-morning, so before it got scorching hot, we started our visit outside. Behind the museum is the farm where we got to see live animals like goats, pigs, turkeys and chickens and tour a log cabin, learn about how food is preserved and more. The day we went was pretty hot, so my boys decided to forego the rest of the outdoor exhibits and move inside. But we need to go back because we missed the 0.7 mile Nature Trail, Catawba Indian Village and more.
Inside the museum: The Schiele is undergoing some renovations of its own, but not the kind that keeps you from enjoying the rest of the museum!
Apparently we missed the giant T-Rex skeleton in the lobby. I read that it has been removed to be repositioned and relocated. It’s just another reason to go back in two months when the lobby area reopens. It didn’t slow us down at all because just down the hall from there were exhibits for two of my three son’s absolute favorite animals – tigers for my son Johnny and dinosaurs for my son Wade. (The only thing missing was penguins for my son Wes!) Apparently we had just caught the DinoSafari exhibit before it closed for renovation. It will reopen on Dinosaur Day on Sept. 30.
From there, just exploring the halls of natural history were awesome – whether the exhibits were dedicated to North Carolina, North America or the American Indians, we were jumping around from one to another. “Mama look at this!” was coming from every direction! My sons took turns sticking their heads into the open jaws of a (formerly live!) alligator, touching buttons on an electronic display about flowers, checking out all the multi-colored gem stones and trying to decipher which animals had been preserved by a taxidermist and which were real – “the turtle just moved!”
We had decided to stay until the planetarium show at 12:30 p.m. (three different shows were scheduled for that day.) While the museum gave us the option to leave for lunch and come back (tickets were good for re-entry!) we ended up taking a quick snack break and staying to explore the museum the entire time. We still didn’t see everything we could have.
And we are so glad we stayed for the show because the planetarium ended up being the highlight of the boys’ day. First of all, the planetarium itself is fantastic. Unlike the Nature Museum where you sit on cushions on the floor, this one is like a movie theatre with seats that recline all the way back – a little dangerous for overtired moms, LOL. I can’t say I caught the entire show (Zzzzzz.) but my boys learned all about the difference between solar and lunar eclipses and more and told me all about them on the way home! Apparently they spent another 30 minutes telling their grandmother about the planetarium show the following day!
I’m so glad to know about the Schiele and to have so many reasons to go back. For more information about hours, tickets and what’s on display, click here.