I’d been thinking about hitting the SciFest Family Fun Night at the Saint Louis Science Center tomorrow (Oct. 16), and I’d stashed away a discount coupon to help with admission. Turns out I won’t need it — an anonymous donor has sponsored free admission for everyone!

SciFest’s “Transform Your Reality” turns out to be pretty apt. Its local tie-ins this year include sports teams, farms, pets and restaurants, and the presenters go into the science behind those everyday topics. I like that my kids will think about the physics behind baseball pitches the next time they watch a Cardinals game.

Family Fun Night goes from 5 to 10 p.m. — but of course you can also buy tickets to the two remaining days, Saturday and Sunday, for the presentations and performances. See stlscifest.org for details.

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OK, I admit it — I can’t resist a good Easter egg hunt! Although I intended to limit myself to one post on this topic (check out this list if you missed it the first time around,) there are just too many good ones out there not to share them:

  • Dino Egg Hunt, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Apr. 3, Saint Louis Science Center, free as part of the First Friday event.
  • Easter Egg hunt at St. Vincent Community Center and Park, 1 to 3 p.m., Apr. 4,   St. Vincent Community Center (meet at the water park parking lot), $3, for info call 314.615.8788.
  • Citywide Easter Egg Hunt, 11 a.m., Apr. 4, O’Fallon, Mo. (meet at Civic Park’s lower soccer field), free, ages 0 to 11, for info call 314.488.8676.
  • YAP Easter Egg Hunt, 10 a.m., Apr. 11, St. Charles County Youth Activity Park, $5, ages 0 to 12 in separate categories and ages 13 to 18 in extreme skate category, to sign up call 636.949.7535.
  • Gateway Grizzlies Easter Egg Hunt, 11 a.m., Apr. 11,  GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill., six age categories, free.

m-with-class-mascotIf your kids are fans of the whirring, clanking, humming sensory overload that is the Saint Louis Science Center, you’re going to like the new extended hours on the first Friday of every month (Mar. 6). Not only will the regular Friday 4:30 p.m. closing time be extended until 9:30, but special demonstrations, movies, guest speakers and (starting next month) telescope viewings will also be part of the action. Most activities are free, though the usual fees apply for movies, Segway tours and special exhibits. This Friday, for example, marks the opening of the movie Fly Me to the Moon, an animated version of the Apollo 11 mission.

To see a full list of First Friday activities, visit the homepage; if you have other questions, call 314.289.4464.  Don’t forget that you can save the $8 parking fee if you use the lots or streets on the north side of the museum!

This weekend brings two opportunities to take note of objects in the sky, one at home and the other at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, part of the Saint Louis Science Center. As you might guess, that latter one involves a telescope, which will be trained on the night sky for free viewings, courtesy of the St. Louis Astronomical Society, at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Feb. 13). In addition, the night marks the unveiling of two mural-sized images of the spiral galaxy Messier 101, and the first 100 people to arrive receive small-size copies to take home for free. The unveiling happens rain or shine; the viewing is weather-permitting. The event is recommended for kids age 3 to 18 and is part of the planetarium’s ongoing free viewing on the first Friday of most months; for details, call the Night Sky Update, 314.289.4453 (or toll-free 800.456.SLSC x4453).

The stay-at-home event is the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend (Feb. 13-16), and it’s a nationwide event that last year involved some 85,000 people couting more than 9.8 million birds. To become part of it, simply log onto the homepage and click “how to participate.” From there you can download a chart of our region’s most common species, then set aside 15 minutes for viewing and marking the handy-dandy checklist.  You enter the results online (do a new checklist for each day, if you choose to observe more than once or check out a couple different locations).  Data must be submitted by March 1 to be tallied for 2009’s count.

This event was brought to my attention by a birding enthusiast who’s kind enough to check the blog often even though he doesn’t live in St. Louis and doesn’t have young children (thanks, Charles!) .  He rarely mentions his concern that his favorite hobby could be more difficult for my kids, as some birds are becoming more rare in the United States due to global climate change, loss of habitate and other factors. About 200 breeds are threatened, including some common backyard ones like the chickadee (its population is down 73 percent since 1967).  Cornell University’s ornithology lab, which sponsors the bird count along with the Audobon Society, is also promoting backyard measures like building nesting houses.  You can download instructions online and make one for one of the species you count this weekend.

A new exhibit recently opened at the Saint Louis Science Center, and it’s getting a lot of media attention. I usually steer clear of events that can be found on billboards, but in this case I have a bit of personal interest in the attraction, a cast of a T. rex skeleton that was discovered in South Dakota, not too far from my hometown in North Dakota. Sheer serendipity, in the form of a flat tire, led researchers to the fossil’s discovery in 1990, just a year after I graduated from high school.  Naturally, at the time we all heard a lot about the fossilized skeleton and the dispute over its ownership.

Eventually, everything was settled and the fossils were put on display at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2000.  The display in St. Louis is a cast of the original — though that doesn’t make its sheer scale any less impressive!  Length: 42 feet.  Height: 12 feet (at the hips). Length of skull: 5 feet. Size of brain: Equivalent to about a quart of milk.  So what filled Sue’s head? Fifty-eight teeth, for one thing, ranging in size from 7 1/2 to 12 inches.  (To read more about Sue and his/her history, check out The Field Museum’s homepage.)

The special exhibit charges admission of $6 for adults and $5 for kids/seniors (members pay $3), but St. Louis Kids magazine has a coupon that will get adults in for $1 off the regular price.  As you may know, if you’re as cheap as I am, parking on the north side of the Science Center is free, as is admission to the center itself.  Sue’s likeness is on display in the Exploradome from now until April 12, along with displays about his/her life 67 million years ago, a digging area and a dino craft. For details on opening times, visit the Science Center’s homepage.

I hadn’t really thought about whether there were any family-friendly public inauguration viewing events on Jan. 20 until a parent alerted me to the possibility. Turns out there are several, all free and all first-come, first-seated:

  • MSNBC is hosting an event at Wehrenberg’s Ronnie’s 20 Cine. Tickets are required, though they do not guarantee a seat. It’s recommended for kids age 8 to 18 and runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To sign up, visit MSNBC’s homepage.
  • The Saint Louis Science Center is showing the inauguration on the Omnimax screen from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tickets are required and can be picked up (limit four per person) from any Science Center box office while supplies last.  Details are on the Obama-Biden homepage.
  • Landmark Theatre’s Tivoli is hosting a simulcast of the swearing in at 11:30 a.m. No tickets are being given, so you’ll want to arrive extra-early if you choose this option.  For details, call the theater directly at 314.862.1100 (there’s also a bit of info online here).

A couple of early celebrations worth noting are the ones at various Borders locations, including the one on Brentwood Boulevard, on Saturday (Jan. 17). The 2 p.m. event includes games, art projects, a scavenger hunt and an official oath ceremony. It’s recommended for kids age 4 to 12, and there’s no charge to participate. There’s a list of St. Louis-area Borders locations online here; call the one nearest you to find out if it’s hosting an event too.

Finally, an event that even S. will dig, though at 2 1/2 he isn’t very into politics: The Black World History Museum has its second Sweet Dreams Cake Challenge. Cakes honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama will be on display  today and tomorrow (Jan. 17) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the public will be invited to eat a slice of history on Monday (Jan. 19) from 1 to 6 p.m. The museum is located at 2505 St. Louis Ave.; an article about the event can be found at the St. Louis American’s homepage.

As I watched the garbage truck’s slow progress down an alley of overflowing Dumpsters this morning, I got to thinking that, frustrating as trash haulers and recycling truck drivers have it the week after Christmas, it’s we parents who really suffer!  We’re trying to catch up on all the things we put off to make the holidays magical for the kids … and they want us to play their new games and toys with them.  And yes, my parents are here to share the burden, but to be honest, I think my dad really needs a nap!

So I’ll make this a quick post today:  Take those cooped-up kids over to either the Winter Getaway at the Missouri History Museum or the Wacky Winter Workshop at the Saint Louis Science Center for programs specially designed to cure any child’s post-holiday malaise.

Winter Getaway is a week of readings, concerts,films, theater performances and workshops, with a major emphasis on penguins.  Starting tomorrow (Dec. 27) and running until Jan. 2, the getaway has midday activities lined up for a variety of ages and interests.  Our longtime favorite Babaloo will be there Tuesday (Dec. 30) at 10:30 a.m., and his shows are always great fun for kids under 8 or so, while some of the dramas and tours will be more interesting for older children.  There’s a full schedule on the Winter Getaway brochure online, or just show up around 10 a.m. (admission is free) and discover what’s in store that day.

Over at the Science Center’s Wacky Winter Workshop, from now until Jan. 5, kids can build their ideal holiday decoration using eco-friendly materials.  “Ideal,” of course, lies in the mind of the creator, so there’s no telling what your young designers will come up with.  (I know from personal experience they can get pretty wild ideas when faced with a big piece of recycled stuff — right now we’re collecting items to put into our very own snow globe, using the tank of an old humidifier.  If anyone has any leads on tiny plastic snowflakes, let me know!)

The project is free, but if you’re desperate enough to start paying to have your kids entertained over break, the Science Center also offers Holidazed Day Camps for kids in grades 1 to 6 (remaining dates are Dec. 29, 30 and 31 and Jan. 2 and 5).  For details on those, call 314.289.4439.

As you probably  know, admission to the Science Center is free but parking is $8 per car in the lots to the south of the complex.  There are also a couple of smaller free lots and free street parking over in Forest Park, on the north side of the construction project that used to be Interstate 64.

The boys and I spent a chunk of Sunday afternoon making glow-in-the-dark slime with gel glue, borax and water.  We nailed the disgusting consistency — M. won’t even touch it except through the plastic baggies we’re storing it in — but the darn goo doesn’t glow in the dark.  I guess we didn’t use enough paint, or maybe not the right kind … so we’ll be making more slime until we get it right.  Ah, the joy of experimenting!  You can bet that I’ve been keeping an eye on SciFest 08, the world-class science conference coming to St. Louis later this week (Oct. 9-13).  With 60-some sessions on topics that range from what drinking does to your brain (cleverly planned for Thursday, SciFest’s secondary education day!) to rock guitar to fashion to vegetables (cleverly planned for Monday, SciFest’s elementary educatin day!), the festival is brimming with fun and challenging notions.

All the sessions requiring paid admission are set up in one-hour blocks so visitors can choose only those that interest them.  Naturally, I honed in on the freebie lessons and activities, offered in the Science Center throughout the five-day event by more than two dozen local companies (see a full list on the SciFest Showcase page). But the workshops are a good deal too, especially the Young Scientist Workshops for ages 3 to kindergarten or grades 1 to 6 (Saturday and Sunday only). For $6 (or $5 for Science Center members) you can drop a child off for a 90-minute session while you attend a simultaneous hour-long adult session of your choice (the same prices apply for each adult session’s admission). Advance registration is pretty much a given, and can be done online or on the phone at 314.289.4424, but do check out the online schedule first so you’re ready to roll when you call.

The event’s been garnering massive media attention thanks to its parent, the Cheltenham Science Festival in England, one of the city’s four world-renowned festivals (the others are in music, jazz and literature). SciFest 08 is the first iteration outside England; it will return to St. Louis for the next two years (and potentially more, if all goes well).

I was never a sci-fi TV or movie fan until college, when I was filling up elective requirements one summer and happened upon a medical ethics course taught by a sandal-wearing, nose-pierced professor who illustrated his lessons with clips from sci-fi shows and the occasional documentary. Strangely enough, it was an extremely effective class, and I still remember many of the conundrums he placed before us in his unique way. Although that was almost 20 years ago, I continue to like the questions science-based fiction is able to raise to different levels than other media.

Which is a very serious intro to a fun topic: Sci-fi Saturdays at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium (Sept. 13, 20 and 27). The first of the three movies to be projected onto the planetarium’s exterior is War of the Worlds, in the original 1953 version. The lawn opens at 7 p.m. for picnics (snacks will be sold until 9 p.m., or you can bring your own in a cooler), and the projector fires up at 7:30 p.m. The series continues subsequent Saturdays with It Came From Outer Space and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

In case of rain (and there’s a chance of it this weekend), the movie will be canceled. To find out more, call the Saint Louis Science Center at 800.456.7572.