London with kids,  Travel

A day out with kids at WonderLab Science Museum in London

There are many museums in London where you can go with the kids and learn new things, play and explore. Science Museum is one of the best of them, having WonderLab. It’s amazing how many things you see and learn, there is something for everyone there, from babies to adults.

We have visited the museum several times, even before moving to London and having kids. When the kids were 3.5 and 6 I took them to WonderLab for the first time.

To better understand the photos in this post, I have to mention something. We got to WonderLab at the Science Museum in London at 11 am and stayed until closing time, at 5.45. During this time, we only had a lunch break for half an hour. You will see photos with a very busy WonderLab, and also photos with fewer people. I took the latter ones close to the closing time.

The whole space at WonderLab has 7 curriculum-themed zones. I will talk about them below (approximately) in the order we discovered and explored them. I will also include a list with the seven zones (sort of a table of contents). You can click on any of them in case you want to read about a specific one and skip others.


I will start with the Light zone. This is right next to the main entrance therefore we explored it first.

Light

This zone is amazing for experimenting with the properties of light. In this zone there is the Colour Room, a room filled with objects in all sorts of colours. The tricky part is that the room only has three lights (one at a time): red, green and blue. The challenge is to work out what colour the objects in the room actually are! And to check, you have 4 torches with white light at your disposal.

Next to the Colour Room is a room with a reflective white wall. Against it, you can stay and have your “photo” taken. A flash goes off, with a countdown, and afterwards your shadow remains on the wall for a few seconds. It’s mesmerizing for the kids, to actually see their shadows on the wall after they have left the spot!

In the Light zone at WonderLab in London kids can also enjoy hands-on activities, like this one below. Using different coloured filters placed on this white light source, kids experiment with how the filters block some colours and let others through. There is also a challenge for them: can they find out which filters to combine to block ALL the light?

Kids playing in the Light zone - hands on activities at WonderLab - Science Museum London

When you manage to get the kids from the white light table (it will take a while!), they can have fun experimenting with the thermal imaging camera. The brilliant thing here is that there are 2 surfaces, one hot and one cold, and several cold metal bolts in different shapes. On them, kids can place their hands. After that, they can look on the screen and see the colour of their hands.

Play with thermal imaging camera at WonderLab - THE EQUINOR GALLERY
The infrared camera shows hot objects as red/white and colder objects as green/blue

The next photo is of the Infinity Mirrors. When you place two mirrors opposite each other with an object in the middle, multiple reflections from the original object are created and they seem to stretch off into infinity.

Infinity Mirror - science experiment
Infinity mirror

In the Light zone there are also two areas:

  • an area where kids can combine coloured lights to see what happens
  • and one where they can experience what it’s like to walk inside a light beam

Once we had played with the light, we moved on to the next themed zone.

Forces

And the first thing that caught my kids’ eyes were the slides. The friction slides to be more precise. There are 3 slides made of different materials and with different surfaces. Kids have the mission of finding out through going down each slide, which one has the most friction.

This area of the London Science Museum’s WonderLab is designed for kids over 1m in height, just so you know. During busy times there is a queue so there are sessions of 3 minutes each.

Next to the slides are these pulleys, two of them. Here kids sit in a chair with a seat belt on and they try to lift themselves up. The kids loved going up and then down and up again.

And in case you have at least one child who loves marble run games, consider yourself warned: this magnetic wall with pipes and balls will be heaven! There are lots of pipes, and it’s a team effort to create the greatest, the longest, the coolest gravity ball run! We spent here a lot of time… a lot!

Children playing at WonderLab - Science Museum London

Team effort is also needed to build a strong structure like a bridge. And in the same zone, you can find the Air Cannon so kids can understand through a hands-on activity why they make their lips narrower when they blow their birthday candles.

While in the Forces zone, you will hear loud noises from the Electricity zone. That’s because there are shows which are announced on a blackboard. And yes, this is the next themed zone we explored at WonderLab.

Electricity

Look at the tree trunk below. How cool it is? It has magnets stuck to it, and there are lots of metal pieces around it. Children can experiment with them and see which ones become magnetised, and then make their own magnetic work of art.

Magnetic Sculpture

Next to the tree trunk is the “Lightning Strike” which lets you touch a tube with lightning inside. And you and the kids are safe! And when you place one hand on the tube and with a finger from your other hand try to touch someone else’s hand… bzzzz! It’s so cool! It’s amazing for the kids to feel that in such a safe and fun environment!

Study electricity at WonderLab with kids - Science Museum London

The center piece of the Electricity zone is the Electricity Demo Show you’ll see both a Tesla coil and a Van de Graaff generator in action. Pure powerful lightnings! It’s just amazing to see this live! Just a warning though in the area: the sound is loud, and also, visitors with devices like pacemakers will be required to stay at a certain distance from the area (the staff doing the demo show will share all the details and warning so that everyone is safe).

Can you see the lightning in the next photo?

Electricity travelling across the ceiling in the Tesla coil and Van de Graaff generator.

Another show that took place, this time in the show space, was about electricity and its usage. Kids learn how it is created, what a circuit is and what and which materials conduct electricity. We had been to the circuit area before the show, but after the show, the kids asked to return to it, so we all had fun with the Circuits exhibits that let you build circuits to turn on the light (my kids played with those), set up a burglars alarm (my son did that one) and set up a hand dryer (the circuit had 3 fans and sensors, it was so cool! Reminded me of my University days).

At 6 years of age, I think kids get the idea/concept of a circuit, especially when they play with wires and lights like this. At 3 years of age, they don’t yet care, but they can still have tons of fun mixing the wires and when accidentally the light turns on, it’s like an Evrika! moment.

I have to mention another challenging activity that is in this area, though I have not taken photos of it:the Floating Magnet. The concept of eddy currents is a bit too much to grasp at 6 years of age, but kids still had fun trying to manoeuvre the inside magnet with another magnet and get it to levitate.

Maths

At some point of our day out at the Science Museum, we reached the Maths zone of the WonderLab (I had lost track of time at this point!). And here we discovered the pendulums! The fun thing about them was that a pen is attached to one of them, and a piece of paper placed on the other. And this is how, by the swings of the two pendulums, kids can create swirling patterns.

pendulum - how it works

I am sure my kids can’t remember the term “tessellation” at the moment, but they had a lot of fun at the Tessellation Wall. It is all about making patterns with shapes placed together on a flat surface so that they have no gaps or overlaps. And the Shape Maker? Another hit, as children can play with 2D and 3D shapes to create anything. As they say, imagination is the limit!

Oh, and we played another fun game in the Maths zone: the Water Jet Challenge. There is a water jet that launches a stream of water into the air. You get to control the angle of the jet and when it should be launched in order to hit a light. Which light changed its position with every challenge. Yes, this is a perfect activity for kids who love a challenge.

Space

In the photo below, can you spot the Earth? Yes, this means the huge white ball represents the Sun. There is also a Moon orbiting the Earth. My son had a phase in which he was fascinated by anything related to space. He loved to actually stay next to the Earth, notice the Moon going around it, while actually travelling around the Sun. This model also helped my daughter grasp the idea of the Solar System better. This is a great area in the Space Zone.

Part of the Solar System for kids at Science Museum in London
The Sun, the Earth, the Moon, the stars

The next area is about this: when you roll a ball around the Double Gravity Well exhibit, it behaves in a similar way to a planet orbiting two stars. Depending on how you release it, the ball will roll in a particular orbit shape before it eventually falls into the hole. I noticed that older kids had a particular interest in this area, which seems natural as these are not concepts for young children. Still, my kids loved playing with the balls and watching their trajectory.

The other two areas are Particle Detector and Aurora. We didn’t manage to get to them (which is amazing, considering how many hours we spent there! It just means kids need to re-visit WonderLab in London, right?)

Sound

It took us a while to get to the Sound zone, as it’s closer to the exit, I was so glad when we did, as I got to experiment the Sound Bite! And I loved the music to be honest! The kids were mesmerized, “What? How can I hear through a straw in my mouth?!?!” Well, honey… you can!

Sound bite - learn how sound travels through your bones

The Sound area is the one where, if you feel like dancing, you can actually do it, around the Theremin Bollards!

How do theremins work?

And while dancing, you will spot the Visible Vibrations. Here, children get to control the volume and frequency. The goal is to get the vibrations in the tube to make the water splash. The maximum volume and the frequency set to 180 makes this happen. But there is another frequency that works! Tell me if you’ve found it, in case you visit WonderLab!

Again, in this area, the Pod and the Echo remained unexplored for a future visit. We did manage to play with the Waves, meaning strings attached to motors. As the motors turn they cause the string between them to spin. The spinning string makes different wave patterns depending on whether the two motors are in sync with each other or not. Children can also hear the sound the strings make and how it changes depending on how they control the motors.

Matter

I took the below photo at the entrance. It is part of the Matter zone, which was the last to be explored by us.

See inside the WonderLab at Science Museum in London

Can you guess what’s the next photo? I asked this question on my Twitter account as well, because I love this photo and I wanted to share it there.

Magnetic Liquid, containing ferrofluid
Magnetic Liquid

It is a Magnetic Liquid that contains a special material called a ferrofluid. Invented by NASA in 1963 (source), it is made from magnetic material that has been ground into an extremely fine powder and suspended in a liquid. It’s pretty cool for kids to get to see this at WonderLab in London, isn’t it?

And when you have magnetic liquid on a plate, and you place a magnet underneath, and above it another plate and behind it, another magnet, you get some really cool and interesting shapes!

Magnetic Liquid zoomed in on a screen on the wall

I also played with the Magnetic Liquid (WonderLab in London is not only for kids!). Then I found this and had some fun changing the delay between releasing a drop of water and the camera taking a photo. My kids joined me and took the photo below. We spent a lot of time here, playing with the time and seeing the drop of water still falling, or already in the water, of just touching the surface, and so on. Wish I had this at home…

Another amazing thing in the Matter zone is the freezing water. There are big magnifying glasses so you can have a look and watch the changes of state of both freezing and melting. Just look at the photo below, isn’t it amazing?

ice freezing as seen through a magnifying glass

Still in the Matter area, here we have Dry Ice! Yes, it’s ice, and it’s dry, because it’s carbon dioxide which, when frozen, turns straight into a gas when their solid form is heated. The process is called sublimation, and it is mesmerizing for kids, I am telling you! We visited this area three times while we were there!

Dry Ice floating on water

In case you are wondering what you are looking at in the next photo, it’s the Flowing Mist. It’s mist, it flows downhill, and it’s fascinating. And it’s close to Cloud Rings where a pool of smoke is created in a central chamber. When you push down on the top part of the chamber this causes the gas to flow out of the narrow opening. If you push the smoke out of the opening quickly enough, a smoke ring forms, travelling up to the ceiling.

And we come to the end of our adventures. We explored “Matter” last, before turning the light off when leaving the place (figure of speech, the staff turned off the lights behind us). It was an absolutely lovely day out with the kids at WonderLab at the Science Museum in London and I strongly recommend visiting WonderLab, with or without kids.

Before ending this post, I want to write here some tips that you might find useful in case you plan a visit (and I strongly recommend it!).

What you need to know for a day out with kids at WonderLab Science Museum in London

  • buy tickets online if you can, it’s easier and faster and you skip the queue
  • if you can spare a few extra pounds and are local, I suggest buying an annual membership as you will definitely return and the annual price is cheaper then that of two visits
  • there are facilities for babies and a buggy park, plus toilets inside
  • bring packed lunch and water, as there is a huge picnic area just outside WonderLab where you can enjoy a lunch break
  • avoid the friction slides if your child is under 1m to avoid tears
  • there are members of staff around the lab and they are extremely helpful and patient, they will explain and show kids a lot of science, so feel free to talk to them
  • the guide to WonderLab and the explanation of the Science behind everything in there can be found on the Science Museum website

What age is WonderLab for?

The lab is recommended for children aged 5 to 14, though primary age kids seem to enjoy it the most. Younger kids have a lot of things to do around there too, as you’ve seen from the above information and in the above photos, so I would say it can also be for preschoolers.

How much time do you need with kids at WonderLab in London?

To explore and enjoy all the hands-on activities and make the most out of a day out at the WonderLab, somewhere around 4 hours might be necessary. This depends on the age and number of children joining you, and also on how busy the gallery is.

You can arrive in the morning, but around 12 is the peak hour. After 3 pm things calm down. But no matter when you arrive, prepare yourself to be there until closing time (that’s what always happens to us)!

Have you already been with the kids to WonderLab in London? Share your experience (plus any tip you might have!) in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it!

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3 Comments

  • Ashley Firth

    I have never visited this museum before, but it looks amazing! I love it when museums are so interactive, it really makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable for the kids. I love the infrared image of you all. There is a similar thing at Eureka in Halifax, my kids were obsessed with it! I am fascinated by the magnetic liquid! What a great guide you have provided – it’s always good to know what to expect and what things to take and to avoid when going anywhere with children! Your children look like they were having a fabulous time at the museum! Great pictures xxx

    Ashley
    https://lellalee.com

  • Luke

    Another fascinating post on yet another cool place! WonderLab looks like a blast for kids of all ages. Ferrofluid is something I have read about in a magnetics book, but never seen in person, a most interesting subject in general. (There exist a great variety of curious individuals who play with magnets and attempt the impossible “perpetual motion machines” by arranging such magnets. Only by really playing with magnets in this way can one learn the imbecility and folly of this endevour! But it is a load of fun. Youtube is filled with crazy people who built amazing wheels of complex magnet arrangements that spin for a while – before stopping – 😀 There are also serious “fringe” engineers who take the matter of magnetic arrangements to various levels by building experiments and interesting set-ups. A slew of videos exist (Energy From The Vacuum was a DVD set a decade or so ago that I downloaded once) on this fascinating “gray area” somewhere between hoax, fraud, naivety, wishful thinking and genuine room for breakthroughs. The trouble is sifting through the trash to find the compelling videos 😉 and avoiding the outright hoaxers 😉 ) PS: Obtain a nice thick copper pipe with a powerful Neodymium magnet that fits “just barely” down the pipe. A visceral demonstration of Len’s Law when you drop the magnet down the pipe and it s-l-o-w-s down like magic. Recommended for kids (big kids too… now why did I get rid of that awesome copper pipe I was able to find at great difficulty?!? Wish I still had it!)

    Yep, so many museums to visit, so few hours in a day! Glad to hear you really stayed for their entire open hours so the kids could soak up the vibe of the exhibit / museum! I would assume most visitors are merely passing through, staying an hour or two at most, then never to return again. The importance of a second return is constantly overlooked / missed by most. (Doesn’t this apply to all things in life though? hehe). So yes, do return, and spend a full day exploring these missed areas. Don’t forget to follow up at home (by building something perhaps?) on a display / subject that a kid really gets excited about!

    • raluca

      It’s amazing indeed to see the ferrofluid right in front of your eyes and to get to play with it! Kids loved it, I am sure they would also love doing all sorts of experiments with magnets, so I have written down your idea with the copper pipe and Neodymium magnet 😉 I don’t remember doing too many magnetic experiments as a child or while in school, but quite enjoying now visiting hand-on museums with the kids and doing all sorts of experiments at home – I even bought a book to inspire us, it’s called “365 Science Activities

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