Homeschool Days at the Maryland Science Center: A Family Review

As avid science center attendees, the idea of a special and fun learning program for homeschoolers proved too enticing to pass up.

And so it was that on a muggy August morning I got my program list in order and called the Maryland Science Center at 9:00am. Sharp. Homeschool days, I had been told, are incredibly popular and the best sessions always sell out- fast. I was, of course, not about to miss out on any of Mackenzie’s selections. With due diligence, we sat down to call and schedule our six days of hands-on science and fun.

Personal recommendation: Call on day 1 of registration as soon as they open.

Yes, you have to call. With no online registration, the Maryland Science Center Homeschool Days are one of the last programs that you will need to actually talk to a live human being to attend. I kind of like that. I dialed their phone number at exactly 9:00am, got through, and registered for all 12 sessions we wanted to attend. Two hours later, I called back to add one more, and it was full. Lesson learned.

Four months later, on a cold December morning, I called back to register for their winter homeschool days session. The winter session did not fill up as fast as the Fall session and a few of the classes had very small numbers (think 4-8 as opposed to the full 12-16 kids per session in the Fall). The classes are different in each session and we found it was definitely worth the price, drive, and climate to attend both.

The Fall Homeschool Days program is filled with four days of hands-on classes for three weeks while the Winter Homeschool Days program is scheduled for two weeks of four days. Both of these sessions allow for plenty of time to attend and explore the myriad of opportunities through the Maryland Science center and the Baltimore Inner Harbor. It turns out that homeschooling with the Maryland Science Center is both family friendly and just the beginning to all the fun, and learning, possibilities of things you can do in Baltimore.

Of course, not all class sessions are created equal. To help our fellow homeschoolers, we have included some notes on each of the sessions Mackenzie attended and her very honest opinion on whether it was worth going to or not.

Fall Homeschool Days Program

 Geologists Guide to the Galaxy (11:30am, 1st Tuesday): This was a great first class! The kids learned how to identify and read a topographic map and satellite images and worked through three hands-on activities to master and test their new knowledge.

Working in groups to read, interpret, and identify topographic images

Hands-on soil experiements

Stuck on Science (12:30pm, 1st Tuesday): A great class for any child who likes to test out theories and self-created hypothesis.

Plenty of materials for the kids to test out their theories

Keep Your Cool (10:30am, 1st Thursday): Thermal energy taught through simple every day materials the kids can already identify and by their own work in building an insulated “house”. The manipulatives were great and really helped the students understand the importance of their chosen materials and their placement. This class was conducted in small groups settings and had the bonus of building teamwork and cooperation in addition to scientific knowledge.

Why do some items hold heat/cold while others don’t?

The kids had to choose their materials, from all these options, to insulate their house. Choose wisely.

Fluid Forces (12:30pm, 1st Thursday): Do your kids like getting messy? Do you appreciate the learning that can happen when the kids splash water around and get wet? If you answered yes to both of these questions than this class is for you! There were funnels and tubes and water and other colorful liquids. Plenty said to help you identify this as a yes or no class. Not the kiddos favorite but definitely an active and fun/messy one.

Yes, that’s the kiddo trying to get the liquid to move towards her.

This is a messy class… which works great for anyone whose kids want to get messy and their moms who probably prefer to leave the mess at the science center instead of their own kitchen counter

Human Body IMAX film (1:30pm, 1st Thursday): While this is a good film, I was not as impressed with it as I would have liked. The IMAX films do charge adult admission- unlike sitting in on the other classes. It’s not that the film was bad, it is just that I wouldn’t bother seeing it again. My (and Mackenzie’s) recommendation: skip the film, enjoy something else instead.

Counting Critters (11:30m, 2nd Tuesday): This session centered around using math for population control in the wild. Mackenzie was bored and I did not find it impressive. I’d skip this one if I was you.

It’s Element-ary (12:30pm, 2nd Tuesday): Having spent the first unit of our own science class learning about the Elements and the periodic table, Mackenzie was very excited to see what this class was going to teach. First activity: a fire demonstration. Second activity: handling different elements and using their properties to identify them (there was also a super handy worksheet to keep track of their findings). This is a definite must in our opinion!

Solar System Laboratory (10:30am, 2nd Thursday): Class started with a view of the solar system, a film, and a lecture on celestial spheres. Everything seemed promising until the kids had to draw their own made-up planets as the main activity. It went from pretty cool to “I’m drawing a planet for class- boring” in just a few minutes. This class is also part 1 of 2: in part 1 you draw your planet and in part 2 you get to see it on the planetarium “sky”. A bit cool if you are into, say, cartography. But pretty dull and uneventful if not. Mackenzie wanted to leave half way and we didn’t bother returning to see her “planet” on the big screen. Sadly, we can not recommend this class.

Our Star, Our Sun (11:30am, 2nd Thursday): THIS we totally recommend. The class traveled to the roof of the science center, was able to use the big telescope to observe the sun, learned about the properties of our own star, and utilized special shields to stare directly at the sun. Hands-on, kid friendly, active and interesting class.

There’s nothing like the first time you get to stare directly at the sun!

Physics and Chemistry, Oh My! (12:30pm, 3rd Tuesday): The kids used various materials to conduct their own physics and chemistry experiments in this class. Sounds fun right? Not really. I don’t know if it’s the size of this class (maxed out) or the class structure itself, but we would not recommend this session. Plenty of other better options.

Journey into Amazing Caves IMAX film (1:30pm, 3rd Tuesday): This is a pretty cool film, especially if anyone in the family likes rock climbing or caves.

Solar System Laboratory Results (12:30pm, 3rd Thursday): As mentioned above, we paid but never made it to this last class. The kids were supposed to be able to see their planet designs on the planetarium screens today but that sounds about as interesting as watching glue to my kid so we just skipped it.

Winter Homeschool Days Program

Hands on hands (10:30am, 1st Wednesday): This was one of the favorite homeschool sessions for my kid. The beginning lecture was interesting and engaging, the hand making activity was fun and easy to understand, and the session included a real chicken foot for every kid (to learn from and manipulate- not take home!).

First the kids learned about how their hands work and then they built a model to replicate the muscles and hand movements possible

The kids were asked to take the chicken foot and manipulate it in order to find out how it is similar to a human hand!

The face says “ick” but the learning was amazing!

Fantastic Plastic (11:30am, 1st Wednesday): Another great and highly recommended session, this one had the kids learning about the different types of plastic out there, the properties of each one, actually making their own corn plastic, learning how to make shrink dinks from plastic, and the uses of different plastics. Incredibly fun and informative class.

From the beginning, the kids walk in to hands-on activities

How to be a hit class: provide a “Make your own plastic” recipe

Busy making their own corn plastic!

Do Not Forget The SciLab

If you go to the Maryland Science Center, DO NOT forget to visit the SciLab. Located on the second floor (by the human body exhibit hall) this hands-on lab allows kids to complete several experiments. Each table and experiment area is self contained with all the necessary tools, chemicals, and instructions that anyone needs to complete the task at hand.

This is lab day at science class without the timing or pressure. Kids can move at their own pace, compete the work by themselves, a partner or with a team, and the science equipment is all top notch. Mackenzie says the lab makes her feel like a real scientists doing important research and making discoveries. We LOVE the SciLab. Don’t forget to make a stop while visiting the Maryland Science Center. This is definitely fun learning at its best.

What kind of labs do they have? There is a Blood Type lab, a Catalyst Action lab, a DNA Extraction lab, a Membranes and Molecules lab, and a few others.

Instructions are clearly printed and easy to follow

All the materials are right there for the kids to access and use to complete their experiments

Useful General Information

The Price:

Most sessions are $7.50 per student and allow for one adult chaperone to enter with the child for free. Admission to the homeschool session class also includes admission to the Maryland Science Center for the whole day! This bonus makes attending homeschool days a double pleasure: a hands-on science class AND admission to the Maryland Science Center and all its exhibits for only $7.50 (per one attending child and one adult chaperone). Considering that regular admission to the center exhibits is $18.95-$22.95 per child and $24.95-$28.95 per adult this is an amazing deal!

The Parking:

We always park at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Garage across the street from the Maryland Science Center. With a validation coupon, the price for parking here is only $15 dollars. Believe it or not, that’s a steal at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore. Safe and close (for those times that you may be running to make your session start time), this is our personal recommendation.

The Food:

Lunch always seems to fall either between sessions or at the end of a fun science morning. While “Elements”, the Maryland Science Center cafeteria, is not exactly gourmet food, we can definitely recommend the pizza and loaded nachos. Let me be perfectly honest here: we always get the pizza (for Mackenzie) and the loaded nachos (for me). Clearly we like them.

Mackenzie really likes their pizza

I also order the loaded nachos

There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating for anyone who wishes to pack a lunch and save some money. And, a short walk away, the Inner Harbor of Baltimore boasts some delicious restaurants and cafes. You will not be lacking in food options, but I definitely find it easier to plan our food strategy (lest we get hungry in the middle of deciding and turn into ogres).

With some amazingly fun sessions and a few duds, the kiddo and I can safely say that we highly recommend the Maryland Science Center Homeschool Days. The fun, interactive and hands-on opportunities throughout the center make this the perfect science field trip and lab session. We will definitely be returning next season!

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