Just Say "Wow!"

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

During my first visit to the new American National Fish and Wildlife Museum in Springfield, I tagged along behind two kids, Allie, about 4, and her big brother Bryan, who I guessed to be about 8. Like all kids, they seemed intuitively to find a fun route to the most interesting things. I first spotted them as they bounced across a rope bridge leading to an aviary-like perch high above an Ozarks stream. Their parents took the boardwalk, a more sedate route.

Allie and Bryan would have been miles ahead of their mom and dad, except they found so much to demand their attention. Near the Ozarks stream, for example, they stood riveted by the sight of two shiny, wet, fur-covered otters chasing fathead minnows.

"There's just something about live animals that attracts people," Amy Dooley, director of education for the museum told me later. "You can have all the electronic gizmos in the world, and people will still spend more time looking at a fish or an animal."

The museum features bats, seahorses, jellyfish, beavers, bobcats, free ranging ducks and turkeys, a 55-pound paddlefish, five types of sharks and a host of other wildlife and fish.

Allie and Bryan probably wouldn't know what "immersive" means, but that's the way exhibit designers want visitors to experience the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum, also known as the Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) museum. They've made the museum a feast for all the senses. Visitors can hear the roar of tumbling Ozarks streams, feel the cool air of a simulated cave, see the jewel-like colors of a rainbow trout or feel the tug of a marlin at a simulated fishing exhibit.

"We want to put the visitor in surroundings so stimulating that learning occurs easily," Dooley said. "Educators sometimes speak of a teachable moment, a time when curiosity is aroused, the senses are completely engaged, and we're in our most alert, information-gathering mode. Being at the museum is like one long teachable moment."

Bryan and Allie didn't know they were being "educated;" they thought they were seeing cool stuff. They liked the "Hoofs, Hide, Horn, Hair" gallery, where taxidermy mounted animals stood frozen in time, and they watched videos that showed the animals in their natural habitat. Allie was clearly awed by the huge bison, which loomed over her. Bryan favored the audio equipment that let him hear the real "call of the

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