On a humid, stormy July afternoon, children and toddlers are perched at the Experiment Bar at the Children's Science Center Lab. As staff members bustle past, wiping up spills and delivering necessary supplies, the families huddle together over their experiments. One child bursts into a fit of giggles and squeals as her mother presses the cool, runny slime into her hands. These special moments shared between children and their parents are exactly what Nene Spivy, executive director of the museum, wants to see. She says, "We provide the scaffolding for parents who want their kids to love learning."

Building a Passion for Science

The Children's Science Center Lab, which opened in late June, fills a gaping hole that has long existed within the large Northern Virginia community - an interactive children's science museum. A non-profit educational organization, the museum is dedicated to helping children find a passion for learning about STEM concepts (science, technology, engineering, math) through imaginative play and real-world simulated experiments. As Vasantha Rayman, a retired Fairfax technology teacher who now works at the museum, explains the center is a museum and science lab hybrid. Wherever children wander in the 5,400 square feet of exhibit space, they are encouraged to touch, explore and question. As Dorothy Ready, marketing manager of the museum, says there is going to be an abundance of science and technology related fields in the region in the future. As reported by U.S. News & World Report in 2012, 64 percent of young people (ages 16-25) said they chose not to pursue a future in the science and technology related fields because they felt they didn't know much about the STEM fields. By focusing on children aged 2 through 12, the museum hopes to instill a love of the STEM concepts so children feel driven to pursue careers related to science and math in the future.

Neither Ready nor Spivy know why it has taken this long for a children's science museum to open in Northern Virginia. But if the numbers are any indication - with 200 families purchasing memberships and over 5,000 people visiting in the first month alone - it's obvious that parents and children are more than ready to make the most of this new regional treasure.

By Kids, For Kids

Prior to the opening of its location at Fair Oaks Mall, the museum operated through an outreach program - "Museum Without Walls." Since 2010, the mobile science lab has served over 65,000 children. Despite now having a physical location, the museum's focus remains on reaching as many children as possible. Through field trips, classes, day camps and parties in the museum's "Garage," the lab facilitates "talent-in-action" with local industries, including area scientists and meteorologists. In addition, the museum regularly hosts visits from local schools, with the 2015 school list already filled to capacity. But the museum wants kids to be more than visitors - this is a museum by kids, for kids. Through special kid-designed team sessions, the museum has received feedback from local children about what they would like to see at the museum. Moreover, there is a special station where children can make their own suggestions about future experiments that are of interest to them. Even as the staff celebrates the success of the museum, they haven't stopped working on their ultimate goal - a world-class, full-scale children's science museum. Although the land, located in Dulles, has already been donated, fundraising is ongoing to pay for the rest of the facility. Expected to open in 2020, the museum will occupy more than 30,000 square feet, with plans to expand up to 70,000 square feet over time. Spivy says that the site of the future museum is even more perfect because it is surrounded by nature, which will be ideal for outdoor exploration and discovery.

A Community of Support

Spivy is filled with nothing but jubilant gratitude when she reflects on how supportive the community has been thus far in turning the dream of a children's science museum into a reality. Whether it is time spent working with the children or donating the funds to create high-quality exhibits, the community has served as the backbone of the Children's Science Center Lab. And as the room buzzes with the sound of children's laughter and another bus rumbles up to the door, the museum is ready to help more children delve into the wonders of science. Spivy admits that the journey hasn't been easy, but with the community behind them there's little doubt that families in Northern Virginia can look forward to visiting the Children's Science Center Lab for many years to come.

Here's the Scoop:

The Children's Science Center Lab is located at Fair Oaks Mall, 11750 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, VA. There is plenty of free parking around the mall.

  • Website: childsci.org
  • Phone : 703-648-3130
  • Cost: $12 for all visitors ages 2 and older. $11 for seniors (62+) and members of the military. Group rates are available. A hand stamp allows you to come and go as many times as you please during same day admission.
  • Hours: Open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Community Support: For more information on donations, sponsorship or other recognition opportunities, send an email to donations@childsci.org.