What’s the perfect B-Day? Puppies, reading and the museum!

For her eighth birthday, Maddie Sanders told her mom she wanted nothing more than to read to dogs at the museum. It seems like an unlikely service, but the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land is the perfect fit for such a childhood wish.

Through the P.A.W.S. (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Reading Program, Maddie made two new canine friends, a German Shepherd named Jasmine, and Ranger, a Golden Retriever. From 10 a.m. to noon, she sat with the dogs and read to them along with her five-year-old sister Nola and her mother and father, Hope and Brian.

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Maddie and Nola Sanders read to Ranger with the help of a volunteer at HMNS-SL.

“Ranger let the kids climb all over him. He was just a big pillow,” Hope said. “They were very well-trained, well-behaved dogs. As much as my kids love dogs, they were a little frightened at first. We don’t have one of our own. I have an allergy. But once they got acclimated to the situation, and they realized the dogs were well-trained and mild-mannered, the girls warmed up quickly.”

Hope learned about the P.A.W.S. Reading Program in the summer of 2014 when she was searching for activities for a Girl Scouts group field trip. She found information about the program on the HMNS-SL web site, but the logistics didn’t work out for the whole group. This time around, though, the program was great for two girls on a birthday adventure. She called up the museum to see if she could negotiate a birthday package, and Program Manager Kavita Self was happy to oblige.

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Maddie read to Jasmine until she fell asleep for a mid-morning nap.

“Kavita is a joy to be around,” Hope said. “She loves her job. She told me to give her a heads-up before we got there so they’d be ready for us.”

The Sanders family hadn’t been to the Sugar Land museum in “quite some time,” Hope said, and when they got there, the expansion of the collection in the past couple of years astounded her.

“We were completely taken aback by how much it has to offer and how much it has grown,” Hope said. “They greeted us and gave us a welcome gift. We thought that was so kind. They showed us the new exhibits. Maddie is a lover of treehouses, so we played around there. They went above and beyond to make us feel special.”

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Nola, Maddie’s sister, enjoyed her time in the TreeHouses exhibit at HMNS-SL.

The family saw geodes in the earth science exhibit and popped outside to watch butterflies in the butterfly garden. The only feature they missed out on was the paleontology exhibit, but there was plenty of entertainment for the whole family, let alone a single girl.

“I had no idea it was going to be anything greater than reading with dogs,” Hope said. “The people there knew her and kept telling her happy birthday. She loved the dogs so much. We had such a lovely time, and it all happened because the people there made it happen. We’re very appreciative.”

When they left the museum, the family stopped by Bernie’s Burger Bus in Bellaire for lunch, where they told everyone about their experience, Hope said.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 7/13-7/19

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 

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Lecture – Sustainable Seas: The Vision, The Reality By Sylvia Earle
Tuesday, July 14
7:00 p.m.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, revered marine biologist and conservationist, will give a state of the seas address. The event will include a viewing of the new giant-screen film Secret Ocean 3D that features a narration by Dr. Earle and amazing imagery captured by director Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team.

Behind-the-Scenes – Jedi – Samurai Tour
Thursday, July 16
6:00 p.m.
Armored warriors of the past inspired the creative genius of a filmmaker-in a galaxy not so far away. In this multimedia tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit–led by HMNS staff and a few guest Jedi, Sith and samurai guides–the origins of many of George Lucas’ Star Wars heroes and villains will be unveiled. You will also enjoy demonstrations of light saber and kendo katana. The compelling links between Samurai and Jedi will build your appreciation for both.

Weird Science Event! A Summer Science Experience
HMNS at Sugar Land
Friday, July 17
6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Challenge your brain and develop your S-IQ (Science IQ) with hands-on experiments, demonstrations and observation. It’s the all-new Weird Science Event! Peek behind the curtain for an exclusive look at how “cool” science works in a museum. Mix, stir and mash compounds around the T-rex pit and make all kinds of goopy fun. Help feed the fish and other critters, plus learn how to care for them. Or you can try going arboreal and hang out in a tree in the TreeHouses exhibit. It’s our biggest science night of the year with something for everyone!

Mixers & Elixirs
Saturday, July 18
7:00 p.m.
The social set has never looked so smart! Mixers & Elixirs is back and it’s better than ever! We’re celebrating the year’s geekiest holidays with a cool twist, so pop on over to our place to mingle, clink your cocktail glass, and break out your best dance moves. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the live band, dancing, cash bars, and the city’s best food trucks. The perfect party, where the science club meets the social set, happens each month from June through August. Hitting this scene is a sure sign of intelligence!
This event is for 21 and up only.

The Things I Made at Summer Camp

Xplorations Summer Camp has been an integral part of summer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for decades, and it was a large part of my childhood too. Over the years, I took all sorts of camps covering subjects like butterflies, cultures in the Americas and roller coasters. I made so many things at camp that I could probably have an entire exhibit called “Things I Made at Camp!” However, like fossils and artifacts, not all of my camp collection has survived to the present day. I wanted to see which items survived the decade since their creation, so I went on an excavation in my childhood home to uncover some of the lost artifacts.

First stop, my childhood bedroom. Among the stuffed animals and children’s books, I find many remnants of my childhood. Papers from school, photos from birthday parties, but no sign of Xplorations Summer Camp. Then, in the distance, I spot a woven basket. The woven basket (ca. June 1997) was made in a camp covering the cultures in the Americas. While I toiled weaving the reeds in and out, we talked about how many cultures wove baskets to hold food and water. To be honest, this woven basket is not my best work. It could certainly not hold water, and there aren’t many foods that can fit inside. In fact, it has a very distinct lean. It looks like it shares some characteristics with a cornucopia.

20150530_162901Onwards! As I search through my desk, I find the remnants of my emergency kit (ca. 2001) made in Survivor Camp. The original kit was encased in a convenient fanny pack, but the fanny pack has since vanished. All that remains is an emergency blanket, glow stick, and some matches in a waterproof container. If need be, I can survive a cold, dark evening with only these three supplies and the skills I remember from camp. I do miss the fanny pack though. Now that was survival and convenience all in one.

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My search continues. I have combed through all of the things in my room, and in a last-ditch effort I turn my search to the closet. Attached to my navy JanSport backpack, I find a handmade bead animal (ca. 1999). I was an after-camp kid, so I got the chance to make some fun crafts like bead animals after we finished the normal camp day. This particular bead animal was very special because of the rare sparkle blue pony beads that were used for the eyes. In the after camp world, those beads were a prized commodity.

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Eventually, I realize that my search has run cold. There are no more camp crafts to be found. I remember how some of them have been lost. In a medieval camp, I made potpourri and planned to give it to my dad for Father’s Day. Unfortunately, I was a clumsy kid and dropped the glass jar of potpourri on the floor. It did not make it home from camp. I’m sure a number of other camp crafts were dropped in puddles, broken in backpacks, or simply left behind. For all of those lost camp crafts, there are a number of memories that stay with me. As summer camp 2015 commences, I like to think that new campers will make some memorable camp crafts too! Let’s hope that they all make it home!

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Editor’s note: HMNS is in its first week of Xplorations Summer Camp right now! Registration is open to children ages 6 to 12. Camp runs Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and care is available before camp from 8 to 10 a.m. and after camp from 3 to 5:30 p.m. for an additional fee. Live near Sugar Land? Register for camp at our sister location, HMNS Sugar Land. Be a part of the tradition at HMNS Xplorations Summer Camp, and like Kelsey, let your child learn and build lasting memories at the museum.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 6/1-6/7

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!  

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Xplorations Summer Science Adventures Begin Monday, June 1st 
Xplorations Summer Science Adventures are week-long, hands-on science summer camps featuring science activities for children ages 6 – 12. Camps are held Monday – Friday from 10 am – 3 pm. For an additional weekly fee, care is available before camp begins each day, from 8 – 10 am, and after camp ends, from 3 – 5:30 pm.

Lecture – Unmasked: Mysteries Of Ancient Shu Kingdom And Its Bronze Art By Liu Yang
Tuesday, June 2
6:30 p.m.
Human and semi-human bronze masks showing fantastic features with large eyes with projecting pupils, strongly curled nostrils and tight-lipped mouths are the most astonishing of the finds of a cache of ancient artifacts in Sanxingdui, China. Several are covered in gold. Did these bronze masked figures represent deities, ancestors, priests or shamans? What are the ritual practice and symbolism hidden behind the false faces? The little that is known about the people who resided in the ancient Shu kingdom is gleaned from the archaeological pits in Sanxingdui, only excavated in 1986. Leading authority on Sanxingdui culture, Dr. Liu Yang of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will provide a fascinating look into the mysterious Sanxingdui culture and the masks of mystery

End Of School Year Celebration And Carnival!
HMNS at Sugar Land 
Thursday, June 4
12:00 p.m.
Looking for a fun way to celebrate the last day of school? We have the solution! Gather all your friends and join us for an exclusive special event featuring activities, crafts, bounce games, pizza and more. Come celebrate the end of school and the opening of our summer exhibit, Body Carnival, with an afternoon of fun. It’s sure to be a unique way to end the school year and kick off the summer break! Tickets are $5 each.

Rocket Day At The George Expedition Center!
George Observatory
Saturday, June 6
10:00 a.m.
Bring your junior Rocket enthusiasts out for a day of rocket launches and a Expedition to the Moon! Boys and girls learn about rockets and how they work, build a water rocket and then launch it. After the launches, we blast into space aboard the S.S. Observer for a simulated spaceflight. Kids become astronauts and use teamwork and problem-solving to accomplish their Expedition. Fun for all! The Expedition Center will be open for children and adults to sign up to fly on a simulated space flight to the Moon. Usually only open to groups with reservations, for this special event, individuals can sign up to participate. The Expedition is most appropriate for ages 7 and up. Children ages 7-9 need an adult present. George Observatory telescope tickets will go on sale at 5 pm for $5 for regular public viewing after the Expeditions. Don’t miss this special opportunity to participate in real astronaut training!