Science Made Fun at the Thinktank in Birmingham04/09/2017
We’ve tried out a few science and ‘interactive’ museums in London but the Thinktank in Birmingham puts a lot of them to shame. It’s a marvellous place for the kids, with several packed floors of stuff to do, an outside area, even a Planetarium at the top. Plus, there are loads of little events and workshops going on throughout the day so there’s never really the chance to get bored. If you’re ever in Birmingham with littles ones, it’s a must-see!
The Thinktank, also known as the Birmingham Science Museum, is situated in a sleek new development called Millennium Point which is to the East of the city centre. It has to be said that Birmingham is looking pretty damn sexy these days. If you’re heading in through the impressive New Street station you’ll see what I mean, and Millennium Point is a collection of expansive, modern buildings that make-up the city’s ‘Knowledge Quarter’.
We parked-up at the Millennium Point multi-story car park which was only £5 for 6 hours and an easy stroll across to the museum. This meant we passed some offices and were already on floor 2 where the entrance is. If you come from the ground floor - where the outside Science Garden is - you can buy tickets from a kiosk and then go up to the second floor from there.
We managed to score a voucher to get 20% of the tickets but the prices are reasonable and you could easily spend most of the day there. It’s open 10am - 5pm:
Children 3 - 15: £9.75
Under 3s: FREE!
You can also get family tickets. A family of 3 would be £33 which would save a few quid.
One thing you need to buy as you go in are tickets for the Planetarium as this gets busy and has screenings at certain times. It’s only £1.50 each (under 3s can sit on your lap) and you can choose from several different shows. There are some longer ‘talky’ ones that last around 20 minutes so we opted for the short’n’sweet 10 minute ‘Space Gazers’ with no narration. Check out the current Planetarium schedule before you go.
When you get your tickets make sure you get a line-up of the little activities that are going on that day. They seem to put on loads of littles fun things and we caught storytime under the large Moon exhibit and also a cool workshop where kids got to build moon buggies out of Lego and test them over pretend Moon terrain (OK, styrofoam blocks).
The Thinktank sets the bar high when you first enter because level 2 is home to ‘The Street’, a mini-city where kids can dash around and try all sorts of role-play possibilities. There’s a hospital where they can dress up as doctors, nurses or midwives and look after baby dolls and even give their parents a dental check-up. Or they can nip along to the cafe to dish-up some pretend (thankfully) dishes and run the till. It’s a bit of a mad house with toys and outfits strewn everywhere but it’s the highlight of the museum and perfect for toddlers or little kids to let their imaginations run wild.
Before you get to The Street there’s an interactive water feature which lets kids operate dams and wheels to move rivers of water around. Don’t worry, there are handy smocks you can put on the kids so they don’t spend the rest of the day absolutely soaked! Level 2 is also home to the wildlife area although it seems a bit dull compared to the craziness of The Street, but there is a real-life, bad-ass Triceratops skull!
There are handy smocks you can put on the kids so they don’t spend the rest of the day absolutely soaked!
Up on level 3 is the space-related stuff about the Moon, Mars and home to other futuristic things like a talking, moving robot with an animated face. It seemed to be there to spout movie quotes which I found quite quirky but the kids just thought it was weird and a bit scary. They did get to make a nice shiny silver badge with some the museum staff doing a session about eclipses.
Luckily while we were visiting they had the Museum of the Moon exhibit set-up which was very impressive. It was a big dark room with a scale model of the Moon itself glowing ominously in the middle - it really was like a mini-planet had come down from the space. You could stroll around it and see all the tiny craters across the surface. The soundtrack was a bit oppressive though, for the young kids anyway.
The Planetarium was a great experience, our 2-year-old was a bit nervous while lying on me as you’re reclining backwards and looking up at a very large screen with things moving about above. The short Space Gazers film was perfect, mostly still images with a gentle soundtrack and a cool bit where it glides through Saturn’s rings. I imagine the longer films would be perfect for budding space nerds.
Down on level 1 is the more contemporary design things like how cars work and using different materials to make real-life products. It’s all very colourful and there’re plenty of things for kids to see and touch. There’s a large area dedicated to the Spitfire and how it was made and from this floor you can also see the large vehicles and steam engines the museum has on display on the ground floor below. There’s a big steam train plus lots of things from the industrial revolution that move and hiss.
On the ground floor you’ll find the museum’s cafe where you can buy hot food and drinks. There’s also a large indoor picnic area with rows and rows of long tables, very handy for those visiting outside of summer.
We ate our lunch outside the museum in the Science Garden, probably a mistake because the kids kept seeing something and running off to play with it. The Garden is brilliant, and free to visit after 3pm. It has loads of equipment with pulleys and levers for kids to sit on or swing round. And yes, more water features here, with a few troughs for racing rubber ducks down or jets to keep balls in the air. So plenty more opportunities for kids to get themselves in a mess!
We found the Thinktank incredibly easy to get around, lots of space for the pushchair and plenty of places to leave it so we could explore. It didn’t seem packed even though it was the summer holidays so the kids got to try things out at their own pace and the lifts were fairly quiet and painless use.
We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in Birmingham, it’s very kid-friendly and you feel there’s more to do than there is to just look at. Some science museums can just be very static exhibits accompanied by a lot of reading but kids just want to play with something quickly then run onto the next experience - the Thinktank certainly has loads of opportunities to do that!