Dig This, Mom & Dad: Prehistoric Play in Memphis
If you live in or are visiting Memphis with children, you know (or should know) that dinosaurs are all the, er, roar these days.
They’re lurking at the zoo. Posing at the children’s museum. My family likes both, but where the displays differ, you may find that one fits your brood better. So, just for you, my dino vs. dino review:
Dinosaurs: Land of Fire & Ice at the Children’s Museum of Memphis Through May 13
Included with admission? Yes
Inside or outside? Inside
Best for ages: 3-10. Though the lights are low and a dinosaur animation is projected on a large screen, there’s nothing designed to scare here.
Plan to spend: 45 minutes (plus time to see the museum’s other exhibits)
What to do: The exhibit excels at addressing several kiddie drivers: role-playing, creating, problem-solving (and perhaps the most critical: just plain playing). Kids can practice paleontology in a dig pit; craft ecosystems by tracing dinosaurs and making fern rubbings (or by manipulating prehistoric props around a play table); complete puzzles and match fossils to their dinosaurs; and slide, nest, and creep across a spongy-floored bog thanks to small play structures scattered throughout the exhibit.
What to see: Favorites like Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Troodon – sculpted to un-intimidating scale and begging to be touched and photographed.
Dinosaurs at the Memphis Zoo Through July 8
Included with admission? No. Purchase tickets (valid for one exhibit entry per day) at the exhibit entrance: $3 for members; $4 for non-members.
Inside or outside? Outside
Best for ages: 5 and up. My four-year-old wasn’t scared, but I wouldn’t have blamed her had she been.
Plan to spend: 45 minutes (plus time to see the zoo’s other inhabitants)
What to do: Dig into the fossil-filled sand tables; touch a life-sized Allosaurus skull; piece together a dino skeleton on a super-sized puzzle wall; catch a “Dino Keeper” chat – during these thrice-daily presentations, a “dinosaur interpreter” uses a hand puppet to introduce you to the exhibit’s species. They happen just outside the exhibit, so they’re free.
What to see: 15 animatronic dinosaurs in prehistoric vignettes. Parasaurolophus guards her hatching offspring from yours; Dilophosaurus spits regular streams of water at you (this could be a very good thing on a hot day); a bloody-toothed Tyrannosaurus Rex towers over you and its Triceratops prey. Beware that the dinosaurs move and roar – and that you’ll be routed through a gift shop upon exiting.
Tip: The zoo has designated Thursdays and Fridays as field trip days. If you plan to visit before school’s out, opt for a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
Always in town: Memphis Botanic Garden and Chucalissa
On the grounds of Memphis Botanic Garden, but separate from the kid-magnet that is My Big Backyard, the Prehistoric Plant Trail conceals a shady play area sized just right for toddlers and young-elementary visitors. Ferns and palms line the way to a dig pit, cave, dinosaur statues and a look-out platform.
You won’t find dinosaurs at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, but you will find plenty of pre-history – namely, evidence of a Mississippian culture that thrived between 1000 and 1500 A.D. If you haven’t visited since you were a kid, you need to come back. The museum and prehistoric mounds persist, but the site has added a hands-on archaeology lab and regular programs I can’t wait to take my family back for. The lab is a “please touch” kind of place where you can learn about carbon-dating and flint-mapping; Family Day and Volunteer Saturdays are similarly hands-on (work in the indigenous herb garden; sort artifacts; sneak a peek at “the trench,” a cross-section of a prehistoric mound not regularly open to the public). And if you can throw the atlatl with any success, feel free to gloat about it here. I’ll be contacting you for lessons.