Friday, April 19, 2013

Adventure in Portland: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

As part of our series, Adventure Fridays, we will be exploring low cost educational adventures for families all across the country. Read here about  the series, and we hope you join us here every Friday! 

Today I am pleased to host my friend, Gwen, as she shares about their recent field trip to OMSI. You can find Gwen writing over at Feed the Fish... Walk the Blog. I have always admired her writing, and was pleased as punch when she agreed to share this with us!


Smiddy left on a week-and-a-half business trip Friday morning, and I decided to take the kids on an adventure in an effort to get the time without him off to a good start.  Since we’ve just moved to the Pacific Northwest, everything is new to us, so I asked a homeschooling mom her advice on the best thing to do in Portland.  She suggested OMSI: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

OMSI is located in downtown Portland, right on the river.  Between the GPS and lots of signs, we found our way with no problem.  Admission was quick…and would have been expensive, had it not been for my reciprocating pass.

One of the best investments we make is an annual membership to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and a family membership to the Riverside Zoo in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  While we might not visit either of these locations more than once in any given year (especially now that we live in Oregon), both have good reciprocation programs.  Many museums and zoos participate in a reciprocating program, which means discounted rates when we visit them.  (Check the website of each museum or zoo to find out which, if any, program it participates in.)

We chose to do the regular admission and spring for passes to the current exhibit, Mythbusters.  We debated between Mythbusters and the submarine tour, but finally decided that while the submarine will always be available, Mythbusters is a temporary exhibit, and we wanted to see it while we could.  Three students and one adult cost me $22, a $39 saving off the published price.

OMSI is laid out in two perpendicular wings that intersect at the admissions desk.  It took me a while to figure this out, and for the first couple of hours I was a little disappointed in the small size of the museum, as I perceived it.  Once we figured out that we had only toured half, I felt a lot better about the value for my dollar.

The first wing we hit housed the temporary Mythbusters exhibit, which was loud and crowded.  It didn’t hold a lot of true educational value (in my oh-so-esteemed opinion), but did have some fun activities. For instance, we graphed the probability of toast falling on the floor butter-side-up using a variety of methods to knock it to the floor, tried to pull a tablecloth out from under dishes without upsetting them, and attempted to change into a super-hero outfit in a telephone booth within the space of 60 seconds.

At the end, there was a demonstration on response times, and I wound up standing on stage with two other adults, hoping that I would have the slowest response time so I wouldn’t have to try to dodge a speeding paintball.  They did a good job of explaining responses, formed a hypothesis, tested it, and recorded the results.

The remainder of the first wing was so-so, in my opinion.  One section focused on the energy industry, while the other was based on healthy living.  After finding a spot for our carry in snack, we headed over to the second wing.  This portion of the museum had a large main room with various small exhibits and smaller rooms off to the side, each based on various elements of chemistry and physics.  It was in this wing that we spent the bulk of our time. We learned about 3-D printers; we played in a room that had hoses, vacuums and balls with targets to shoot at and paths to create; we learned about water and air pressure while shooting off water rockets; we learned about electricity in the physics lab.  Highlights included using a double pendulum to draw some pretty nifty designs and working with a museum volunteer to discover the effect of changing air pressure on marshmallows.

We didn’t see every exhibit in our six hours at OMSI, but we left excited to return and check out the submarine and revisit our favorite  attractions from the day.


  • Check into reciprocating programs.  If you visit a lot of museums and/or zoos, the price of an annual membership at one location will save lots of bucks for future visits at that location and others.
  • Bring a lunch.  No one wants to shell out even more money for pricey eats, but you also want to get your money’s worth out of the visit and not have to leave after just a couple of hours. Most places have a “sack-lunch” area where you can spread out your picnic and make it part of the adventure.
  • Pay attention to the time of year.  We hit OMSI on a Friday morning in the spring, which is prime field trip season.  The Mythbusters exhibit was overrun in the morning, but the crowd thinned out towards afternoon.


Gwen Griffiths (known as Thora on her blog) has been given the blessing of serving beside her husband in ministry, as well as raising and educating their three children. Over the past sixteen years, they lived in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Kansas--before following God's direction to move to Oregon, where they serve with Village Missions. Gwen loves this journey and is thankful for all of the things the family has learned along the way.

Thanks Gwen! Join us next week in Kansas City, and be sure to dig out your field trip posts, because it's a link up! Details here.

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