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Museum at Prairiefire is a cultural gem

Children delight in the resident hissing cockroach in the Discovery Room at the Museum at Prairiefire.
Children delight in the resident hissing cockroach in the Discovery Room at the Museum at Prairiefire.
Museum at Prairiefire

The Museum at Prairiefire

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If you're looking for something both fun and educational to do with your kids during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, the Museum at Prairiefire can't be beat. The 42,000-square-foot Museum in Johnson County's brand-new entertainment district is an independent, nonprofit organization and the only permanent space outside New York City dedicated to American Museum of Natural History exhibitions, hosting two of them each year.

The current exhibit, Water: H2O=Life, explores the science and beauty of water and its importance in everyday life. In addition to thought-provoking graphs and installations (comparing how much water, for example, is available for people in the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom), there are plenty of hands-on activities that really get kids of all ages (and their parents) engaged with learning about ecology and the importance of not wasting the Earth's precious resources.

In addition to the rotating exhibits in the Exhibition Gallery, there are many other areas of interest to children and adults alike--including an Introductory Wall, that conveys Kansas' maritime history when it was a shallow, intercontinental sea; the Paleontology Gallery in the Great Hall, showcasing one of three original, 40-foot casts of Tyrannosaurus Rex; Alive, an augmented reality interactive experience, where visitors can connect with an extinct creature; and two species of Pteranodons, in a slowly rotating mobile.

Sprint Gallery, in the heart of the Museum, provides an open canvas for two-dimensional displays that will change periodically. The initial exhibit, Picturing Science, features twenty sets of large-format prints that showcase advanced imaging technologies used by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History. One of the most remarkable displays is of the SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope), which can magnify an object up to 500,000 times--more than enough to see Lincoln sitting inside the Lincoln Memorial on the penny. Other haunting images focus on Goblin Spiders and a shark's braincase.

One of the most popular places in the Museum is the Discovery Room. If you have a child between ages three and twelve, be sure to book an appointment time for you and your youngster to enter this magical place. Located on the Museum's upper floor, the 5,000-square-foot Discovery Room is an interactive playground where kids can indulge in open-ended, inquiry-based exploration, and discover real objects, models, games, video, interactive media and more--without a "don't touch" zone. The different play areas (from building your own dinosaur skeleton to listening to a hissing cockroach to looking at ribbons and seashells through a real microscope) are so inviting that you may find it very difficult to tear your child--and yourself--away when your forty-five minute session is up.

If you get hungry during your visit, the Fresh Market Café offers a variety of sandwiches, wraps, paninis, pizzas, salads, hot dogs and fruit, plus muffins and cookies. And the Museum store stocks some wonderful educational games, toys, books, and souvenir T-shirts.

Water: H2O=Life runs through July 13, 2014, so hurry to catch it before it's gone. Mythic Creatures opens in late August, and will combine models, fossils, ancient and modern cultural objects and interactive multimedia technology to tell the stories behind mythic creatures that have captured people's imaginations throughout time.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission to the Great Hall is free and admission to the rotating exhibition is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages three to twelve.

Admission to the Discovery Room is $7 for kids ages three and older. Adult caregivers may enter the Discovery Room when accompanied by a child.

If you're visiting from outside the Kansas City area, the Hyatt Place Kansas City/Overland Park/Metcalf is conveniently located for exploring not just the Museum at Prairiefire, but also the entire Kansas City metro area. All of the spacious guest rooms feature plush Hyatt Grand Beds and state-of-the-art media and work centers, with free Wi-Fi. There are also Cozy Corner sofa-sleepers and bathroom vanities with granite countertops. An outdoor pool keeps kids entertained after the Museum at Prairiefire closes for the day, and the complimentary breakfast (featuring a rotating variety of signature breakfast sandwiches) gives you a great start each morning . Plus, a menu of made-to-order entrees and appetizers, along with drinks (including alcohol), is served in the Gallery in the lobby.

The new Museum at PrairieFire offers world-class "edutainment" and is definitely a jewel in Johnson County's crown. Once you've visited, you'll definitely want to go back.