Top three reasons to visit the Schiele Museum of Natural History: Pirate Ship playroom, Planetarium show and lots of room for kids to run around! I’ve been seeing Schiele Museum pop up on Charlotte Parent calendars for YEARS. And then I see it’s in Gastonia and in my head I seriously think it’s on another continent. “Gastonia is SO far away, let’s just stay home and drive each other bonkers.” (Reality: it’s 43 miles from Matthews, 22 miles from Charlotte and about the same in minutes because it’s straight highway).
I’ve been going a little nuts with the kids (5 and 3 year old!) being done summer camp and home every day; and school is still 2 weeks out. So I decided it was worth the drive and we’d check it out! We arrived around 11am, meeting up with some friends. We purchased our tickets, including tickets for a 1pm Planetarium Show. Prices for the museum and planetarium shows are separate but are quite reasonable, see the full list here (varies for resident/non and age of children).
First we went to explore the outdoor areas before it got too hot. There is a .7 mile trail that winds through the woods and it’s a beautiful area with several different exhibits. Unfortunately, most of them were not open when we visited. We could still walk around but the buildings were locked up, same with the Catawba Indian Village, which looked awesome from the outside! According to museum pamphlets, they only run certain hours and they finished up for the summer on 8/5. But that didn’t stop the kids from running around to check every building, and running down all the trails. (Parental supervision required for little ones, the bridges have very wide railings easy for little ones to slip through and also the pond has no fence!) We checked out the Stone Age Heritage Site and ended up at the outdoor playscape and pond, which was a big hit. Turtles sunning themselves on the rocks plus some cool houses to play in and rocks to jump off of. We also found a painted Gastonia rock (which was our hidden treasure for the day!).
After exhausting the kids on the hike, we grabbed our coolers and ate at a shady picnic table at the edge of the parking lot near the hiking trail. After lunch we went inside to cool off.
We went through the dinosaur exhibit rather quickly (not very interactive, just dinosaurs to look at, which is only fun for so long and then your kids want to climb over the exhibit walls and try to touch the dinosaurs). Yeah, the dinosaur exhibit did not impress. The Pirate Ship room was a different story!! There is a huge pirate ship playground the kids can climb up into, pretend to shoot cannons, climb into a crow’s nest, go down the slide, climb into the bottom of the boat and up the rope ladder and then repeat, repeat, repeat. All the while shouting Aye Matey and Aarrrrgh! We went back to this room 3 times in the almost 4 hours we were at the museum. Yes, that long! We had to drag the kids out of there to go to the Planetarium Show at 1pm!
After a short wait in line for the show, we went inside and grabbed some very comfortable reclining seats. The show was Totality, which explained the upcoming solar eclipse in a fairly kid friendly way. I lost focus around the Albert Einstein part and may have dozed a little bit at some point, but that was more so the dark room/momlife/reclined chair effect than a reflection of the show. Both my 3 year old and 5 year old sat still for the entire 30 minute show without asking ONCE for a snack. This is a feat in itself. I would say the Planetarium is a must see when you go. It was really a cool experience; I want to go see another one.
After the show, we explored the rest of the museum. It just kept going! We dug for dinosaur fossils, moved a robotic dinosaur egg arm, pet some turtles (statues but Shea loved them, mommy turtle and baby turtle); saw a live skunk, possum, turtles, snakes and groundhogs. My kids enjoyed the Indian exhibit mainly for the telephone like recorded information stations at various exhibits. Button pushing is fun, even if you don’t listen to what comes out! We explored the everglades and the animals found there. The fish tanks provided a bit of entertainment as well.
The green roof was recommended, but somehow we missed seeing it, I am totally bummed but we will make a point to see it next time! I thought we explored everything before we ended up in the Pirate Ship room (again). The kids also enjoyed the huge T-Rex standing fossil in the entry way – they really wanted to climb it, but settled for running circles around it’s feet instead every time we passed it.
We finally headed home around 3pm, and I got a nap out of my 3 year old!!! Ya’ll, the things that happened today just don’t happen every day. Which leads me to conclude this was worth driving to another continent to explore. You can follow the museum on Facebook at the Schiele Museum of Natural History for upcoming events or on Instagram @SchieleMuseum for up to date happenings.