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Learning around town

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OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM Houston offers many educational places to visit. Benny and Elliott Smith (pictured, from left) like to explore the trees and lake at Memorial Park. (Photo: Keely Muse Photography)

Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 8.

September brings the start of fall and school time. We set out to find Houston places to visit that are geared towards a child’s learning, places where parents can bring their babies or toddlers to stimulate their imagination and engage their senses.

Mom-of-two Amy Ostfeld has taken her two kids to the Children’s Museum Houston for years. “The museum exhibits change all the time,” she said. “Every time I go, there is something new.” She says the museum always has something fun to engage all ages.

The popular Tot Spot inside the Children’s Museum, an open-play area for babies and toddlers only, up to age 35 months, has a much-anticipated reopening Sept. 20 after being closed during the pandemic.

The area allows babies and toddlers room to explore and interact with other little ones and their parents, focusing on developmentally appropriate sensory exploration, problem-solving, and imaginative play.

Cash and Lila McQueen

TOT SPOT The popular Tot Spot inside the Children’s Museum, an open-play area for babies and toddlers only, will reopen this month after being closed during the pandemic. Pictured are Cash and Lila McQueen exploring this area of the museum when they were tots.

The Children’s Museum Houston offers exhibits and programs for a range of ages, including a “Kids’ Committee” (for ages 8-13), a program to help improve the museum’s programming and exhibits through the perspective and opinions of kids. (Museum admission is $15 for adults and kids ages 1+; free for kids under 1.)

There are countless outdoor educational spots for children, including a favorite of many Buzz families – Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary. Driving down Memorial Drive, just west of Beltway 8, one might pass by without knowing an 18-acre nature reserve lies just west of Memorial United Methodist Church near Rummel Creek Elementary.

Edith L. Moore Sanctuary is privately owned and managed by Houston Audubon and admission is free to the public. The reserve allows visitors seven days a week and has walking trails with birding, and live streaming bird cameras. It is an excellent spot to take a tot to learn all about nature and birds in a toddler-friendly outdoor environment.

One Buzz dad, who has three daughters who attend Rummel Creek Elementary, recently went on a nature hike at the sanctuary. He says he enjoys how easy the access is from their neighborhood. “We eat lunch, then stop by Edith Moore to see if we can find birds or other critters. We have been coming here for years,” he said.

Another favorite outdoor educational spot is the sprawling Houston Arboretum. The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is tucked away, close to downtown Houston. It has over 150 acres of nature, and walking trails filled with outdoor learning. The Arboretum is a fantastic spot for a young child to learn all about plants, ecosystems, birds, and more, and it’s free to visit. After outdoor exploration, there is a Discovery Room that has wildlife, and ways to learn about plants and animals up close and personal through exhibits, microscopes, and games.

Two popular Bellaire-area spots are Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, which has five acres of green space. The open outdoor space allows families to escape from the city and connect with family. Nearby, the Nature Discovery Center has many programs to instruct young children on the importance of nature including printable scavenger hunt pages for kids.

One of Houston’s largest natural areas is Memorial Park. Buzz mom Kate Smith says she is a huge fan of taking her three kids to Memorial Park to check out the towering trees, especially her 20-month-old who enjoys the freedom to roam. “There is a little bit of something for everyone,” she said. “A lake with fish and ducks, trails to explore, an open field to kick a soccer ball, and food trucks.”

Another educational spot great for toddlers and small children is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. A toddler-friendly area is the butterfly exhibit – children can experience the lifecycle of a butterfly and walk through a towering indoor exhibit where one might even land on their shoulder. (Note: The Butterfly Center is closing for renovations starting Sept. 12.) Museum tickets are free for children ages 2 and under, $16 for kids ages 3-11, and $25 for ages 12+.

There are lots of free toddler and baby story times around town at local library branches. The Spring Branch Memorial Library, located near Hedwig Park, hosts different story times each week, and has a “baby hour” reserved for babies only. Discover the many events on the Houston Public Library website or on social media.

A child’s desire to explore the world around them becomes even more fun when you visit exciting places that encourage learning. If you look around the city, there are endless ways to head out on an adventure to spark learning, exploration, and a little adventure in day-to-day life. Where will your next educational adventure be?

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