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It's natural for kids to engage in creative play, becoming architects, veterinarians, swashbuckling pirates, or tenured professors inside their own imaginations. The Children's Museum of South Carolina just helps them learn while they do it. Perhaps that's why the museum?like the scores of children who visit it?has continued to grow since first opening in 1994. In two decades, the museum as expanded from a small shopping-mall space to a 7,500-square-foot facility packed with interactive exhibits.
In the Sea Turtles Dig the Dark exhibit, kids crawl through a sandy tunnel to see a nest of loggerhead turtle eggs and learn about endangered-species conservation. Meanwhile, the Hurricane Simulator recreates a massive storm's 78-mile-per-hour winds, and the USS Kids-A-Float exhibit explores the parts of a boat and how South Carolina's pirates might have weighed their treasure. The museum also hosts events that range from storytelling to weekly hands-on workshops. Though most of this learning happens on-site, CMSC representatives travel to local schools to lead five-week science camps.
At The Children's Museum of Wilmington, kids have so much fun they won't even know they're learning. In each and every hands on educational exhibit, children take a central role, scanning purchases in the grocery store, giving teddy bears their yearly checkups, and experimenting with art-making media in the studio. Children are allowed to roam freely, as they direct their own learning experiences. Here's what you need to know before you go.
Size: 17,000 square feet
Eye Catcher: Ahoy Wilmington! features a pirate ship, where kids can fire the cannon, swab the deck, and dig for treasure
Permanent Mainstay: the Toothasaurus Dental Exhibit keeps kids up-to-date on dental health as they care for a dinosaur's enormous teeth
Don't Miss: the Grocery Store, where tots can role-play as customers or staff, even filling orders for the play diner upstairs
Hidden Gem: at the Forest Friends Toddler Treehouse, kids four and under don animal costumes, carom down slides, and put together puzzles
Pro Tip: the museum hosts birthday parties that include an educational activity and free admission for all guests
Special Programs: in addition to the hands-on exhibits, the museum hosts activities such as preschool science experiments and cooking classes for kids
Part of the North Carolina Railway Museum, the New Hope Valley Railway shepherds passengers through pine forest aboard vintage diesel and steam-engine trains. Covered cars protect riders from the elements, while a historic open-air caboose allows them to recline in locomotive fashion as they enjoy the shade of the woods, the breeze of the wind, and the harmonious serenade of local wildlife choirs. Trains depart from and return to Bonsal Depot, where a gift shop awaits filled with keepsake merchandise and a display track showcases vintage railroad equipment.
Free to the public, the North Carolina Railway Museum houses historic railway artifacts including vintage trains from builders such as Vulcan Iron Works and General Electric. On select Saturdays and Sundays, the Railway lets passengers take control of diesel-electric or steam-engine trains to experience firsthand life as a conductor.
Ava Gardner was studying to be a secretary at the Atlantic Christian College when 12-year-old Thomas Banks met her while playing at the school's campus in 1940. A year later, the young boy learned his friend had signed a movie contract with MGM to become a movie star. From then on, he collected newspaper clippings and memorabilia tracing her film career, from her breakout role in 1946's The Killers to her lauded work in 1953's Mogambo with Clark Gable. Tom and Ava remained friends over the years, and, at her request, he unveiled his collection—more than 50 years in the making—in 1979 in Smithfield, her birthplace and eventual resting place.
Tom amassed more than 20,000 artifacts from Ava's career and private life, which now, among other pieces, fill the 6,400-square-foot Ava Gardner Museum. Among movie posters and awards stand the silk satin cape that Ava wore in publicity shots for The Barefoot Contessa and the black dress she donned in The Great Sinner. Her personal items include china, jewelry, 40 portraits of her by Bert Pfeiffer, and the engraved watch she gave to her third husband, Frank Sinatra. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum celebrates the starlet with its annual Ava Gardner Festival, which includes screenings of her classic films and heritage tours.
Bob Meyer, who has spent many a tour alongside bands such as Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Phish, and The Allman Brothers, helms Give To Live Guitar Studios, which provides music lessons with a focus on community outreach. He and his staff of experienced, enthusiastic instructors welcome students for lessons in stringed instruments such as guitar, violin, banjo, mandolin, or bass as well as drums, vocals, and keyboards. They teach in all styles, from Bach to rock and roll, and help their students move from basics to live performance, hosting benefit concerts for local charities.