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Young boy immersed in light while exploring Playing with Light

“Playing with Light” is This Spring’s Can’t-Miss Family Exhibit at Science Museum of Virginia 

Lights, colors, lasers, and positive energy that will brighten your child’s perspective on learning! Why you should visit Playing with Light.

The Science Museum of Virginia (SMV) is one of my family’s favorite places in RVA, and we recently had a chance to check out the Playing with Light exhibition (open through August 20, 2023). As always at SMV, I was so impressed with how play and learning were so seamlessly interwoven throughout the twenty-two exhibits. Playing with Light was truly fun for our entire family; even my husband and I learned a lot! I guess what they say is true – it’s never to light to learn something new!

Playing with Light is located on the first floor to the left, just before the elevators and included in your Science Museum of Virginia admission. Upon entering the exhibition, we found ourselves immersed in a light tunnel with over 20,000 LED lights that moved along with us. My kids loved this part so much, I thought we might never get to see the remaining exhibits.

Kids learning about light at Science Museum of Virginia
Learning how light affects our perception at Science Museum of Virginia.

Once we left the tunnel, my children discovered the fun of Laser Dodge. In this exciting activity, they crawled, ducked, and jumped over laser beams to avoid activating an alarm. My 5-year-old was a bit hesitant to go in (he is not a fan of the dark), but after going through once holding Mama’s hand, he was totally comfortable and went through at least five more times. If your little one is apprehensive, I recommend going through with them as I did for the first time, and you can also let them in on the secret: An actual alarm will not go off, so it’s okay if they accidentally touch a laser. 

The highlight for my artistic daughter was the Painting with Light exhibit. After choosing a color, she used paintbrushes, which were more like oversized laser pointers, to make her own designs on a large screen. A second exhibit for those interested in art is Coloring Mixing. My 5-year-old preschooler enjoyed mixing primary colors and making various color combinations. Because this is something he’s worked on throughout preschool, he was able to use his background knowledge and make connections while mixing his colors on the screen. I love when that happens!

One of my favorite exhibits, Colour Changes, demonstrates how objects change their appearance under different colors of light. The exhibit uses the example of produce, showing how grocery stores can expertly use lighting to make products more appealing so that customers will be more likely to buy them. I now know that I’ve been duped more than once at the supermarket!

Another fun exhibit for everyone to enjoy is Freeze Your Shadow, where you pose in front of the screen and wait for a flash of light. My children loved doing silly poses! Another shadow experience is toward the back of the exhibition, where we stood in front of a screen and by switching our arm position, we made bubbles and/or stars appear.

From attempting to bounce light between our hands to investigating how filters and lenses affect light, the opportunities for learning at Playing with Light are immense. There is information to be gleaned at nearly every turn, so you will want to spend at least one hour and take your time to savor it all. For reference, we spent just about an hour-and-a-half exploring the exhibit, before enjoying the rest of the museum.

A few precautions as you plan your visit: If you have light sensitivity, please take caution and read the bright yellow sensory notice signs, which are placed throughout Playing with Light. As stated above, the exhibition is dark, and certain areas, like “Laser Dodge” may cause apprehension if your child is uncomfortable in the dark. I don’t think the darkness should be a dealbreaker, just prepare your child in advance and try the other exhibits before “Laser Dodge”. Lastly, the “Kaleidoscope” exhibit requires patrons to duck under a thick sheet, in order to get in an enclosed area. If you become uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, skip this one.

Playing with Light is included with Science Museum of Virginia admission, and is open now through August 20, 2023. For hours and admission information, go here.

Learning is fun at Science Museum of Virginia
Learning and science are fun at Science Museum of Virginia.

Lindsay Garrison lives in Midlothian with her husband David and their two children, Eloise and Gus. She has written a Real Mom article for RFM and occasionally contributes theatre reviews. For more inspiration and lots of family fun, follow Lindsay on IG @rva.familyfun.

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