Burke offers a hands-on look at our local history, culture

  • <b>FAMILY TIME | </b>By Lauren Thompson Herald writer
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2012 7:05pm

You will learn a lot of things when you visit the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The pervasive influence of Pacific Rim cultures in the Northwest. The way science, history and people interact to create and influence the world we live in.

And most of all: that you should be glad you don’t live in the time of the dinosaurs.

The prehistoric reptiles loomed above me and crouched around me as I walked the natural history portion of the museum. One dinosaur’s leg bone was taller than me. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The Burke, located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, was established more than 125 years ago and is responsible for the state’s cultural history collections.

Though there is plenty to learn about geology, biology and sociology, the museum is not merely a science center, said Diane Quinn, director of education for the museum.

“It’s the best thing of having both culture and natural history,” said Quinn, explaining how connecting the resources of an area and how people use them reveals the complexity of life.

“It’s demystifying science.”

The top floor of the museum is home to the “Life and Times of Washington State” collection.

The Burke isn’t a “do not tap the glass” type of museum — the “Life and Times” exhibit takes visitors back millions of years, with hands-on fossils, a discovery center with books and games, and those dinosaurs.

“It’s really compelling for kids … that there are real things on display,” said Quinn. Bird wings, fossils and a saber-toothed tiger fang will satisfy the tactile and the curious.

Downstairs is an ongoing exhibit called “Pacific Voices.” Visitors travel around the Pacific Rim, learning about the traditions and culture that color the people of the Pacific. I learned about the significance of each piece of a meal for Chinese New Year, watched a video of a American Indian storyteller, and admired masks from colorful to creepy.

The Burke also has rotating exhibits that showcase the museum’s vast collections that won’t fit on the museum floor.

Family activities are a regular feature of the museum. Recently, when the museum offered an exhibit on carnivals of the world, kids could make their own carnival hats to wear.

“We build family programming that uses the collections,” Quinn said.

For Quinn, introducing kids to natural history and culture is an integral part of education. She emphasizes the ability to experience something, as opposed to just reading about it — something easy to do at the Burke, where touching a genuine, football-sized mammoth tooth is routine.

“A lot of kids know technology well, but seeing the real thing makes it come to life,” Quinn said. “It teaches kids a different way to be curious.”

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

WHERE: University of Washington campus at the corner of 17th Avenue NE and NE 45th Street

HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

ADMISSION: $10 general, $8 senior, $7.50 students and children, free for children age 4 and younger

Free admission the first Thursday of each month, when the museum stays open until 8 p.m.

MORE INFO: 206-543-7907, www.burkemuseum.org

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