Okinawa Zoo's Wonder Museum

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rainy season sucks. 

Trying to keep a highly active toddler busy during rainy season is even worse.

There are some pretty awesome indoor parks around here, but the last time we visited one we came away with the norovirus, so I've been hesitant to return. Instead I've been trying out new places to entertain Avery, preferably ones that are entertaining for me, too. Cue the Wonder Museum!

See the look of wonder on her face?

Before today, all I knew was that the Wonder Museum was located inside the zoo grounds. I wasn't sure what to expect, but since our annual pass to the zoo came with five free tickets, Avery and I went on a small adventure there today to check it out.

The verdict? Awesome!
It is a three-story building with views of the jungle, ocean, fish pond, zoo, and city. It reminds me a lot of the kids science centers I've been to back in the USA, but with more arts and crafts areas, story times, and puppet theaters!

It didn't take Avery long to join a pack of Japanese kids and wander around checking out exhibits. I think this particular one was supposed to teach them something about weather, but it ended up as more of a glorified indoor sprinkler. She was pretty happy with it, until she spotted this groovy dance floor.

 She threw herself a one-baby dance party for several minutes. The rave was going well until some rowdy older kids showed up, at which point we moved on (but returned about 3,000 more times before we left). How cute are these exhibits? The one on the left below is a series of interactive, electronic globes ("balls!"), and on the right is a dress-up center and tree house. Both are a little beyond Avery at this point, but they are totally cute and she enjoyed them anyway.


Okay, so she doesn't really get how to make tangrams yet, either, but that didn't stop her from having fun with the shapes and light table.

These stairs are musical! How fun is that? Each stair plays a note when stepped on, which somehow isn't as obnoxious as you'd think. We spent about half an hour going up and down (and up and down!) the stairs. 

We spent nearly all our time on the bottom floor, so we didn't see even half of the exhibits. On our way out we passed this star map of Okinawa and shadow puppet table.

This flashlight drawing area was super fun. I don't know what the materials were, but the wall was coated in something that held the images for a few seconds before it faded away.

Avery made a toddler friend who was equally uninterested in the physics lesson taking place. They just took turns handing each other the same three balls over and over.

There was even more wonder to be found in the parking lot in the shape of the (free) rain gutters!

Overall, a really fun place! It is geared towards slightly older kids, but Avery still had a blast. I think as she gets older and can participate in some of the craft classes and other exhibits she'll love it even more. There were also microphones that modify your voice, an interactive mirror exhibit, a tool room, and all sorts of other fun places that will be exciting for her in the months and years to come.

Okinawa Kodomo No Kuni Zoo

The Okinawa Zoo is only a few miles from home, and I pass it several times a week on my way to the gym. Avery has been on a real kick with animals lately (mostly making their noises), so when we finally got a break from the rain this weekend we hopped in the car and made the short drive. 

The big animals intimidated her at first -- I guess her books didn't prepare her for their true size -- and the zoo here lets you get pretty darned close to some of the big guys. The first big exhibit was the hippos, who were getting fed. I thought it was pretty awesome, but the toddler in my life was less impressed.

Avery was fairly worried for a few minutes, but she warmed up more to the giraffes. By the time we got to the elephants, she was relaxed and let me put her down. She immediately recognized them from her books and got really excited. Then she sat on my lap and watched the Japanese kids feed the "elfans" for awhile. I'm not sure if the kids or the elephants were happier! Today wasn't our day, but I'm sure before we leave the island, Avery will be handing over the greens.

The turtles really sealed the deal for her. Turtles are one of her favorite animals, and much more familiar to her. She has already been up close and personal with them a few times at the Okinawa Churami Aquarium, plus they're a little bit more her size!

After the turtles, Avery decided she was having the greatest day ever and it was full speed ahead from there.

She likes fish even more than turtles (more than everything, really), so the pond was a big hit. We bought some fish food (she quickly dubbed them "crackers"), and it didn't take her long to figure out how to chuck pieces into the water for the fish and fowl to fight over. 

We rounded out our trip with a visit to the petting zoo. There were chicks, bunnies, goats, and turtles for touching. Avery wasn't particularly interested in handling them, but she gave them each a few tentative pets. To be honest, her favorite thing was probably the toddler-sized sink, but the chicks were pretty popular, too.

It's not the greatest zoo that I've been too -- being raised on Point Defiance Zoo and Woodland Park, my standards are pretty high--but it's not the worst, either. Admittedly, the monkeys all alone in their small cages made me sad, but most of the other animals had decent enclosures, and they all appeared well cared for. There are also ocean views, beautiful flowers, and several more fun areas we didn't get a chance to explore today (including a playground, fishing area, pony rides, a carousel, and an interactive kids museum). We will definitely be back -- its small size makes it a perfect morning outing, its close proximity means we can go often, and I think Avery will enjoy it more and more as she gets older. And for only $5.00 (and free under 4), it's a great bargain. 

PS -- Don't worry about the language barrier. They've got that covered.

If that's not self-explanatory I don't know what is.

A day at White Beach

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Heaven on earth, for my toddler, is defined as follows: a warm afternoon spent anywhere with sand, rocks, fish, a playground (or several), and water she is allowed to play with. Lucky for her, we happened to find just such a place: White Beach. On the Pacific side of the island and owned by the Navy, this place is pretty perfect, and not just for Avery.

We spent the afternoon enjoying ourselves here last weekend while my brother was visiting. The tide was out far enough that we were able to walk across the sand bar to get to the small islands just off shore (at high tide, kayaking to them is also popular).

Except for a few friendly marine animals, we had the islands to ourselves for most of the afternoon.

The boys tried to spear us some dinner, but with the tide being out only small, pretty reef fish remained. I'm pretty sure they had fun trying, though.

Meanwhile, I let the toddler roam around freely and explore to her heart's content.

She loves rocks and shells of all kinds, so all the interesting coral pieces on the beach tickled her fancy. However nothing was quite as exciting as the moving "rocks." At one point, she held her hands out to offered me some "ocks! ocks!" and when I opened mine up, she dropped five hermit crabs into my palms!

Then she discovered the tidepools. Avery thinks tidepools are awesome because:

1) The fish are trapped and can't swim away from her 
2) She can splash around without getting knocked over by the waves

I found her some teeny tiny ones without anything poisonous and let her "spash! spash!"

Definitely a perfect afternoon.


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