Decision: Not getting an Ontario Science Centre family membership

From Sept. 5: We had fun at the Ontario Science Centre. I like science centres. I have lots of great memories of going to science centres and playing around with exhibits. We’ve decided not to buy a family membership for now, though – we’ll just buy tickets as we go. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Cost of family membership: $120/year Break-even point: at least two visits per year

Exhibits I liked today:

  • Stereoscopic photographs: I always like these. I think depth perception is fascinating.
  • Reptiles (special exhibition): The snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi) was really cool. I also liked the exhibit showing how the fangs of snakes hinge when they close their jaws.
  • Scents: Of the five scents they had (leather, laundry, flowers, earth, vanilla), it turns out that I like the smell of clean laundry the most. So domestic!
  • Oil pumps: Mechanics and hydraulics, yay
  • The globe: I hadn’t realized China was so mountainous. I enjoyed seeing the continental shelves and looking at the underwater contours, too.
  • Paper airplanes: The paper supplies were all gone, so I picked up other people’s planes and refolded them or just threw them. I liked how they had hoops and a target if you wanted to try stunt or precision flying.

A number of new exhibits joined most of the old stalwarts. I was looking for some of the exhibits I remembered, but I couldn’t find them. That’s okay! =)


  • Equipment and exhibits make it easier to explore scientific principles (ex: pumps, levers, sound, etc.)
  • Multisensory experience / scale helps in understanding (ex: anatomy, geology, and so on)
  • Special exhibits provide additional reasons to return
  • Volunteers share their interest in science
  • Exhibits prompt you to explore things you might not have sought out by yourself (ham radio, etc.)
  • Exhibits validate interest (paper airplanes can be cool!)
  • Can use exhibits to support classroom learning:


  • Busy-ness and noise can be overwhelming
  • Tends to encourage shallow explorations/entertainment instead of deeper engagement. Hard to slow down and get deeper into something because of background noise, consideration for other people, and distractions from other exhibits
  • Pricey


J-‘s grade 8 curriculum topics:

Events that might be interesting:

Back to the decision. We’ll probably not pay for a family membership immediately. We’ll reconsider this if we find ourselves going again within a year, and if we foresee a third trip within the year. If we end up going twice in a year, then our total cost is roughly the same with or without a membership – no loss there. If we go three times, then we’ll end up paying more in total, but that’s okay because the membership will cover additional months during which we might make a fourth visit.

We’re going to put off getting a membership until we determine what frequency we’d like to go. We’ve had a family membership to the Ontario Science Centre in the past, and we made excellent use of it including trips to museums with reciprocal agreements. With lots of things changing this year, we’re going to hold off on that commitment to avoid the “I’m going to pay for the gym so that I get encouraged to use it” effect. We like science, and there are many, many ways to explore it.

Also – Is it odd that I recognize Ontario Science Centre exhibits described in other museums? I was reading Andy in Oman’s blog post about the OSC donations and I vividly remembered most of the exhibits mentioned. Including that land-like-a-cat one, which I tried many times. (Cat-related! ;) ) I had hoped to try it today with my Vibram toe shoes, but it’s probably abroad. What can I say? I like science centres. =)

Some of my favourite exhibits from other science centres:

  • The giant soap bubble exhibit from the Exploratorium
  • Tactile Dome (Exploratorium)
  • Catenary arch building blocks
  • Foucault’s pendulum traced with sand
  • Newton’s cradle
  • Kinetic sculptures
  • Rock polishing and panning for gold at Science North (ah, the stories)

I think one of the things I loved about growing up with the science museum in Manila was that there were often few visitors there. Looking back, I can wish now that it was better patronized, but I remember really appreciating the freedom. I got to spend all the time I wanted building catenary arches, playing with the magnets and iron filings, clapping into that big echo tunnel, or confusing my mind with perspective tricks. Most of the science museums I’ve been to have been crowded, which is a great thing, but which can be overwhelming. Maybe going on a weekday will help. Winter, perhaps? We’ll see.

I felt today’s trip was worth the time, money, and opportunity cost. It might have been even better if we slowed down, got deeper into a few exhibits, and maybe tried more of the timed shows. I tend to like mechanical exhibits more than exhibits that focus on screen display or video.

And yes, I still want to spend at least a week in the Smithsonian. ;)

  • Ontario Science Centre sounds like a fun place. It reminds me of
    “Questacon” in Canberra, Australia’s capital.

    Exhibits there include an earthquake simulator, Jacob’s ladder (high voltage
    electricity), and many more.


  • I think it’s interesting that your decision has focused on the utility aspect of the decision from your perspective and has not touched upon the other objectives that other people sometimes have for obtaining membership, such as supporting the organization and its mandate financially.

    Since I often use the decision methodology described in the book Smart Choices, I know for myself I probably would have identified that as an objective in addition to the nuts of bolts of how often I go and how much value I get from the activity; then included a donation to the Centre as an alternative in addition to the membership alternative you unpack in this post as a result. I go through a similar process for the Vancouver Art Gallery — and it was through that process that I also realized that there are also other alternatives to supporting the arts besides the VAG.

    I get a kick out of reading your decision posts ;)

  • Quinn: I support learning, but I do that through donations to the library and volunteering at Free Geek Toronto. The Ontario Science Centre is a good place for people to try things out and I’m delighted it’s so busy. For W-, J-, and me, though, I think we might focus on asking “Why?” more often, following up on J-‘s science lessons when she’s with us, and taking things slowly. It’s good to have gee-whiz exhibits, and it’s also good to remember that science lessons surround us everyday.

  • One of my favourite science books as a child was 101 Great Science Experiments. I was younger than an 8th-grader when I first read it (I initially discovered it in Grade 1—I was a keen little prodigy—I kept re-checking it out from the school library every year), but it’s suitable for children of all ages. There are a wide array of really fun experiments ranging in topics and complexity. I’d highly recommend it!

  • scott caple

    Hi Sasha,
    I don’t know if you will find this comment, attached to a post from two years ago, but I was interested to read your take on the Science center these days. I was searching for some information on older past exhibits because , as you seem to suspect, the SC used to be way cooler than it is now, at least, to me.
    They had some wonderful interactive things that seemed more informative and interesting. They was more there, now i feel there is a lot of empty space. There was a hall of models, beautiful scale models of aircraft, ships, etc. and a shop behind glass where grave, older gentlemen were producing more. There were special exhibits, such as the “Wood” show back in 1977 os so, which had displays and demonstrations of every aspect of wood you can think of. it seemed more serious and not so frantic. Oh well. If you ever read this, please contact me: i would like to discuss it more. Cheers,
    scott PS – you sound like a really cool kid!

    • Maybe it’s a funding issue, maybe it’s about demographic or technological changes, maybe it’s the industry changing, maybe it’s me… Some of my favourite memories growing up were going to a science museum much smaller and less funded than the OSC, but I loved it anyway because it was quiet and the exhibits were highly interactive. :)