We had never been to the Botanical Gardens, even though we've lived in Norfolk for 7 years, except for driving through in the dark at Christmas time to see the lights. There, I said it. I have exposed us as the uncultured boors that we are. The opera, yes. The Botanical Gardens, no. So, when the World of Wonder was being advertised (and who doesn't want to see a "World of Wonder"??) I thought it would be a great time to cross that particular cultural experience off our list.
I learned a few things:
1. We will definitely be back to the gardens, and it won't take another seven years.
2. The World of Wonder is great, and worth return trips.
3. My child is pretty gullible. ;D
When we got there, I put Benny in charge of the map, and he lead us, after several wrong turns, with me keeping my mouth shut and just letting him be in charge, to the World of Wonder.
Here's Sadie surveying part of the massive rose garden on the way in:
This exhibit's central feature is a giant globe peppered with lots of different fountains that you can run around in. Fantastic.
Radiating out from the central fountain were several areas to explore representing different parts of the world. In the Africa part, the kids enjoyed playing in this hut that was equipped with drums and other instruments to play.
There was a game to play too. When we came in, a guy handed us a passport with pictures of different animals to find in the exhibit. When we found one, we were to use its little stamper to mark our passport, and when we collected all seven we got a little prize. That was cool, and fine, and great, but the best thing was...
THE DIRT FACTORY.
The DIrt Factory is a genius installation. It has no instructions, no objectives, no rules. There are three hand-operated pumps for water. And there is a giant box of dirt. There is also a beautiful playhouse/potting shed, lots and lots of different sized buckets, watering cans, trowels, shovels, plant pots, and there are little seedlings that you can play with and uproot and plant and play with again. Amazing. The kids had so much fun here:
Here's Benny operating a pump:
Here's Sadie pondering the enormous box of dirt:
I'm sure it is a gigantic pain in the behind to clean all this up at the end of the day, and get it ready for the next day's play. However, an open-ended activity like this, with no structure and no "right answer" is just so completely wonderful for kids, and this part of the garden is nothing short of genius.
After the World of Wonder, we went through the rest of the garden, including the Enchanted Forest, where I spun a long yarn (which Benny totally bought) about all the inhabitants, and the witch that lives there, and how a red bird in the path means we are being watched, but a black bird means there are trolls nearby, etc. When we got around so we could see Whitehurst Lake, I told him it was the Magic Sea, and on the other side was the Palace of the Princess of Potterdotter. Every place where a little path turned off the main drag, I'd say, "Oh, down there is where the unicorn lives," or whatever. It helped that Sadie fell asleep the MINUTE we got inside the Enchanted Forest, so I was able to be completely horrified that the witch had put an enchantment on the baby. Benny oscillated between saying "Is she *really* enchanted???" and saying, "OH NO! Sadie is ENCHANTED!" Hehehe. That was a lot of fun.
About the time we were all tired and hot, we jumped on the tram that runs around the garden, and took the train tour 2 times. :D Benny was loving it. He sat with another family -- an older couple and their grown children -- on the tram and regaled them with tales of his enchanted sister, and the dirt factory, and the rest of it. Sadie sat in my lap and pointed at everything, and kept repeating, "Mommy, we widing the TWAIN!!!" She loves trains.
It was a great time. I highly recommend it. There can't be too many sunny days left, so catch this one while you can.