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Discovery Center at Cranbrook Institute of Science

Designed for children ages 3-8, this room at the Bloomfield Hills museum lets kids make hands-on discoveries – and think 'inside' the boxes

Owls. The moon. Ancient Egypt. Snakes. Science of all shapes and sizes is right at children's fingertips – at the Discovery Center at Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Tailor-made to "feed the curiosity" of kids ages 3-8, this tiny gem (it's currently one room) is packed with interactive fun. And it's been luring kids and parents to get way hands-on with the world, from biology to culture.

Peek inside the box

The No. 1 gateway is the center's popular "Discovery Boxes." Each zeroes-in on a topic and teems with six to 12 activities that bring it to life, including booklets, activity cards and 3D props – from replica chimp and dolphin skulls to noise "clickers" that let families try out how bats "see" in the dark.

The acrylic boxes are stacked in custom cabinets, which hold about seven apiece.

Kids also have a chance to try on different culture's clothing, like little lederhosen and Middle Eastern outfits – and test out an African finger harp or Indian percussion instrument, all in the "Children Around the World" – which also stocks ethnic jewelry and dolls.

An idea is born

The center's creators, Elizabeth and Dexter Snyder, were inspired by their own grandkids, all under age 6. Really, the idea began in their Birmingham home – where they actually spent two years developing the program.

Discovery Center

"We've got a museum in our house here," laughs Elizabeth, 69. "We just love this stuff!" The Boston Museum of Science also offered plenty of guidance and inspiration, she says (they visit often, since they also have kids and a granddaughter in Massachusetts).

The Snyders saw firsthand how Plexiglas cases can curb wee ones' instincts to grab and discover. "Kids use a remote control to make things happen," says Elizabeth, of a common traditional approach. Granted, "That has a lot of value."

But, "For really young kids, we wanted them to touch everything," she explains, "feel it and experience everything."

So much to explore

That's why here, rug rats are welcome to use microscopes and magnifying glasses to view whatever they desire. Special activities let them delve into cool icky stuff, like owl pellets (that's puke!).

Kids also can take "field notes" on special rocks – a subject dear to Dexter, a retired physical chemist – which they then take home. "We hope that's the beginning of a collection," Elizabeth says.

And "Look out the Window" is one of the latest additions. Created by an Eagle Scout, it lets kids climb up a hand-railed set of stairs to peek outside with a pair of binoculars – where they see feathered friends visiting an array of birdfeeders and birdhouses just outside.

Before you go

Set in the museum's lower level, Discovery Center is open 12:30-3:30 p.m. on Sundays only. Parents are highly encouraged to register in advance, Elizabeth says, space is very limited.

Sessions last 45 minutes, and there is a limit of two kids per adult. It's free with admission for CIS.

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