We’ve been visiting The Horniman Museum in south east London for years and Little B has enjoyed himself there running around the gardens as soon as he was able. But now he is nearly three he’s a lot more interested in going to their excellent special exhibitions.
Like many children his age he loves ‘aminals’ and robots so he was very excited to hear that the Museum had combined the two in The Robot Zoo!
The Robot Zoo houses larger-than-life-size robot animals made from familiar machine parts and gadgets, in an exciting hands-on family exhibition revealing some of nature’s most amazing adaptations.
We were nervous visiting the Museum again as last time we were potty training and Little B sat down and did a massive wee on the main stairwell. So we were a bit worried about the big queue to get in to the exhibition.
Thankfully the staff were very efficient at getting people in and once inside we could see they were managing the numbers so that it wasn’t too crowded and all the children could get to see the robot animals.
“Wow!” is Little B’s favourite new word, along with “favourite”, so to hear him say it as soon as he saw the giraffe at the entrance is probably the only seal of approval The Robot Zoo needs.
He was soon running back and forth between each animal in a frenzied scouting mission before settling down and taking time to ask us questions about what they were.
The answers to these (endless) questions were thankfully to hand in the form of big boards packed with information that even a tired, harried parent could scan and sound like they knew everything there was to know about why a fly has so many eyes.
Each animal has been ingeniously recreated with pistons for muscles, pipes instead of intestines, and computerised ‘brains’, showing how their real life counterparts see, hear, hunt, hide and move.
According to Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman:
Animals are amazing, and these robots really show us how. The everyday parts used – tubes, hinges and even a fly-swatter – form innovative representations of the amazing tools and abilities that have evolved in nature to allow animals to survive in a wide variety of environments and habitats. From a housefly’s lightning reactions to a bat’s ability to locate prey in the dark, this exhibition demonstrates just how extraordinary the animals that share our world really are.
Here’s a selection of the incredible creations you can see (thank you to The Horniman Museum for these as they are much better than my photos!):
Once your children are tiring of the robot animals themselves there are lots of games and challenges so you can find out how a chameleon changes colour, what makes grasshoppers leap so high, and exactly why a platypus looks so strange.
“This is my FAVORWIT daddy” shouted Little B as he gently elbowed some other children out of the way to access the giant squid racing game yet again; cue embarrassed apologies from me but secretly pleased as I watched his squid win.
I was keen to try on the chameleon’s camouflage cloak so I could ‘disappear’ against the identical background and get a fun photo, but Little B was having none of it: “No cloaks daddy! I don’t like cloooooaks!”
However, we both had a lot of fun trying to catch flies with his tongue – the chameleon’s, not my son’s (though I wouldn’t put it past him) – and trying to swat flies as they lit up (harder than it sounds).
After around half an hour of intense excitement Little B sat down inside the duck-billed platypus’ enclosure and announced he was tired. I managed to extricate him and we headed for the exit, via the lovely shop where we managed not to buy anything (although the toys and books are very tempting) and set off for home.
“I LIKED the aminals daddy,” he said wistfully as we walked s-l-o-w-l-y back toward the car.
I patted his head, damp with perspiration (and probably some snot).
“That’s great! Which one was your favourite?”
He gave this a great deal of consideration.
“My FAVORWIT was the giraffe daddy…”
“Ah that’s nice…”
“AAAND the wino.”
“AAND the pattypuss, aand the fly, AAND..”
We need to work on the definition of favourite.
Opening times and tickets for The Robot Zoo
To find out which robot animal is your favourite get your tickets for The Robot Zoo any time until Sunday 29 October 2017. The Horniman will also host a special programme of events linked to the exhibition throughout the year.
Ticket prices: Child £4.40; Adult £7.70: Family (2 adults, 2 children) £18.70. Prices include 10% voluntary Gift Aid donation. Horniman Members enjoy free, unlimited visits to the exhibition.
The Horniman Museum is open daily 10.30am-5.30pm, except 24 – 26 December, when it is closed. The Gardens open at 7.15am Monday to Saturday and 8.00am on Sunday and Bank Holidays, and close at sunset. Entry to the Museum and Gardens is free but charges apply for the Aquarium and some special exhibitions and events. Horniman Members go free – horniman.ac.uk/members.
Getting to The Robot Zoo at The Horniman Museum
The Horniman is situated at 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ on the South Circular Road (A205). It can be reached easily by train to Forest Hill station (London Overground/Southern, travel time approx.15-20 minutes from east/central London or East Croydon) and by local buses (176, 185, 197, 356, P4).