200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 27: “Hands-on Science ”

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photo of boy and microscope in Outside In
A visitor explores the microscopic world in the Academy's Outside In.Photo by Mike Persico.

Hands-on Science

In 1975, Portia Sperr, a Montessori teacher and supporter of play-based learning, approached the Academy with a proposal: If the Academy would let her use a small space within the museum, she would run a hands-on learning gallery for children under age 7. The Academy accepted Sperr's proposal, and the following year on October 2, the Please Touch exhibit opened in a corner of Dinosaur Hall between the dinosaur skeletons and wooly mammoths.

Please Touch proved to be so popular that additional staff members were hired and families had to come through in shifts. It was clear that the exhibit needed more room than the Academy could spare. In 1978, the exhibit moved to a location on 21st and Cherry streets and began its own history as the Please Touch Museum. The museum recently moved to its new location in Fairmount Park's Memorial Hall on the Avenue of the Republic (formerly North Concourse Drive). In 1979, The Academy replaced the exhibit with its own hands-on children's discovery center, Outside In.

Would your children ages 3–8 like to visit a forest, a mountain pond, or an ocean shore; touch a real meteorite; view a stream from underneath; crawl through a fallen log; look for fossil footprints; pan for shark teeth; watch a live beehive; or read a book on Lucy's Back Porch? Visit Outside In today!

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