Parents formed circles around the children, holding up their phones to capture every movement. Toddlers ran, giggling, trying to keep up with the excitement. Little girls in colorful tutus spun around on the wooden dance floor like tops. Children of all ages hopped back and forth swaying their arms, doing their best to keep up with the tricky choreography as songs by the Beastie Boys blared from overhead.
At the center of it all was Danny Dibble, a dance instructor for HipHopforChange, an Oakland-based organization that teaches children about self-expression and community involvement through hip hop. He was there to teach a break dancing workshop as part of the First Friday programming at the Chabot Space & Science Center. This month’s theme was the human body, and included activities to teach attendees about movement, feeling, how their bodies work on Earth and how physiology changes for astronauts in space.
The dance workshop was just one of many activities which encouraged kids to learn about what their bodies can do. The lineup included outdoor yoga, story time, a hip hop show about anatomy, as well as “astronaut training.” Continuing exhibits, like the museum’s telescopes and a showcase on the science of pinball, were also open to visitors.
Dibble said that teaching break dancing to young children can be a challenge, because few are able to learn choreography, but it was fun. He guessed that most of the children were between 4 and 8 years old. With this age group, he said, the primary goal is to help them feel confident moving their bodies in different ways and “having that motivation to go out and do something they’ve never done before.”
In the Beyond Blastoff exhibit, children bounced between a space tool activity station, checking out an astronaut suit and building Lego space stations. Two brothers, Max and Santiago Orozco, practiced throwing balls into a bucket while wearing special vision-distortion goggles that mimic how the eyes respond to the change in atmosphere. The boys said that they liked the different machines on display. Their father, Hector Orozco, a civil engineer from Richmond, said that he brought his children to Chabot because he and his wife both like science and want them to like science, too.
While working at a build-your-own pinball machine station with his two children, Stephen Leidy, a resident of Walnut Creek, said they frequently come to Chabot. “I’ve got to entertain them as much as I can,” he said. “Plus, it’s something I like to do as well. It’s not so child-oriented that I’m pulling my hair out.” He mentioned that both of his children “like science a lot,” and that the programming at the center is “more engaging” than what they get at school.
Each month, the Chabot programs team picks a theme for their First Friday event. According to program director Jessica Hicks, the themes are often tied to current museum exhibits and depend largely on which local partners are available to participate, calling the process “pretty organic.” Sitting in the center’s MegaDome theater—a large auditorium with an IMAX-style screen—Hicks said having affordable admission as an important aspect of making their programming accessible to everyone. “We said, ‘We want this event to be $5 no matter what,’” she said. “We want people to be able to come up here with their families and enjoy a wonderful time.”
Admission for adults and children over the age of 3 is $5. Members and children younger than 3 are admitted for free.
Chabot Executive Director Adam Tobin seconded the importance of using evening events to attract a more diverse crowd, particularly groups that “may not feel a science center is necessarily for them.”
“I want to make sure that all demographics feel that this is not just a place that’s accessible to them, but that it’s a place of inclusion,” he said. Tobin mentioned previous presenters such as Black Girls Code, a San Francisco-based organization that provides educational programming to promote women of color in science and technology, as an example of their efforts to show visitors that science is for everyone.
“Diversity begets diversity,” he said. “People like to understand, or know, or see that there are people that look like them,” in science.
As the evening wore on, families slowly trickled out and the crowd began to look much more grown-up. The dance floor, where just a few hours earlier children had been learning to break dance, was now populated with laughing adults, dancing and drinking beer. On the observatory deck, dozens lined up in the dark to see Saturn through Leah, the center’s 8-inch lens telescope, while others lay in the grass for guided star gazing.
Although much of the programming at Chabot is family-oriented, organizers bring in speakers and host events specifically geared for what Hicks calls the “date night crowd.” On Friday, these included lectures on the science of pain and how spaceflight can affect the human body, delivered by UC San Francisco and NASA researchers, respectively.
Programming for the rest of the month includes special events such as the Future Friday lecture series, which brings in scientists and researchers to discuss the future of science and technology, and the Chabot telescopes, which are free and open to the public, every Friday and Saturday night.
“It’s been such a success that we do need to be open now more evenings,” Tobin said. “It’s really been fun building on what we’ve created over the last year and half, and it’s only getting stronger.”
Chabot Space & Science Center has weekend lectures, activities and events planned through December. A full list of events can be found here.