The Discovery Zone is an interactive area for kids, located on the Lower Ground floor of the Australian War Memorial. During ACT school term time it is only open to the public on weekdays between 12:30pm - 1:30pm, however on weekends, ACT school holidays and public holidays it is open all day. This free, fun and "hands on" area is designed for older primary school kids on school excursions, however it can be enjoyed by all ages - big and small. For kids old enough to read the signage and understand war, it is a visual and tactile way to learn about the different wars over the years. They can walk through trenches of the Western Front in France, as well as learn what Peacekeepers do in countries all around the world today. Younger children will enjoy sitting in the cockpit of a Iroquois helicopter, walking through a Cold War submarine (and see - and smell - the tiny toilet and shower they had to use!) and playing dress ups with the army and navy costumes.
The whole area is one interactive play zone, where kids just simply don't want to leave.
Press buttons, flick switches and pull down gears whilst sitting in the cockpit of a Iroquois helicopter (Vietnam War)
The Cold War submarine is also a popular area, with buttons to press, handles to turn, radars to check and telescopes to look through. From 1967, Australian submarines took part in covert operations and submariners lived and worked in cramped conditions such as this. On our visit, some kids had obviously been watching submarine shows, as all you could hear was them calling out "Dive, Dive, Dive!" - which made it feel authentic, as well as look it.
Walk through a submarine, pull out doors, turn buttons and even smell how they used to live and work
There is also a scene of a home from the Second World War, which shows how kids experienced wartime back in Australia. There is a black and white video showing how kids collected aluminium pots and pans from families in the neighbourhood, to melt down for the war effort. There is also a hanging meat safe to show how they kept their meat cool, as well as wartime toys, hopscotch on the floor and a snapshot of what home life was like in the late 1930's and early 1940's in Australia.
Video of the war effort and a wartime Coolgardie meat safe
The next room explains the role of the Peacekeeper in war, with a model in the centre of the room with interactive areas on each side. On one side, kids are instructed to empty a valve on a virtual pump to rid the pipes of polluted water, so the water becomes clean for drinking. Another area allows kids to move a hand held mine detector to detonate mines in the village, so it is safe for the villagers to return. A popular spot on the model is the building and engineering of a bridge, using soft blocks. The kids follow instructions to move the blocks together to create an arch over a support, then they remove the support, to show how simply the shapes of the blocks joined together supports the bridge. Virtual cars in a light show then travel over the bridge and into the tunnel, much to the delight of the kids watching.
Interactive model which shows the role of the Peacekeeper
The full scale trench area is a little darker and harder to explain to younger children, however it is interesting to walk through for older children. Whilst there, learn about how they communicated with Morse code and carrier pigeons, on the Western Front in France.
Allow plenty of time to explore The Discovery Zone, as kids will enjoy trying out each activity and then starting all over again. I personally took my five year old daughter to The Discovery Zone and she enjoyed playing with each of the areas, even though she doesn't understand the meaning of war. It was a good opportunity however, to teach her about countries that aren't as fortunate as Australia in the Peacekeeping Room, where she learnt the importance of clean running water. For the rest of the Discovery Zone however, it was just a fun area to play - particularly in the submarine which was like being in the "Octonauts" submarine on the kids TV show. If you are visiting during school holidays, there is often free Drop In Craft sessions next door - see here for a list of events planned.
Press some buttons, flick some switches and dress up at The Discovery Zone - it is guaranteed to keep your kids busy for at least an hour these school holidays...