How to Raise Your Kid to be a Scientist in Vienna

STEM-tastic opportunities await Vienna’s children, even before their first science class at school.

Far be it from me to advise parents how to dictate a career trajectory for their children – even if they could. My father, an author, discouraged me from pursuing a life of letters, but here I am, barely eking out an existence as a hack writer. How different might it have been had my parents nudged me into a STEM instead? By now, I might have cured cancer, had a comet named for me, won the Nobel Prize for physics! Or invented a doomsday device…

It’s not all their fault – I grew up in the countryside without the resources to maintain a child’s interest in science. I say “maintain,” because children are natural-born scientists – innately curious creatures and experimental from the get-go. The challenge is keeping them interested. All it takes is one bad teacher, an anticlimactic result with a junior chemistry set (that “explosion” pictured on the box was actually just a puff of smelly steam), or a tedious trek to a musty museum, and interests gravitate to Keith Richards’ guitar licks.

For young people in today’s Vienna, however, there are exciting opportunities on every side. The city invests significant resources in STEM education and the sponsorship of high-tech and scientific enterprises. An aspiring scientist has options from secondary school on – from
a STEM-focused Realgymnasium or technical school (HTL) to polytechnic colleges and
universities (for more, pick up Home Town
Media’s Vienna Survival Guide for Education). 

But with younger children? Primary schools themselves sponsor science-themed extra-curricular activities and field trips, along with independent courses, holiday camps, fairs and exhibitions. From Anthropology to Zoology, Stadt Wien has your children covered.

Museums & Co.

Vienna boasts many museums that turn science literally into child’s play. For preschoolers aged 8 months and up, the ZOOM Children’s Museum at the MQ offers a fantastic indoor playground, “Ozean,” that is “dedicated to the spirit of promoting early scientific education.” For older children, hands-on exhibitions and science education workshops will have your kids begging for a return trip.

The Technisches Museum Wien offers free admission to all children up to age 19. It also has interactive play areas for kids two and up, and an interactive maker space called techLABwhere older kids (the under 12s must be accompanied by an adult) can “learn about current production and manufacturing technologies as well as … new Industry 4.0 professions.”

A visit to Vienna’s imperial Naturhistorisches Museum (NHM) can be hit or miss. Navigating this colossal institution can potentially turn any child into a tired, whiny science-hater. Instead, choose from a handful of child-friendly exhibits on Paleontology, Astronomy, and life sciences. The dinosaurs, digital planetarium shows and weekend programs are your best bet. Every so often, kids aged 7 to 11 can bring their pajamas and sleeping bags for a sleepover (Nachts im Museum)! 

For budding astronomers, there are three other planetariums in Vienna to choose from: the Zeiss Planetarium and the Urania and Kuffner observatories. While the latter is no state-of-the-art facility, all three offer tours and programs for kids, and might make a good location for your child’s next “star-studded” birthday party. The Interest Group Astronomy and Space(IGAR) offers tips and organizes outings for outdoor stargazing.

And for that very special teenager unperturbed by the macabre and with an insatiable curiosity about medical science, there is the Narrenturm – an 18th-century insane asylum built by Emperor Joseph II. Now part of the NHM, it hosts a creepy collection of pathological and anatomical oddities. Fascinating, but not recommended for the faint of heart.

Of course, the Haus des Meeres aquarium and the Tiergarten Schönbrunn zoo are sure to inspire budding zoologists, marine biologists, ethologists and veterinarians, as well as animal lovers of all ages.

Courses, Camps & Spaces

Whether you’re looking to fill vacation days, after-school time or just a few hours of science-filled stimulation, a wide variety of programs are listed on the must-bookmark website, WienXtra, a database of events filtered by subject, location, date and age. 

Free summer courses for kids aged 7-12 offered by the Vienna Children’s University (KinderUni) in July are in high demand, so when its program is published and registration starts in May, act quickly. The 2019 program offered hundreds of science-themed lectures, hands-on workshops and field trips at Vienna’s public universities. It also goes “on tour,” bringing lectures and experimental stations to public parks throughout the city.

Science Pool offers vacation camps in summer, as well as during the semester, Easter and Pfingsten (Whitsun) holidays, featuring courses in computer, robotics, physics, biology, zoology, and chemistry – “every day a new experiment.” Outside of vacation times, kids can visit (or even host a birthday party at) their Museum der Nerdigkeiten.

 Founded in the USA and now franchised worldwide, Engineering for Kids offers “STEM-tastic” classes and camps for children aged 4-14. Groups are formed according to language and age. One mother whose bilingual daughters attend a week-long summer camp is especially impressed by its creative, gamified approach and gender-neutrality. Her kids “found it challenging, and fun to explore science in such a playful way and made decisions, as coequals, with the boys on their team.” 

As your children become adults, technology will continue to make actual human workers redundant, so it could make sense to get your kids up on programming and robotics. The Lyma studio offers semester courses: Lego Mindstorms EV3 for 8-13 year olds; and a “Scratch” computer-game programming course for 7-10 year olds. Robomaniac also offers semester courses, as well as weeklong vacation camps. Kids with advanced skills might participate the international RoboCupJunior Austrian Open in Eisenstadt, on April 24-25.

A few maker spaces offer primary and secondary school kids training and access to high-tech equipment (3-D printers, laser cutters, computers, electronics). HappyLab offers an open house tour every Wednesday evening and workshops to its members. The A1 Campus hosts a cost-free digital learning and working space for kids aged 7-14 in after-school hours. And volunteers at CoderDojo teach computer skills and programming to 8-17 year olds, free of charge!

The non-profit Science Center Netzwerk’s Knowledge°Room (Wissens°raum) transforms vacant office spaces into pop-up science centers for everyone aged 8 and up (6-7 if accompanied by an adult). Guests are invited on Saturdays (free of charge) to explore, discover and inquire about regularly changing themes, and multilingual guides are on hand.

The Vienna OpenLab lets people aged five and up explore what goes on in a molecular biology research laboratory. Its regular weekday courses and summer camps allow children (with or without parents) to “gain amazing insights into the fields of genetics, genetic engineering and biotechnology,” according to the website. You’ll finally have a family member who understands that “CRISPR” is not the veggie drawer in your refrigerator!

On that first weekend in spring, the Vienna Research Festival (Wiener Forschungsfest) will take over the Rathaus, offering many interactive exhibitions about innovative research and new technology. Then, in May, the Lange Nacht der Forschung (Long Night of Research), the biennial Austria-wide science fair, will present current projects, new discoveries and technology in ways that promise to be fascinating, understandable and entertaining for all. 

So, if your children end up busking in train stations for a few euros instead of becoming prize-winning physicists, don’t blame our fair city for not providing enough opportunities to delve into science! You won’t have to reinvent the wheel – if you get on your children’s wavelength, they’ll be light years ahead! Spoken like a hack writer!   


UPCOMING EVENTS
(Spring 2020) – Canceled due to Coronavirus

April 18

Nights at the [Natural History] Museum

For ages 7-11
1010, Maria-Theresien-Platz
nhm-wien.ac.at/en

April 24-25

RoboCupJunior Austrian Open

International robotics tournament
Thomas-Alva-Edison-Straße 1, 7000 Eisenstadt (Burgenland)
robocupjunior.at

May 8

Long Night of Research

Various locations across Austria
langenachtderforschung.at
For up-to-date event listings, visit wienXtra
www.wienxtra.at/kinderaktiv

EXPERIMENTAL PLAY FOR PRE-SCHOOL CHILDREN

ZOOM Ocean

Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna
For ages from 8 mos. to 6 yrs

60-minute access per ticket
(€5 admits child & 1 adult). 
Entry times vary
closed Mondays
1070, Museumsplatz 1

CAMPS AND COURSES FOR SCHOOLKIDS

KinderUni (Vienna Children’s University)

Cost-free summer camp for ages 7-12
July 13-25, 2020 (registration starts in May)
Free hotline: 0800 664 540 (Mon–Fri, 10am–2pm)
Video
various locations

Engineering for Kids

Programs, camps and party location for ages 4-14
1090, Thurngasse 4

Vienna OpenLab 

Life science courses and camps, ages 6 and up
1030, Dr. Bohr-Gasse 3

Science Pool

Multidiscipline holiday camps and party location for ages 4-18

Museum der Nerdigkeiten 

open daily 8:45am-6:00pm
1110, Hauffgasse 4A

TGM STaR-Lab

“Be a STaR” chemistry workshops for ages 10-14
1200, Wexstraße 19-23 

HANDS-ON SPACES

techLAB @ Technisches Museum

opening hours: Thu–Sun / 14:30 to 17:30
suitable for children of all ages; children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

HappyLab Vienna

Free tours on Wednesdays at 19:00
Hours: Tue 9:00–13:00; Wed 18:00-22:00; Thu 13:00-17:00
Workshops free for members (from €9/mo.)
1020, Haussteinstraße 4/2

Knowledge°Room  (pop-up science center)

Open Saturdays 10:00-18:00
Current location: 1050, Reinprechtsdorfer Straße 1c 

COMPUTER SCIENCE

CoderDojo

Cost-free computer skills & programming  for ages 8-17
Next dates: Feb 14 & 28, 5pm-7pm
Registration required
1010, Am Hof 6a (Verbund)

A1 Campus

Digital media center offering free access and coaching
weekday afternoons from 14:00
1020, Engerthstraße 169

LYMA Studio 

(Robotics courses for ages 7-13)
1060, Loquaiplatz 12/1

Michael Bernstein
American expat Michael Bernstein moved to Vienna in 2001, abandoning his previous career in arts administration. He is now a freelance writer, editor, translator and Internet Marketing consultant. He was a regular contributor to inventures.eu — an E-zine about the Austrian/CEE startup scene — and was Lead Editor for its 2015 Ventures Almanach. Photo: Visual Hub

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