Although it has changed locations and names, Explorit Science Center has been creating opportunities for people to actively do science in the same personal, informal way since 1982.
Started by three women professionals — two who were biologists and educators, and one who was an architect — Explorit was created because the founders wanted to share their love for science.
The center’s style is unique because it encourages open-ended exploration where participants can manipulate science materials however they like. Explorit founder and current volunteer Anne Hance explains what makes the organization’s approach to science discovery different from other science centers.
“ ‘Hands-on’ can simply mean touching a button or moving a lever while at Explorit it still means, for example, the pouring of an unknown liquid from a beaker into a funnel as part of a relatively unguided investigation to answer a question,” said Hance.
The first visitors to get their hands on the Explorit style did it in a room in the Davis School District’s Administration Building, where the center was located until 1986.
The Davis Science Center (as it was called then) was entirely volunteer-run in its early years. Local scientists, educators, and others who were passionate about creating opportunities to do science generously contributed their time and skills.
Activities for learners at Explorit have always been simple and relevant to the everyday lives of people of all ages. They might illustrate complex concepts, but use low-tech supplies (that are often left unused or thrown away in many businesses or homes). A ‘homemade’ feel to the materials helps inspire participants to re-create the activities at home.
In 1982, Explorit officially became an independent nonprofit organization, and established a Board of Directors who began organizing major fundraising efforts to support science education programming.
Word of the science center spread beyond Davis, and after an inquiry from a Solano County school, Explorit began presenting traveling programs to bring science to school audiences who could not come to Explorit.
Not surprisingly, developing programs in Explorit’s style requires a lot of passion, time, and expertise. Because of this, the need for volunteers at Explorit is and will always be great.
Hance explains: “It takes more research and time to create things that allow someone to explore personally,” and it’s worth it because “self-guided discovery can fit different learning styles or personalities.”
Another aspect about Explorit is that generous financial contributions will always be vital for the development of its programs. In order to create meaningful, fun, and personal experiences for learners, staff must invest significant time in the planning and creation of each hands-on activity.
Continuing its relationship with the Davis School District, Explorit moved in 1986 to a large classroom at what is now called Willett Elementary. As teachers wanted to bring their classes regularly to visit the center, school programs became a bigger part of what Explorit did.
In 1992, Explorit changed its name from ‘The Davis Science Center’ to ‘EXPLORIT!’ and acquired a new home in Mace Ranch through a lease from the City of Davis.
‘EXPLORIT!’ eventually became ‘Explorit Science Center’ and the organization expanded in 2006 to a second building on 2nd Street to offer more exhibit space and accommodate more visitors.
Recently Explorit returned to its “roots” and is now entirely based out of the cozier Mace Ranch building, continuing to host programs and deliver traveling programs in 18 counties that serve 65,000-80,000 people each year.
The small Mace Ranch building is in line with the comfortable, intimate style Explorit has always had. Visits are available by reservation, and the center also offers birthday parties, special events, and summer camps.