By Pete Zamplas- Hands On! Children’s Museum in Downtown Hendersonville has expanded space and exhibits, by adding a second gallery near its main wing and which is close to Main Street.
The educational activity center opened its new West Gallery two months ago. The museum is at 318 N. Main St. Such expansions are afforded by donations, membership fees, and the main fundraiser — the annual Mad Mountain Mud Run on a challenging obstacle course in Berkeley Park. It was June 1.
The museum now features over 11,000 square feet of state-of-the-art science-tech STEM exhibits. Many parents equate it to what is normally in a city such as Charlotte, not a small town.
Hands On! acquired extra interior space in a former retail spot, across a walkway from Black Bear Coffee Shop. The foot path, perpendicular to Main Street sidewalk, led visitors to the museum’s main entrance.
Instead, now visitors enter the new West Gallery and by its very first door, which is closest to Main. The reception desk is there, to pay admission. The area’s door back on the left side leads to the path to the original wing, in an enclosed area now accessible only to those coming from the new wing.
“Empowering children through play” is the main aim, Hands On! Executive Director Joseph C. Knight stated.
Kellie Spinks oversees programs, while Melissa Gagliano manages visitors services. They are impressed by how much more walk-in foot traffic they get, by being more visible to those strolling or driving on Main Street.
A very popular play site in the new wing is the “Dinosaur Safari Fossil Dig.” In a huge sand box, young children can reach in to find hidden dinosaur figurines then play with them. Several parents cited it first to The Tribune, among new attractions.
The Puppet Theatre, Lego Raceway, and Little Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop remain top attractions among 15 long-standing interactive exhibits.
“Create and explore” is what Drew Hayes of Hendersonville said his son Ty Hayes, 8, and others get to do in Hands On! Ty said he most enjoyed recently dressing up in a play, in the mini-theater. He was a phantom. Two other children were a lion and giraffe. They improvised a plot and dialogue. Drew said Ty seemed “excited” to do the performance.
The ice cream is plastic, but youths enjoy pretending to put together scoops on cones. One parent took children afterward to the real Kilwin’s on Main Street, for actual ice cream.
The tall downhill raceway is a hit. Youths put together racers out of Lego blocks, then roll them down the top part and watch them zoom downhill. Van Issenmann, 4, kept going back for more race heats.
Spinks has taken over the role as lead scientist, in giving demonstrations. Knight still helps with that. He performed a science magic show on Tuesday, when onlookers were served popsicles.
Typically, special events start 2 p.m. and last up to an hour on each Tuesday (science), Wednesday and Friday in this new month of July including this Friday. Registration is not required. Knight noted many events are surprises, such as a “Hula Hoop contest or dance off.”
Further, there were several recent Science on Wheels! outreach visits to libraries within the county. Three of these were for the same craft project of creating spaceships out of such items as plastic bowls and cups and tin foil. This exemplified creatively using readily available, low-cost materials. That is ideal for fun at home or for birthday parties.
Storytelling is another activity of Hands On! Joy Resor enjoys reading her children’s tales to children in groups or even one-on-one throughout the main gallery — as she did Tuesday morning of last week.
Resor’s inner reward sparks once a child is “engaged in the story. You can see it in the eyes, that they’re happy to hear these rhymes.” Joy, who lives in nearby Brevard, said she likes to “inspire joy” in children — thereby living up to her name.
She said “balance” is the main theme of her latest book: Designed to Shine!: Read Aloud Rhymes for Any Size Heart. Lauren Connell illustrated it. The book just won first in poetry, in Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.
Admission is $8 per child or adult,
for an infant younger than one year. Member rates are $80 to $140 (family of five). Museum hours are 10-5 daily, except when closed on Sundays. There is a two-for-one child ticket Hands On! deal for the play “Stone Soup” July 6, in The Center for Art & Inspiration.
For more on Hands On! exhibits or to reserve for child parties: Call 697-8333, or check www.handsonwnc.org.