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Hands On! in 10th year rotates weekly science activities


Savannah Foster, 3, explores ball-rolling physics in the weekly science project with help of volunteer Robin Pratt. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Hands On! A Child’s Gallery has a different physics or other fun project each week, in this its 10th year. The interactive education center is at 318 N. Main St. in Hendersonville. It opened there in September of 2007. There will be a special event this September. Meanwhile, tenth anniversary foam hands with donors’ names cost merely $10 each, as among fund drives.

“Incredible” is how founder and Exec. Dir. Heather Boeke terms the museum’s longevity and support. She thanks “families, teachers and the community at large.” Science classes and other school groups visit. Boeke said many are from Asheville, which no longer has the Health Adventure for youth.

She notes Hands On! helps the economy, as a destination drawing tourists and out-of-county families into Downtown, where they are apt to also eat and shop.

Hands On! provides “hands on” experiences aligned with state curriculum and standards to “stimulate the imagination and motivate learning in a fun, safe environment,” Boeke stated. Outreach includes Mad Scientists on Wheels in schools.

Self-directed crafts are in the party room, to the right of the main desk. Last week, children sketched blossom decorations on drawings of cherry trees. This was for George Washington’s birthday. Wednesday, Feb. 22 (in 1732) is the first president’s birthday; Monday was official President’s Day combining birthdays of his and Abe Lincoln (on Feb. 12, 1809).

This is National Cherry Month. It honors the legend of Washington at age six, chopping bark off of his father’s favorite cherry tree. Honesty is the morale. Supposedly, Mr. Washington demanded to find out who the culprit was, and young George prefaced his admission with the famous line “I cannot tell a lie!”

Hunter Subaru was the cherry craft’s sponsor. There are no surcharges for such activities. Children can take home what they make. Supplies are typically provided. Families might bring in paper towel and toilet paper soft-cardboard rolls, to go with those on hand for this week’s project. It is cutting and gluing into “critter crafts” said Education Coordinator Kay Campbell.

Next themes are Mardi Gras, games, St. Patrick’s Day, Play a Pipe Piano (March 21-24 then Nano Days to close out March. Campbell said “these are great ways to learn, and be creative.”

Meanwhile, science projects are in the Make Your Space series each Thursday and Friday 2-5 p.m. The entire center typically gets busiest after school lets out at 3 p.m. Visitors Services Coord. Mindy Campos said that 20-30 children typically visit each afternoon.

Abbie Foster watchers her daughters Kennedy, 5, and Savannah, 3, explore a marblel-drop maze. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Make Your Space is in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) room, to the right of the museum’s main entrance. That is at the end of the long hallway from Main Street, going by Black Bear Coffee Co. The room housed the ECCO aquarium, before it moved to 511 N. Main.

Upcoming STEAM themes include Dr. Seuss March 2-3. Wire sculptures were the treat two weeks ago. Last week, there were two attractions. One was an intricate marble-drop maze. The other, Wall Coasters, had three tracks across much of the main wall. These were three levels of half-tubes, varying in ease in which balls rolled through them.

Thus, volunteer Robin Pratt said, it fits children of different ages and levels of curiosity and perseverance. She noted some children tried the hardest track and after that did not work for them, tried the others successfully rather than give up. Pratt said these projects provide “a discovery of the unexpected” and “immediate challenge.”

Abbie Foster has a family membership, and her three young daughters enjoyed STEAM last week. She called it and the center overall a “hands-on, creative way for them to learn, and to have fun while doing it.”

Deconstruction Junction, a periodic activity, is the safe “reverse engineering” of such small donated appliances and electronics as clocks and toasters, and Campbell noted.

Scavenger hunts are held at times in Hands On!, which has several rooms and sections.

Upcoming exhibits include one with ropes and pulleys, Boeke said. Newer exhibits include a flashy one with light pegs. A splashy one is using either of two pumps to shoot water at targets, in the pond below the giant walkway.

Popular, longtime features include that walkway, gigantic LEGO gravity speedway ramp, music room, art room with easels, and grocery and ice cream (with magnetic cones) mini-stores. Boeke said each exhibit got a nod as among favorites, in the most recent surveys. The chess set with huge pieces has returned.

Children as young as 12 can volunteer but must provide references in applications. Boeke said many teens give back to Hands On! as volunteers, for times they had there when younger.

Hands On! Exec. Dir. Heather Boeke sprays water, in a newer educational activity. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Volunteer Chandler Bolick, 16, eyes a computer engineering career. He recalls liking mind-challenging puzzles, word searches and mazes when very young. He is impressed with aptitude of children at Hands On!, such as a 4-year-old boy who quickly counted to 100 the other day. Bolick figures “many know so much more than kids did” in his time, a decade ago.

A major benefit for Hands On! is the sixth annual Mad Mountain Mud Run three-mile obstacle course, on June 3 in Berkeley Park. People can help with donations of money or labor, such as engineering designs of new exhibits and maintenance of them.

Hours are 10-5, Tuesday-Saturday. Daily non-member admission is $5, or $4 each in groups of 12 or more children. Membership provides unlimited admission and program discounts. The yearly fee is $70 for an adult and child, $120 for four, or $200 for six people. For more on Hands On!, call 697-8333 or check

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