HendersonvillePete Zamplas

‘Fun’ is the operative word in Hands On! writing game


The interactive activity center at 318 N. Main St. in Downtown Hendersonville is growing as a tourist destination, and is being officially renamed. It was “A Child’s Gallery.” The “museum” name emphasizes its many exhibits just as in a museum, Exec. Dir. Joseph Knight said. He brings 13 years of administrative experience in science and children’s museums.

“Exhibits are what make a museum,” Knight said, and Hands On! has 14 exhibits such as art and music rooms, grocery mini-store with cash register, and huge gravity downhill race track. There are also fun activities, such as a scavenger hunt within the museum last week.

Signs with the new Hands On! apple logo will go on once it is warm enough (50 degrees) for them to initially stick; it reached that at times this past weekend. The red apple, of course, reflects Henderson County’s historic crop and economic base, Knight noted. The much simpler logo has on it one child’s handprint, rather than several colorful hands as before.

Hands On! celebrated its 10th anniversary last September, a month after Knight succeeded founder Heather Boeke. She stays on as Creative Experience director, handling the non-profit’s programming such as Mad Science on Wheels outreach to schools and libraries.

Knight and Education Coordinator Kay Campbell wowed families as science magicians at the anniversary gala four months ago, and along with Boeke and Judi Donofrio do science demonstrations in the periodic Mad Scientists’ Lab. A prime aim is for onlookers to absorb “science concepts useful in the real world,” such as realizing puffy sky clouds foretell a thunderstorm, Knight said.


Ronan Kogoy, 16 months old, is in an assembling mood on the large chessboard. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

He said since the 10-year bash, donations have risen along with awareness and “excitement” over the hands-on attractions. The chief fundraiser is the Mad Mountain Mud Run June 23, along a three-mile obstacle course in Berkeley Mills Park in Hendersonville.

Hands On! draws many science classes and families from Buncombe and other nearby counties, in addition to Henderson County residents and curious tourists. The center typically gets busiest after school lets out at 3 p.m. Visitors Services Coordinator Mindy Campos said that 20-30 children typically visit each afternoon.

Campos’ nephew, Izaiah Campos, was among those who frolicked and grinned when creating words and phrases last week in reading and writing exercises in the Discovery Room at right just outside the front entrance. That is at the end of the long hallway from Main Street, going by Black Bear Coffee Co.

The second-grader in Upward Elementary snapped together different-colored letter blocks to make words and phrases. The cubes spin to rotate, to switch from small to capital letter. There are multiple blocks for vowels, but not rarer-used consonants. Izaiah spelled out “I love toys.” He created other words with giant green letter cards, as his aunt and his grandmother Cindy Campos pridefully watched.

Youths “curate sentences,” Knight said. “They understand language, and how literacy works” with word and sentence structure.

The week-long project was entitled Early Reading and Writing Literacy Exploration, for youths three and elder. “Gain competence with pre-writing skills and letter recognition through engaging hands-on games” was the summary. Summit Marketing was the exhibit sponsor.

Younger children can piece together a puzzle in order of the alphabet, with each letter coinciding with a puzzle image, to form a hippo. This is a fun visual way to learn the alphabet, in order.

“Makerspace” also has no extra charge beyond the $5 general admission (free for Hands On! paid members) for activities in there to “create, design and build.” Makerspace sessions in February are 2-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The room’s prior name was the acronym STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math).

Now it is the Discovery Room. “Inspiration often leads to discovery,” Knight said. Hands On! has a mission to “provide ‘hands on’ educational experiences and science programs that stimulate the imagination and motivate learning in a fun, safe environment.”

Day-long this week, concluding Friday Jan. 26, is “We’ve Got Your Number!” games for money and math skills. Van Winkle Law Firm is the sponsor. All next week is an artistic challenge, of step-by-step drawing of a groundhog in honor of Groundhog Day on Friday Feb. 2.

Mini-Makers is each Thursday this month, 10 a.m. to noon in Discovery Room. Children ages 3-6 recently cut slits into barren paper towel tubes, so they can be spliced together to form various shapes. Melissa Gagliano devised that project. Another time, older youths got to use basic power tools, with staff supervision. When making crafts, children can take home what they make. Supplies are typically provided.


Hands On! Exec. Dir. Joseph Knight shows the new fabric loom wall exhibit, in the Discovery Room. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Some spaces have new uses. The giant chessboard no longer has the pieces readily available. Instead, the “Rigamajig” activity is there. Wooden assembly pieces of varying shapes are put together, and locked in place with large metallic screws and bolts. Since there are also wheels, vehicles are a common creation, Mindy Campos noted. She said one family that visits daily typically puts together a car at least once a week.

Last Friday, 16-month-old Ronan Kogoy got into an exploratory and assembling mood on that chessboard. He did so instinctively, after “painting” with a marker on rocks at the mini-waterfall with his mother Heather Kogoy. She said Ronan also likes placing pegs into holes, to create a glowing light pattern on the large Giant Light Bright! wall grid.

As for remote projects, Science on Wheels was Jan. 3 and 17 and is next on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 4-5 p.m. in the main Henderson County library. Families should call 697-4725 to register for that.

Hands On! hours are 10-5, Tuesday-Saturday. Yearly membership is $80 plus tax for an adult and child, $140 for a family of five, or $120 for two grandparents and two specified children to always get in free. For more about Hands On! and its programs, call 697-8333 or check www.handsonwnc.org.

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