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The ""doing"" place
Children's Museum gives kids hands-on learning

Ever been to a "doing" place?

Vickie Raymond and her two children -- Corban, 11, and Camari, 6 -- have. They were at the Children's Museum of Utah last week."They love it," said Raymond, who lives in Heber City. "The kids can tour everything here and I don't have to worry about them."

The Children's Museum of Utah, located at 840 N. 300 West, considers itself a learning haven for children, said Andi Pitcher, the museum's education coordinator.

"The museum is really a developing gallery," she said. "And it's a place where kids can develop various skills. It's a hands-on laboratory."

For more than 20 years, the museum has been a part of children's lives.

It was founded in 1978 and established in its current home in 1985, said Pitcher.

"It's built on top of an old hot springs," she said. "The Indians who populated this area used to set up winter camp here. In 1921 the springs was turned into a bath house called the Wasatch Plunge.

"Our mission is to enrich the lives of children," said Pitcher.

And it's easy to see how.

There are more than 50 permanent interactive exhibits and a load of daily workshops and activities that feature the arts, humanities, physical sciences and world cultures.

Children can learn about grocery shopping in the market place, complete with checkout stand and produce displays. There is an area that examines the concept of size, which includes a sculpture of Disney's Mickey Mouse -- painted by Hagop Sandaljian -- on the head of a needle.

"We're gnomes," said a group of children as they climbed up a ladder to sit in an oversized chair.

"We are constantly renovating," said Pitcher. "The museum rotates its gallery every three months. This time around we've got a display about the rain forest. And we're going to be putting in a theater area where children can put on puppet shows and other acting projects."

Other areas of the museum feature a live beehive (behind glass), lizards and mice (also behind glass).

Then there's the Nine Mile Canyon exhibit upstairs.

Children can learn about the canyon and the power of flash floods, thanks to a model that uses real water. There are a couple of telegraph stations, a rock climbing wall and an area where children can actually grind corn into corn meal.

"We've also got a birthday room," said Pitcher as she opened up a locked door.

The room is decorated by a mural, painted by Edie Davis, which shows lizards with party hats perched on canyon walls.

Pitcher explained that the birthday room must be reserved at least 48 hours in advance. It costs $20 an hour or $1.75 per person.

Next door to the birthday room is the science lab.

Children and adults can learn about the scientific method. Parents just need to register their children for classes at the museum's front desk.

Throughout June, every Tuesday from 10:30 a.m.-11 a.m. and every-other Thursday from 3:30 p.m.-4 p.m. is a special time for children 2 to 4 years old. On alternate Wednesdays from 1 p.m.-2 p.m. classes deal with food ideas for children 2 to 5 years old and then for children 6 to 12 years old.

Topping off the classes is the Young Scientist program available for children 6 to 12 years old on Thursdays from noon-1 p.m. or every other Monday from 4 p.m.-5 p.m.

Every month the classes change, said Pitcher. "There is always something going on."

More interactive displays in the museum include an actual Boeing 727 cockpit, a diesel truck cab, a painting area where children can also get their faces painted, shadow boxes, soap-bubble displays, a darkened room maze -- geared to allow children to learn about the loss of sight -- and a wheelchair maze.

Another popular exhibit is the Bernoli Blower, on which a ball is suspended on a jet of air that blows out of a cone.

Mira Greene was one of the parents helping teachers from Lake View Elementary chaperone a group of 19 children last week.

"This place is excellent for the children," she said. "They can learn and experience things that can help them understand life as they grow up. This is the first time I've ever been here and I will bring my daughter back."

To keep things running, the museum is staffed with nine regular employees and a group of volunteers.

More than 110 volunteers help with the museum throughout the year, explained Amy Edwards, director of operations.

"In the summer alone, we have the help of 65 volunteers," Edwards said. "They come in four hours a day for eight weeks."

The volunteers do everything from answering questions to demonstrating some of the exhibits.

"A lot of the volunteers were once patrons," Edwards said. "They come in and fill out an application."

"Families include whoever is living in the same house," explained Pitcher. "And now we're having a membership sale so all memberships are $40.

"The museum is designed to make children feel important. These unique experiences here will encourage and reward creativity and curiosity and enhance self-esteem."