Still amaz­ing

Two years in, al­lure of Amazeum re­mains strong.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - LARA JO HIGHTOWER

When Ben­tonville’s Scott Fam­ily Amazeum opened in July 2015, lead­ers of the project pre­dicted that around 180,000 guests would visit the chil­dren’s mu­seum in its first year of op­er­a­tion, says Shan­non Dixon, the Amazeum’s di­rec­tor of de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Those pre­dic­tions turned out to be far too con­ser­va­tive.

“As we near the end of our sec­ond year, we have ap­prox­i­mately 566,000 vis­i­tors from all 50 states and more than 5,000 mem­ber house­holds,” says Dixon.

Dixon says a core Amazeum goal is to keep the mu­seum and its ex­hibits fresh. “Our team has worked hard to cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence that fos­ters cre­ativ­ity, learn­ing and fun,” she says. Team mem­bers present ac­tiv­i­ties, de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate imag­i­na­tive play, on a daily ba­sis and, says Dixon, “host monthly com­mu­nity spotlights that shine light on the di­verse tal­ent, cul­tures and craft of our com­mu­nity.”

The Spe­cial Ex­hibit Gallery hosts trav­el­ing ex­hibits that change fre­quently, so even re­peat vis­its to the mu­seum promise new and fun things to ex­plore. Past ex­hibits have in­cluded “Di­nosaurs: Fos­sils Ex­posed” and the fall ex­hibit will be “Mindbender Man­sion,” an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibit of hands-on puz­zles to test kids’ puz­zle­solv­ing skills.

Dixon says the mu­seum will cel­e­brate its birth­day with a Splish Splash Birth­day Bash this Satur­day.

“All of the birth­day fun is in­cluded in the paid daily ad­mis­sion or mem­ber­ship,” says Dixon, who adds that pa­trons should “come ready to get wet with fun out­door wa­ter ac­tiv­i­ties.”

We re­cently vis­ited the Amazeum with two 6-year-old cub re­porters in tow, to see how the mu­seum was ag­ing as it moves into its third year. Emmeline and Jack have been to the Amazeum a dozen times now, but their ex­cite­ment is still pal­pa­ble, and the al­lure of the place has not dimmed. They started vis­it­ing when they were 4, so they’ve out­grown some at­trac­tions while grow­ing into oth­ers. The Amazeum does a good job of ex­tend­ing its reach to chil­dren as they move through dif­fer­ent de­vel­op­men­tal stages — in fact, says Dixon, start­ing in the fall, the Amazeum will con­tinue to ex­pand the age group it serves to kids ages 14 to 18 through new pro­gram­ming.

We vis­ited mid­week dur­ing sum­mer­time, so we ex­pected crowds — and we were not dis­ap­pointed. Some ar­eas of the Amazeum suf­fer when crowded — The Mar­ket, spon­sored by Wal­mart, is usu­ally a fa­vorite of our cub re­porters, but they avoided it since it was el­bow-to-el­bow with gro­cery shop­pers. But many parts of the mu­seum still seem spa­cious and com­fort­able, even when packed with kids.

At Jack’s in­sis­tence, we started out in the un­named room that’s be­tween the Art Stu­dio and the 3M Tin­ker­ing Hub, where, as he put it, “the col­or­ful cylin­ders that you plug in” are lo­cated. He meant the large panel that re­sem­bles an enor­mous Lite Brite ma­chine — plas­tic cylin­ders in a rain­bow of colors that chil­dren can plug into dif­fer­ent holes, mak­ing glow­ing de­signs. Jack could have prob­a­bly spent an hour there, fo­cused in­tently, as he said, on “mak­ing art with light.” The board is large enough to al­low sev­eral chil­dren to de­sign at once, which presents a good op­por­tu­nity to talk to your child about artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion — and by that, I mean hiss­ing in his ear, “Please stop

grab­bing those pegs out of the 3-year-nly old’s hands. He is on try­ing to help you with your de­sign

Emme was fas­ci­nated by the turntable in the same room. She used wheels and pegs to demon­strate that the speed on the out­side of the than that on the turntable was faster in­side — thanks to the Amazeum em­ployee who ex­plained the con­cept to her. That’s one of my fa­vorite things about the Amazeum They’re learn­ing even when they don’t re­al­ize it.

Next, we headed cover to the Cave and Canopy Climber This was one at­trac­tion that the twins avoided dur­ing their first year of vis­its — they would climb up two or three of the wide leaves that a re­ar­ranged, stair p step style, straight up to the ceil­ing, but de­spite the sturdy wire mesh that sur­rounds the path, that was as far as they were will­ing to travel. Oh my, how things have changed! Now both of them scram­ble up the climber­lick­ety and split to the very top tra­verse over the lit­tle bridge-like struc­ture to the other side.

“I can see the whole Amazeum from up there!” says Emme when asked what

she likes most about this at­trac­tion.

Once I con­vince them to come down from their high perch — there seems to be an ex­tra ap­peal in be­ing out of earshot from me — we move to The Home­stead Cabin and Farm. At 6, I think they’re right on the verge of out­grow­ing this charm­ing ex­hibit, which makes me sad. I adore the lit­tle cabin, the cow with her milk­ing stool, the trees that hold ap­ples ripe for pick­ing and the mother pig and all of her lit­tle piglets. (Though Mama

Pig was be­hind the scenes some­where, be­ing re­paired.) This at­trac­tion ap­peals most to my in­dus­tri­ous, Type A Emme, who loves to busy her­self with the farm work of pick­ing ap­ples and gath­er­ing eggs from hens.

On our way over to the Na­ture Val­ley Wa­ter Amaze­ments — one of the mu­seum’s most pop­u­lar ex­hibits — we stopped to ad­mire the var­i­ous fea­tures in the En­er­gizer Weather and Na­ture sec­tion that is lo­cated right out­side the cabin and farm. The ma­chine that gen­er­ates a tornado was of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est; one of our cub re­porters is both fas­ci­nated and ter­ri­fied of the weather phe­nom­ena and ap­pre­ci­ated the up-close view of how they form.

Ah, the Wa­ter Amaze­ments room. The Amazeum kindly pro­vides plas­tic smocks for kids to wear here, but on a crowded day, there aren’t enough to go around. I’m go­ing to tell you a lit­tle se­cret, though: They don’t keep kids very dry, any­way. This room fea­tures wa­ter in pools, chutes, vor­texes and wheels that are ir­re­sistible to chil­dren. If that weren’t enough to get them soak­ing wet, one sec­tion of the room is out­fit­ted with show­ers that do the job much more ef­fi­ciently. Sit­ting around in wet clothes is one of my least fa­vorite things in the world, so at first I re­sisted the al­lure of this room. But it’s one of their fa­vorites, so I had to ad­just. A savvy mom would bring plas­tic pon­chos and have them wear wa­ter shoes to keep them from get­ting too soak­ing wet. Alas, a savvy mom was not in at­ten­dance at our out­ing, so we played to our heart’s con­tent in the wa­ter and then moved out­side to the SpaceNet Climber and Art and Na­ture Pav­il­ion to dry off a lit­tle. In the heat of an Ar­kan­sas July af­ter­noon, that didn’t take long.

The out­side sec­tion of the Amazeum isn’t very com­plex, which is fine by me — it’s the per­fect, sim­ple place to get away from the crowd, noise and con­stant stim­u­lus of the at­trac­tions in­side and wind down a lit­tle. I’ve found it’s the ideal way to end our vis­its and get what’s left of the en­ergy out be­fore head­ing to the car.

At $9.50 per per­son (kids younger than 2 are free), it’s not an in­ex­pen­sive way to spend an af­ter­noon. Fam­i­lies who plan on vis­it­ing more than two or three times in a year might want to con­sider pur­chas­ing a mem­ber­ship, which starts at $95 for a fam­ily of four and in­cludes ac­cess to mem­ber­sonly hours. The Amazeum strives to make the mu­seum as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble and has fea­tured Price­less Nights for the past two years through the gen­eros­ity of Tyson Foods. The pro­gram, which is a do­na­tion or “pay as you can” evening, will con­tinue at least un­til the end of Au­gust on Wed­nes­days from 4 un­til 7:30 p.m.

In to­tal, we stayed nearly two hours be­fore head­ing off to lunch. In that amount of time, we only vis­ited a tiny frac­tion of the at­trac­tions, and the kids were barely buck­ling their seat belts in the car be­fore ask­ing when we would be com­ing back.

“I know why they call it the Amazeum,” Emme sud­denly said to me, days after our visit. “Be­cause it’s an amaz­ing mu­seum.”

In­deed.

NWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE/LARA JO HIGHTOWER

Emme loved watch­ing the tornado form in the En­er­gizer Weather and Na­ture ex­hibit.

The cub re­porters needed to work up to climb­ing to the top of the Cave and Canopy Climber, but at age 6, they now love it.

One of the best parts about the A with­out even real­iz­ing it.

This photo

was taken at the be­gin­ning of Jack’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the Na­ture Val­ley Wa­ter Amaze­ments — you can tell by his rel­a­tively dry clothes.

Amazeum is that kids are learn­ing

The Home­stead Cabin and Farm al­lows chil­dren to be farm­ers, at least for one af­ter­noon.

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