Published November 09, 2012
After long wait, new Hands On Children's Museum opens doorsMOLLY GILMORE
Olympia's new Hands On Childrens Museum is celebrating its grand opening this weekend, and thats big news on several levels.Lets count the ways:1. The new museum, measuring nearly 28,000 square feet and with a half-acre of outdoor space set to open next year, is now the largest childrens museum in the state.2. It is designed to appeal to children as old as 10 or 11, while the previous museums appeal waned for kids older than 8.3. It incorporates a two-story, four-level climbing structure that takes kids on a journey from tidepool to treetop.4. It has received a $65,000 grant from the Association of Childrens Museums recognizing the museums seamless connection of indoor and outdoor play. Its one of three museums in the country that will serve as a model of how to include outdoor play.But what kids and parents will want to know before visiting is whats in the museum for them.Like the beloved old museum, this one offers kids chances to explore boats, building projects, life in the forest, healthful lifestyles and more. Like the old museum, it offers an art studio and a space dedicated to the youngest children.But everything is on a grander scale than before, and much also is brand new with probably the biggest attention-grabber being that four-level climbing structure, which allows kids to climb their way from a tidepool-inspired area with barnacles, up to the waters surface with ducks and fish, then farther up where theyll visit bees (made of felt by artist Janice Arnold), and finally up to an eagles aerie accessible across a rope climb.The climber is about physical challenge as well as learning about the environment.Each level progresses in its difficulty, said Genevieve Canceko Chan, the museums communications manager. The eagles nest is the most challenging area. Its something that we created as an opportunity for kids to push their limits and take a little bit of a risk, but in a controlled environment.The trip down is, in the least, just as exciting: A spiral slide will return kids to the ground, where a soft floor will cushion their landing.Parents who dont relish the idea of scrambling up a challenging structure need not worry. The structure incorporates a set of stairs so kids will not be out of reach.Other parent-friendly features include lots of art both indoors and out, a nursing station where mothers can breast-feed infants while keeping an eye on older children at play, and a lobby cafe with a full menu and espresso drinks. Anyone is welcome in the cafe, as no museum fee is necessary to enter.About 80 percent of the museums exhibits will be ready for play this weekend.It will be a wonderful experience for the public for the next year because more exhibits will be coming to the museum all the time, said executive director Patty Belmonte.Among the other new exhibits: the Ballcano, which allows kids to experiment with the movement of water; a 25-foot-tall maze that offers a similar opportunity with air; a Native American longhouse; and a bench with viewers that allow kids to spy on Olympia.But it wont take a special viewer to get a good view of the city and the water. One other really big feature about the new museum is the abundance of windows that let in light from every direction.