Kids watch stars, touch moon rocks at museum’s Noon Year’s Eve party

Craft projects and other activities round out the fun that helps early bedtimes work on the holiday

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 1, 2014 

More than 1,000 guests packed the Hands On Children’s Museum on Tuesday for the biggest-ever Noon Year’s Eve party, which rang in 2014 with a countdown and celebratory mirror ball drop.

The annual event has become a tradition in Olympia, with several families returning to mark the end of one year and the start of another.

Special exhibits included a planetarium courtesy of Pacific Science Center. Small groups of guests huddled inside a black bubble to gaze at constellations that twinkled overhead.

Lessons focused on Greek mythology and the legends behind star clusters including the Big Dipper, Orion, Taurus and the Zodiac signs. A zoomed-in view of Jupiter with its moons elicited a chorus of oohs and ahhs.

A special NASA exhibit with moon rocks and meteorite samples includes moon rocks from Apollo space missions. Scientists believe that one of the thumbnail-sized meteor shards, labeled Carbonaceous Chondrite, is older than our solar system.

The whole goal is to build excitement about learning for all ages through physical touch and experience, said Genevieve Chan, communications manager.

“It’s nice to be able to help ignite their interest in science,” Chan said. “It’s so accessible to all people.”

At several craft stations, kids created glow-in-the-dark bugs and party hats as well as “sparkle bottles” filled with glitter and water.

Some kids marveled at the silver-plated inner shell of a California abalone, while others zoomed down the popular tree house slide.

In 2014, the museum plans to expand its Outdoor Discovery Center with exhibits including a children’s garden, a dinosaur dig pit and a red tricycle loop. In February, the museum will celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month with an interactive dental exhibit.

Founded in 1987, the nonprofit museum opened its current home on Jefferson Street in November 2012. Several patrons at Tuesday’s festivities had been visiting the museum since its days as a storefront facility near the state Capitol Campus. The museum measures 28,000 square feet and serves more than 250,000 visitors each year.

Built for $18.5 million, the museum has a strong local following, but also attracts visitors from all 50 states, Chan said.

Alongside the WET Science Center, the museum strives to be an educational anchor for downtown Olympia.

“We are an asset to the community,” Chan said.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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