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Still Amazing

Two years in, allure of Amazeum continues

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When Bentonville's Scott Family Amazeum opened in July of 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.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/LARA JO HIGHTOWER The cub reporters needed to work up to climbing to the top of the Cave and Canopy Climber, but at age 6, they n...

NWA Democrat-Gazette/LARA JO HIGHTOWER One of the best parts about the Amazeum is that kids are learning without even realizing it.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/LARA JO HIGHTOWER The Homestead Cabin and Farm allows children to be farmers, at least for one afternoon.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower This photo was taken at the beginning of Jack’s experience with the Nature Valley Water Amazements — you can te...

NWA Democrat-Gazette/LARA JO HIGHTOWER The large peg-board on which kids can make electric works of art was a big hit with two 6-year-old cub reporter...

"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.

FAQ

Scott Family Amazeum

WHEN — 10 a.m. -5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays; 4-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays in August

WHERE — 1009 Museum Way in Bentonville

COST — $9.50 per person; Wednesdays in August, pay-as-you-wish

INFO — 696-9280 or amazeum.org

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' puzzle-solving 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 mid-week 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-old's hands. He is only 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 turntable was faster than that on the 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 over 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 are arranged, stair-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 climber lickety-split to the very top and 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 members-only 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.

NAN What's Up on 07/14/2017

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