Hobnobbing with Helen

Posted in: Santa Maria Sun

Jan. 18, 2017


Hold on to your hats, folks. A great new exhibit is coming to the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum. The exhibit is designed and intended for children, but I am sure that I’m only one of many adults who will be ready to simulate a rocket launch at the corner of Jones and McClelland streets.

The heart of the exhibit will be a huge video screen, with three units in front where one, two, or three “rocket scientists” can move levers and push buttons to control the launch of a vehicle into outer space.

How much fun will that be? I can’t wait.

This information came to me on an informal informational tour with Chris Slaughter, the museum’s executive director, and staff member Amy Blasco on a rainy Thursday afternoon, Jan. 12.

Chris and Amy were clearly jazzed about all the wonderful things going on at the Discovery Museum.

“This is our 20th year,” Slaughter told me, “and we are four years into our revitalization program.”

Several of the museum’s fun exhibits are geared to painlessly teaching science to visitors. The most popular of these new attractions is the Catching Air exhibit at the front of the museum. It is too complicated to explain this in one or two sentences. You have to see it for yourself. But, the gist of it is that you insert a colored soft ball into a tube, push a button, and watch said colored ball zoom through layers of large, transparent tubes and then be expelled by air pressure.

“Everybody loves this,” Blasco said, “from toddlers to grandparents. It is our crown jewel.”

We moved on to a table of handmade toys donated by Gene West. The seemingly simple wooden toys demonstrate basic scientific principles, none of which I can recall at this moment.

“We are low tech and high tech,” Slaughter said.

Another low-tech play station is the Moxie Café, where youngsters delight in taking things out of cupboards and putting them back in. They also work the cash register, handling payment for meals with play money.

On the second Sunday of every month, the museum hosts an event that is free for everyone. Two Community Education staffers from Dignity Health pass out nutritious snacks. Dignity Health and Kohl’s Department Stores fund the nutrition education program.

The day that I went, on Sunday, Jan. 8, Dignity’s Irene Castro and Leticia Sanchez were in charge. Kids lined up for complimentary and colorful insulated food sacks shaped like animals. Kids could also have a plastic plate partitioned into spaces for food groups like protein, grains, and vegetables.

I asked Leticia if this kind of presentation had any impact on kids, and she said, “Oh, yes, they remember the food groups. Their parents tell us that the kids remind them what they should be eating.”

Good to know, Leticia.

There is, of course, lots and lots more at the museum. It is a dynamic, evolving institution, and, as the upcoming launch exhibit promises, forward looking.

The museum is funded by grants from foundations and corporate donations. Chris wants everyone to know what a treasure this education and fun-packed museum is.

The upcoming launch exhibit still has my attention. I look forward to hobnobbing in space.

If you want to hobnob with Helen, you may contact her at helenthom232@yahoo.com.

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