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Hands-on fun awaits at Holyoke Children's Museum

Date: 6/7/2013

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — "Hands-on" exhibits are the foundation of the Children's Museum at Holyoke, according to its executive director, Susan Kelley.

On a recent lunch time visit, Sara Amoroso of Easthampton brought her two sons to the museum to explore each attraction.

"We renewed our membership and plan to visit as often as possible," said Amoroso during an interview with Reminder Publications.

As she toted Benjamin, 1, on her back, Michael, 3, rushed around to his favorite exhibits, including the water table that mimics the Holyoke canals, and the Imaginary Playground. Amoroso noted that Benjamin "likes to follow his brother" and also enjoys the water table and the push charts.

From the moment you step into the museum, you are greeted by gigantic, colorful murals that can enliven anyone's imagination.

"Parents who visit for the first time are amazed at how much fun their children have," Kelley said.

Kelley added that parents can make a day of the visit by bringing a lunch.

"When the Holyoke Merry Go Round is open and the weather is nice, you can picnic outside and spend the entire day here," she said. "We also have indoor picnic tables."

Kelley has served as executive director for two years, and appreciates the feedback she receives from museumgoers.

"I love the people who come into the museum and the comments we get about how great and how clean the museum looks," she said. "People who haven't been in a while cannot believe the improvements."

The museum is dedicated to enhancing the educational and cultural awareness of all children through the arts, the sciences, and the world around them, according to Kelley, adding the participatory exhibits invite interaction and programs promote learning and self-discovery.

New this summer is a special discount for EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card holders and their families. In partnership with the Boston Children's Museum and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in Boston, the Children's Museum will be offering admission at $2 per person with their card and identification.

Kelley noted that too often low-income families are unable to visit venues such as the museum, and children can be put at a disadvantage in school by missing out on associated learning opportunities. By offering this special discount Kelley is hopeful that more parents will consider the Children's Museum as a must stop on their summer "to do" list.

Kelley also encourages parents to consider bringing their preschoolers to the "Learn and Play Group" that features a story and activity on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. Upcoming programs include: June 13, "Just Me and My Dad" by Mercer Mayer, with an activity to make a Father's Day gift; June 20, "Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister, with an activity of creating rainbow fish, and on June 27, "Just Grandma and Me" by Mercer Mayer, with an activity of creating an ocean picture collage.

Kelley is also proud that the museum has been included in the Free Fun Fridays initiative, sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation. The museum is one of 60 cultural venues across the state open on a Friday with free admission. At the Children's Museum, the free admission will be observed July 5.

The 11,000 square-foot museum is located at 444 Dwight St. There is some on-street parking and a parking garage adjacent to the building which charges 25 cents an hour.

For children age 2 and younger who tire easily from all the excitement, there is a Tot Lot to rest, but for those on the go, there are climbers to scale, mailboxes to service, bubbles to blow, an ambulance to drive, and a kitchen to cook in, among many other exhibits. Additionally, one of the most popular attractions is an anchor desk where children can see themselves on television.

Birthday parties are also available in the exploration room that features animal habitats from around the world, and a Barnyard Room with d├ęcor of a whimsical farm with denim curtains, white picket fences and a horse painted on the wall.

At the end of one's visit a stop at the museum gift shop is always fun for a youngster, and offers a price range from 25 cents to $13 for items.

"Our biggest sellers are the Beanie Boos," Kelley said, followed by animal umbrellas, pinwheels, dinosaurs, puzzles and craft kits.

For more information, call 536-7048. Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for ages one and older; seniors are $3. Children under one year of age and museum members are admitted free. For the latest programming or for membership details, visit

A benefit for the Children's Museum is also planned Nov. 2 at the Log Cabin & Meeting House in the city. Titled "Fancy Steps," local celebrity dancers donate their time and talent to the event to help raise funds for the museum.

"This event sells out fast so call the museum to purchase your tickets now," Kelley said.