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Adult Education 

Discovery Gateway: It’s not just for kids any more.

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Normally, child’s play isn’t easy when you can no longer fit into the climbing tubes and have bills to pay as soon as you get home. But Discovery Gateway'whose motto bravely declares that it’s “the children’s museum you never outgrow”'charges adults and children the same entrance fee of $8.50. Taking this to mean that we’re also welcome to play with the same toys, I took them up on the invitation.


Four exhausting but fun hours later, I learned a few things that can help even the most excessively mature adults remember how much fun it is to be a kid.


First, take a child along. Not only do security issues dictate that you won’t be allowed inside unless you’ve brought a kid, they are your ultimate excuse for taking toy time away from the much younger people that surround you. Of course, you’ll need to spend 20 minutes composing your own song on the museum’s huge rainbow xylophone; you’re entertaining your offspring/grandchild/niece/nephew/neighbor.


Plus, there undoubtedly will be some gizmo in one of the interactive exhibits you will realize to your embarrassment you have no idea how to work. For me, it was the ball cannon in The Garden, and I was reduced to asking the wide-eyed 3-year-old next to me how to shoot the thing. It took her about two seconds to show me, but I’d like to think that a child I knew personally would have acted slightly less like I was insane.


Second, save time and energy for the exhibits on the third floor. Though grouped into a variety of different zones with names like the Story Factory and Media Central, the truly exciting thing about all of them is the variety of cool buttons you can push. At least 90 percent do something electronic and noise-producing that you probably never get the chance to do at your day job.


Over in the Story Factory, three backgrounds, a box of circus animal toys, and an extremely cool panel of buttons allowed me to create my own 15-frame stop-motion movie, complete with the sounds of cars skidding and my own adoring audience. Media Central has sound mixing boards where I added my own vocals to a song, sat behind the anchor desk at the 5 o’clock news, controlled the weather and edited my own cereal commercial. One note: These exhibits are generally fought over by parents more than children, so if you see something you like, shoving is slightly less frowned upon.


For those who are less fond of both buttons and following instructions, the Studio has tables and bins full of seven or eight varieties of construction toys, including magnets and unusual-looking metal bits that inevitably inspire dreams of industrial artistry. Of course, I promptly carried my own particular dreams over to the earthquake table, turned the knob up to the highest setting, and scattered them to bits that flew halfway across the room. Try not to cackle afterward; it tends to unnerve the children.


Finally, it turns out that imagination is the key to doing all those things you wanted to do before you realized that life didn’t work like that. True, the wallpapering, grocery shopping and gas-pumping experiences available in Kid’s Eye View all gave me slightly nauseating adulthood flashbacks, but a little farther on is a perfectly sized and proportioned plastic horse. All you have to do is climb up into the saddle, call up your equine fantasy of choice, and soon you can be up on Pine Ridge staring down at an untamed western valley.


Upstairs, what seems to be only a children’s theater yields a set of stage curtains, a brick wall and a highly tempting spotlight. Stand in its glow, find someone willing to clap, and see if you can resist trying a few minutes as a stand-up comedian. A few rooms over offers the chance to be the sound effects expert for one of three recorded stories, which I found a joy if only for the chance to drop the crash box'a taped-up box full of metal bits'against a variety of flat surfaces.


Out on the balcony, the Saving Lives From the Sky exhibit offers the simple pleasures of a real helicopter with a very empty pilot’s seat'the slightly cooler of the two positions, if only because you’re that much closer to the radio handset. Though the blades (tragically) don’t spin, fiddling with enough buttons and switches on the control panel starts up very realistic helicopter sounds overhead. I have no clue what the pedals did, but pumping them made me feel even more like I was controlling something big and powerful. Add a little imagination, and the balcony outside becomes nothing but open sky.


Here, especially, it would be good to have a kid with you. Though you’ll be frowned at if you leave them far enough away to man the control tower, they’d probably be thrilled to be the injured person that you can then haul into the backseat in a very heroic manner. If you wrap a jacket around their broken limb and shout dramatically, they might even clap for you. It may even give you what you need most at Discovery Gateway: a little more time before you have to grow up again. nn

n444 W. 100 South

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Jenniffer Wardell

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