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Spark! Imagination & Science Center offers hands-on, educational fun


At Spark! Imagination & Science Center, the staff aims to do exactly that: Spark children’s imaginations.

And in the process, they endeavor to teach the youngsters, as well.
Julie Bryan, executive director at the center, said the facility uses creative exhibits to allow children to learn through imaginative and interactive play.

“Spark! Imagination & Science Center has a number of hands-on science- and art-based exhibits,” she said.

Just inside the entrance, Bryan pointed out the dinosaur exhibit, “where kids can dig for pretend fossils and put together a skeleton of a dinosaur,” she said.

Just beyond that is the Grow Up Strong area, which allows kids to explore the concept of medicine and health.

“We have a Grow Up Strong area, which has the doctor/dentist area, so kids can pretend to be a doctor or a dentist and help take care of our little stuffed-animal patients,” she said. “Or they can take care of each other, learn how our bodies work and how to stay healthy.” 

In the Imagination Area, kids can put on puppet shows and play dress up. In the Engineering Area, they can use their skills to build things and put LEGOs together.

One of the biggest draws to the center, Bryan said, are the nanoscience exhibits, which give children a look into the world of atoms and molecules. The study of structures and materials on the nano level — in kids’ terms, super duper teeny tiny — nanoscience offers a window into the building blocks of the universe.

 “Nanoscience and space weather [for which there is a separate exhibit with hands-on activities] are cutting-edge right now,” Bryan said. “They are things that are happening right now.” 

To get the blood flowing, as well as the brain working, there’s the Squishlets Area, where virtual creatures jump and swirl across the floor. When kids step or land on them, the Squishlets pop, giving players the incentive to run around and attempt to squash as many as possible.

“It’s a fun, interactive exhibit that helps kids get exercise through play,” Bryan said.

Before becoming Spark! in April, the space was known at the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia, and, prior to that, the Fun Factory.

With the name change, exhibits have been added and refined to focus on STEM learning — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Bryan said.

But it’s not just about having a brick-and-mortar location where children and their caregivers can play and hang out.

“We go beyond the museum and we do outreach within the community with science, technology, engineering and math — that STEM idea,” Bryan said. “We take interactive hands-on programs out to schools, out to libraries ...

“What Spark! does for the community is we provide a place for kids and adults to get excited about science, technology, engineering and math. We let people know what’s going on in the science community with our nanoscience and our space weather exhibits, as well as our outreach.

“We are really important as well for socialization. Kids can come here and meet other kids, learn how to share, learn how to take turns and meet friends. And we have adults who come in and they meet other adults, other parents, and talk to each other. Talk about parenting and issues and things like that. So it’s a great place for everyone to come and to socialize.” 

Roberta Blair, who, along with her grandson Landon Potts, is a regular at the center, said having resources such as Spark! are invaluable to the community.

“We enjoy coming here because there are so many activities for children of all ages,” the retired school teacher said. “They employ a lot of STEM activities for children, which are wonderful, dynamic tools for teaching science and math and many other topics across the board.

“This is dynamic, this facility is wonderful for homeschooled children, for field trips for children to come to, for parents, nannies, grandparents to bring their children and incorporate all the activities they have here and to instill learning — that’s so important for children.” 

During the colder months, Blair said she visits the center at least once a week.

“When it’s raining, we’re here,” she said.

Bryan said she hopes everyone with children in the community takes advantage of the educational, fun exhibits Spark! provides.

“We want you to come in with your family and have a great time,” she said. “You’ll come in, you’ll be greeted by our great staff, they’ll explain everything that’s here, and then you will just follow the children and they will play. They know exactly what to do when they get in here, there’s no instruction needed. They will play and they will learn, and you will have a great time.”

WHERE:   Mountaineer Mall on Green Bag Road
HOURS:  10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
PHONE:  304-292-4646.
PRICING:  There is an admission fee, but Spark! offers several price breaks. Families on WIC or who have an EBT card, are admitted free of charge. As part of the Blue Star Museum program, through Labor Day, all active duty military will receive free admission, along with five members of his or her family.