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Take a voyage of discovery

From the deserts of the world to Antarctic mazes, Yolanda Brooks explores it all without leaving the UK

Shrieks of joy at Eureka! just got louder with the opening of two new galleries for the under fives. The Halifax museum for Children unveiled the SoundGarden and Desert Discovery last week and staff from the museum will be at the NEC to showcase these new early years' learning facilities.

With exhibits to smell, squeeze, push, pull, drag and climb on, the SoundGarden and Desert Discovery have something to please babies, through to toddlers, up to pre-schoolers. During the development process, the museum called on the talents of international designers and in-house education staff to ensure that galleries provided a mix of opportunities to explore, experiment, create and communicate.

"It has been fantastic for imaginative play and child-led experiences," says Penny Sharman, early years learning adviser at Eureka! "It has been designed to reflect early years settings and there is room for movement and cushy places to sit and talk. It is an immersive and multisensory environment and all the children have really responded to it."

SoundGarden runs in parallel with SoundSpace, the interactive music gallery for older children, and provides plenty of opportunity for role-play and dressing up. Exhibits include the Leaf Cradle for babies to explore, the Lullaby Flower, the touch-screen Butterfly painting and the Tree Trunk Hideaway where they can dress up as garden animals.

Desert Discovery allows young visitors to "roam" the deserts of the world without leaving West Yorkshire. While older children can build their desert homes with rocks and boulders, babies can loll in the Oasis with giant peek-a-boo palms.

Eureka! was opened in 1992 and features more than 400 hands-on exhibits for children up to 12 years of age. Other galleries include Our Global Garden, Living and Working Together and Me and My Body and are aimed mainly at children aged 5-12. As well as being open to the general public, education enablers run regular curriculum-based workshops for schools.

If Eureka! is too far away, maybe Dobbies World near Atherstone in Warwickshire is a good alternative. The attraction, which opened last summer, features Phantasia, a series of indoor interactive exhibits on living things and processes and a talking sunflower; the Wild Walk, which offers 25 acres of countryside with lakes, tree-top walks, fish feeding platforms and a deer hide; and Maze World, with internationally themed mazes including an African reed fence maze, a Japanese trellis maze and an Antarctic labyrinth.

Dobbies World is appearing for the first time at the show, and staff will be on hand to discuss services for schools which include interviews with a country ranger, guided walks and sessions on minibeasts and ponds.

Eureka! Stand SV18

Dobbies World Stand SV23

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