Go with the flow

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Eureka museum for children, Halifax, West Yorkshire. Adults and children pound;5.95; Family ticket pound;27.50; free admission to under-threes. Open daily 10am to 5pm Tel: 01422 330069

Ian Lamming goes undercover with a group of children to attempt a bloody 'mission impossible'

Identity cards in hand, 20 pupils take the secret agent's pledge: "I pledge never to reveal anything I see or hear today, even if someone offers me lots of sweets. This is my special agent word of honour," they repeat after Professor Bland.

Cards swiped, handprints taken, they troop into the secret mission control for an hour-long adventure at Eureka, the UK's first museum for children, in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

"Mission Impossible: The Inside Story" is an interactive workshop on the human body which links in with the national curriculum. It surrounds the antics of Captain Chaos, who has been "miniaturised" by scientist Professor Bland so that he can travel around the body of special agent Austin Metro.

If the plot sounds familiar, that's because Hollywood has already tried it twice. In the 1960s, Raquel Welch shrank, donned a wetsuit and braved antibodies and white corpuscles to save the President's life while Donald Pleasence did his best to stop her. More recently, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan did it all over again in InnerSpace.

"Fantastic Voyage was the inspiration and I thought the idea of getting inside someone's body would be new to the children," says ex-London teacher Liz Smallman, education manager at Eureka. "I always look for something unusual and I talked it over with my nephew and niece and they thought it sounded fun."

The children's unwavering attention and constant giggles are testimony that it is, as they are asked for their help after the mission goes wrong.

Chaos's arch-enemy, Dr Foe, interrupts his transmission and tells the children he has introduced a virus to trap the superhero. The only way they can save him is to meet four challenges. It is usually at this moment, with the children's attention fully fixed and their enthusiasm engaged, that the workshop subtly changes to become more educational in nature.

Challenge one has the children labelling body parts and crying "Yeh, baby yeh", when they do it correctly. The second challenge shows how humans breathe in oxygen from the air and how it passes from the lungs to the heart. It sees them sitting in a large circle (representing circulation) with two children pretending to be the heart, two others the lungs. The rest pass round red balls that represent oxygenated blood cells, and blue balls that represent the deoxygenated ones. For added effect, half the class makes breathing noises while the other half bum-bums like a heartbeat.

Challenge three is how to keep the heart healthy. Given two shopping baskets, the children have to decide what is good and bad for them - burgers, cake and cigarettes go in the bad basket, five fruit and vegetables in the good.

Finally, it's the brain and a variety of word puzzles that spell out the five senses. Challenges complete, Chaos is sneezed free from the nose of Austin Metro. "We always try and bring drama into it to get them excited straight away, then feed in the national curriculum requirements," says Liz. "Children this age have a short attention span and the key thing is to move it all along quickly."

When the workshop is over, the youngsters can spend a second hour looking around Eureka's four galleries: Our Global garden; Me and My Body; Invent, Create and Communicate; and Living and Working Together.

* Mission Impossible is one of a number of temporary workshops run at Eureka. A workshop on space exploration will run from March 3-April 11.

Email: education@eureka.org.uk;bookings@eureka.org.ukwww.eureka.org.uk

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