Some of our favourite things

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
The Things gallery at Eureka! in Halifax is as wide-ranging and hands-on as itsname promises, reports Clare Jenkins

For Julie Andrews, it was raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. For eight-year-old Darren, it's a personal computer, ghetto blaster and baseball cap. They're the favourite things he's opted to put into a time capsule - one of the hands-on activities in the Things gallery newly opened at Eureka!, the award-winning museum for children in Halifax.

In another corner of the gallery, three of Darren's classmates are checking whether a medal is counterfeit. They weigh it, put it under an ultraviolet light, compare the signature with the original. At the end, a computerised video tells them whether they're right or wrong.

And in the middle of the room, a group of boys are trying out the adjustable chair while, through a viewer at the side, they can see the inner workings.

The Things gallery - funded by the Clore Foundation - has involved the first major refit of Eureka! since it opened in 1992. It takes over from a recycling centre. Pippa Hardcastle of the museum staff explains: "Schools were covering environmental issues themselves. And we couldn't offer them much more. So, after the first few years, the space was being wasted. It was time to move on. And this is something schools can't do."

There are three zones in the eccentrically coloured and angled gallery, whose cartoon-style 3D imagery has been designed by Gilles Cenazandotti, creator of Channel 4's Eurotrash. All are packed with activities designed to encourage key stage 2 pupils to question and discover what everyday things do, how and why they are made and how they affect our lives. "It makes the children into detectives," says Pippa Hardcastle. "It's about using investigative skills rather than believing what you're told. Our whole philosophy is 'discover for yourself'."

In "Using Things", children have to choose the right tools for different jobs, determine whether something is real or fake, and examine objects such as pipes inside and out with endoscopes and a video microscope.

"Inside Things" helps them explore what objects are made of and how they work. There's a giant mechanical head, for instance, whose features they can change by touch of a button or lever. A computer screen enables them to design and "race" their own bike. One display asks what else is needed to complete an everyday item - a cassette without a box, for instance, or a tennis racket without strings.

"Things and Me" focuses on how and why objects affect us. Here, Darren and his friends, using a computer, are choosing their six objects to send into space to show aliens what life is like on Earth. And Socrates the cat is demonstrating safety in the home.

All the exhibits are supported by information panels and by enablers, who are on hand to encourage activity, prompt discussion and lead workshops.

"Like our other main exhibition areas," says Pippa Hardcastle, "Things has been designed to encourage children to get actively involved in the learning process by looking, listening, feeling, touching and, above all, having fun."

Teacher Sarah Nicholls of Deanfield primary school agrees. Her pupils are piloting the gallery today, dashing from object to object, touching all the exhibits, lifting the information flaps. "It's absolutely superb," she says. "The children are engrossed. Sometimes they forget to read the information because they're so excited. But then they'll go back and read it."

Her pupils agree. "It's brilliant," says Daniel Jones. "There's some really good stuff here. I like the chair and the way the monster comes up at the back." "Yes, it's great," says Kirsty Edmunds. "I like finding out whether something is true or fake." Tina Bentley likes the computers. "It's really interesting. I found out about the oldest inventors in 1887."

Things was designed with the national curriculum in mind, incorporating history, science, technology, knowledge and understanding. And Sarah Nicholls believes it fits in well with Year 5 science and information technology curriculum: "It's technological, and the display about fabrics is good for the materials part of science. It's all been very well researched in terms of the different age groups."

"We're currently doing a specific review programme," says education officer Liz Smallman, "with a wise range of educationalists. And we plan to make it accessible to every curriculum area andall schools, including special schools. "

In addition, they're planning a series of workshops - time travel this term, materials and their properties next term, visual literacy in the autumn. Sarah Nicholls' pupils had just emerged from the time travel session: "At the beginning, one boy said history was boring. At the end, he said it was brilliant - 'because I know about it now!' " Schools booking a visit before July 1996 can get an additional half-price visit in September and November. For details of free teacher previews, bookings and school packages tel: 01422 330012

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