By Joyce Tammany
Don’t be alarmed if you hear an unusually loud heartbeat when you walk through the door of the Halle Heart Children’s Museum. Chances are it belongs to a giraffe.
After more than a decade operating as a staple field trip destination for elementary students in the Phoenix area, the Halle Heart Children’s Museum opened to the public in February 2015. It is also one of many museums that can be visited with the Act One Culture Pass.
“We’ve been around for a long time,” said Claudine Wessel, Programs and Operations Director at Halle Heart. “If you had a second grader or a fifth grader, you knew a lot about us. If you didn’t fall within that range, then you probably didn’t. So we really wanted to reach out to the rest of the community that could really benefit from this location.”
While the center opened in 1996, renovations in 2010 made the museum a modern, updated and kid-friendly environment. Where tour guides once led classes through the Halle Heart Center, the Halle Heart Children’s Museum now offers interactive exhibits that families can explore at their leisure.
“We are designed to be an interactive environment where kids come in and put their hands on stuff,” said Wessel. “It’s more than a museum and much more than a classroom.”
One exhibit lets visitors compare the size and heartbeats of various animal hearts, from as large as an elephant to as small as a hummingbird. Another lets visitors try to putt a golf ball through an oversized artery choked by tobacco and smoke. Every exhibit is packed with talking displays, touch screens, push buttons, lights and colorful graphics.
“We also have some really neat spaces like our XBOX Kinect station, where we invite kids to come and do one of the things they absolutely love, which is play video games,” Wessel says, referring to an area in the museum where families can play motion-controlled games like Fruit Ninja and Just Dance. “But these video games are unique because they’re active, they get them up, they get them moving and having a great time.” The museum’s weekly Video Game Olympics competition has proved to be a very popular event during the summer months, allowing kids a chance to play games, exercise and win prizes.
In addition to regular museum hours, the Halle Heart Children’s Museum’s event calendar boasts an array of ongoing activities all focused on heart health. New offerings include weekly Science Hours, Health Hours, and Upbeat Activity Hours. The Video Game Olympics will continue, as well as music and movement classes like Zumba Kids Jr. and Little Rhythms. But the pride of the museum is its series of cooking classes, which take place in the Kitchen Cafe: a full-size kitchen and small dining area where visitors learn the various ways food affects their health.
The museum reached out further into the community over the summer by acting as a summer food site. The summer months are tough on families who rely on school lunches to help feed their children, so Halle Heart partnered with St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance to help provide lunches to their young visitors.
“It’s great, and it also reinforces what we’re talking about here,” says Wessel. “We talk to them about eating healthy and eating a balanced diet, and then at least throughout the summer, we were able to provide them with a healthy, balanced lunch.”
The museum’s efforts to reach out to the community go hand-in-hand with Act One’s Culture Pass program. “There are two reasons we got involved with the Culture Pass,” says Wessel .”One, we want more people to know about us, for sure. But secondly, we want to make sure that those folks who may not be able to afford an admission can reach out to us and be able to come in and visit us.”
According to Wessel, those efforts have been successful. “A lot of folks that were able to check out a Culture Pass were then able to come to the museum. They were pleasantly surprised when they walked in and found out that their kiddos could receive a free, heart-healthy lunch that day,” she said.
For more information about the Halle Heart Children’s Museum, including hours, admission prices and the event calendar, please visit halleheartchildrensmuseum.org.