The Health Adventure
When it comes to teaching families about health and science, The Health Adventure in Asheville has developed a winning formula for combining fun, hands-on activities with learning. And although you'll find plenty of interactive exhibits, this is more than a typical children's museum. Billed as a place "where smart fun happens every day," The Heath Adventure also makes for a great day trip through beautiful mountain towns with scenery that's hard to beat.
The Health Adventure was initially the dream of a group of wives of doctors who worked at Mission Hospital in 1968. Then housed in a closet, the original exhibit featured a stretcher, dolls and other items with the goal of alleviating children's fears of being hospitalized.
"That group of ladies had a vision, and they turned it into a great place to talk about health education," said Tracie Perkins, The Health Adventure's vice president of marketing and development.
The current facility is a large, colorful place for families to explore the fascinating worlds of technology, biology and nature, the human body, energy and motion, and light and sound.
"One of our slogans is Smart Fun, Smart Families, Smart Futures," Perkins said. "We want to provide a place for families to spend face time, not Facebook time, and to spark curiosity about science and technology careers, and prepare children for the future."
Upon entering The Health Adventure, you'll first encounter enclosed Creative Playspace, a big hit with the under-5 group. It's decorated with colorful streamers and filled with building toys, a nature exhibit, a puppet-show stage, and a gurney with a "patient" doll with labels that show where our heart and other organs are.
Across the way, visitors will find Cartilage Hall, an adaptable classroom where The Health Adventure holds classes on nutrition and other topics for approximately 50,000 children in its community outreach efforts each year. During our visit, children were busy inside, assembling artificial bones and muscles into the shape of a skeleton on the floor.
Stroll through a giant set of teeth and you'll enter The Health Gallery, where a mini-Ingles Supermarket teaches kids about nutrition with a colorfully illustrated food pyramid, nutrition-ranking quizzes and more. Much like the Food Lion exhibit in the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem, it's a cheerful place where little ones are buzzing around with tiny shopping carts, loading them up with healthy choices and pretending to pay for their purchases.
The Health Gallery is also home to "Tam," a life-sized, transparent model who lights up and explains parts of the human body. Other exhibits show the effects of smoking, including what it feels like to breathe with emphysema (by breathing through a drinking straw), information about what happens when a person stops smoking, and a presentation on the 4,000 chemicals commonly found in cigarettes.
Around the corner is a "Make the Connection" area that teaches kids about the brain and senses through fun body challenges. Here you can learn about the inner ear as you attempt to walk through the Dizzy Tunnel, a walkway through a rotating tube filled with lights. One of the museum's highlights, it's usually filled with kids laughing as they try to make it from one end to the other without losing their balance.
Children also love the "Spin Chair," which goes fast or slow depending on whether their arms are outstretched. Dizziness is truly big fun here.
A House of Colors for little ones features brilliant alternating lights inside, and a giant bubble-making machine allows kids to use pulleys to lift a giant wand to create wall-sized bubbles.
Budding basketball stars can determine their vertical leap height, or use the Calculation Station to determine how the measurements of their limbs correspond with the rest of the body.
The nearby Movement and Momentum area features a wind tunnel, along with pipeways of pneumatic tubes that kids can send objects flying through and then retrieve them on the other end. Kids can also enjoy removing and floating foam balls on top of several other air-related exhibits.
The center of The Health Adventure features a variety of brainstorming games built on wooden tracks with marbles that can be run through them. Visitors can try their hand at making the marbles do loop-the-loops, roller-coaster rides and ski jumps, or play the "hit the bucket" game where the marbles sail from ramp to ramp before hitting their target.
If you're ready to relax, head to the Galactic Region, which features NASA photos of the Milky Way, or sit in one of the rocking chairs in front of the salt-water aquariums in the Nature Space. There is a snack area with a microwave and vending machines on the upper level, and visitors are welcome to bring lunches. On the way out, stop by the Explore Store, where a variety of educational books, games and toys are sold.
Annual family memberships to The Health Adventure are $75, which includes unlimited access to the museum and its special programs, along with free or reduced admission to 400 other science centers around the world.
The current "Alice's Wonderland" exhibit, which runs through May 15, is based on Lewis Carroll's classic book. Visitors can travel down the rabbit hole and feel what it's like to "fall" through Earth. A Hall of Doors features several illusions, and a Caucus Race teaches children about animation. In the Crazy Croquet game, kids can learn how balls that are in motion can be surprisingly predictable. And if you're visiting on a Saturday between noon and 2 p.m., there's always a Super Science Saturday program taking place.
"There is always something fun happening at the Health Adventure," Perkins said. "It's just a wonderful place for families to spend time together."
If You Go
The Health Adventure
2 South Pack Square
Asheville, NC 28801
Ages 12 and up, $8.50; ages 2-12, $6; 2 and under, free; seniors, $7.50
Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tammy Holoman is a Winston-Salem-based freelance writer.