Exploring the Arizona Museum for Youth

You might say that we “had a ball” visiting the Arizona Museum for Youth the other day, because the first thing we encountered during our visit was a baseball-themed exhibit called “Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience.”

We saw baseball beanbag chairs, a boy playing an interactive baseball video game, baseball books, baseball paintings, a baseball bean toss game, baseball jerseys and more. “This is more of a play zone than a museum,” observed my son Christopher.

Never mind the fact that my son is 20 years old, and I’m something more than double that. We felt like kids again from the moment we stepped inside the museum, something we haven’t done together for more than a decade.

Christopher’s experience working with an after-school program for elementary-age students came in handy, as he pointed out the many exhibits that serve a dual purpose—entertainment and education.

When we entered an area called “ArtVille” and saw several cozy spaces filled with child-size furniture, books, dollhouses and more, Christopher noted that they were made of large replicas of school supplies like glue sticks, green chalk boards and rulers.

Christopher remarked that this portion of the space looks like “a school setting without the pressure of academics,” adding that it was a great way to help preschoolers get acclimated to school materials while learning to think of them as fun rather than formidable.

After enjoying some of the other areas in Artville—including a room with tables sporting fresh paint and brushes and a “Performing Arts Center” complete with wall mural, mesh tent and more—we headed to an exhibit called “Pattern Wizardry.”

I’m still reeling from Mr. Cathy, my third-grade math teacher, looming over my desk to mutter something far from flattering. Math has long been a four letter word for me, yet I had a blast exploring all things math and pattern related at this museum.

Who knew there were foam floor puzzles ala renowned artist M.C. Escher? Or hands-on ways to learn about mirror, translation and rotational symmetry?

I would so live at this museum if my children were younger. They even have plentiful chairs and couches so you can relax during those rare moments you’re not playing alongside your child.

We saw a magnifying glass with multiple giant slides, quilts by a Mesa artist named Denise Currier, elaborate artwork created ala Etch-a-Sketch, watercolor self-portraits by elementary-age youth, a special play area for the toddler set (a sock-only zone) and more.

On the way out, we loaded up on information about various programs offered by the Arizona Museum for Youth, including a ‘buy a brick’ donation program, meet the artist and baseball expert/player opportunities, youth troupe badge classes, birthday party celebrations, school field trips and more (lots more).

We also took a spin through an area with assorted toys, books and art materials—all 40% off. Parts of the museum are undergoing changes as they prepare for an expansion slated for completion sometime in April—so items from the former gift shop are being sold to make way for a fabulous new gift shop.

It’s another reason to love our local museums. There’s no better place to find unique, whimsical and affordable gifts for teachers, birthday parties or holidays. Remember too that museum memberships make thoughtful one-of-a-kind gifts—for your own family and for friends either young or simply young at heart.

The museum is just off Main St. in Mesa, a charming strip that’s practically a year-round outdoor arts exhibit in its own right. It’s dotted with diverse sculptures (including several of animals) and home to oodles of other fun places to explore.

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is within easy walking distance, so your family can enjoy two museums in one day—punctuated by strolls through other area gems like antique shops, book stores, music stores and cafes.

Even the Mesa Arts Center—which boasts impressive design both inside and outside—is merely a hop, a skip and a jump away. It’s a good thing too since you’re likely to exit the Arizona Museum for Youth with a spring in your step.

You won’t leave this museum feeling bored. You’ll be bouncy, and better for it.

–Lynn

Note: Speaking of good things in Mesa, check out a unique event coming to the Mesa Arts Center for one night only–Wed., March 24 at 7pm–the “Mesa High School Bands in Concert,” presented by the Mesa Arts Center Foundation. Tickets are $8 for adults and free for children 12 and under. Info at www.mesaartscenter.com or 480-644-6500. Tonight, March 23, at 7pm the Velda Rose United Methodist Church in Mesa presents their “6th Annual Choral Concert for Cancer Cure” to benefit Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “Admission is free, however a goodwill offering will be accepted.” Concert features Chandler-Gilbert Community College Singers, CGCC Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Red Mountain High School La Camarata and Mesa High School Chamber Singers.  Performance at 5540 E. Main St. in Mesa.

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