There is no shortage of ear-to-ear grins. Some have recently donated to the tooth fairy. Some still have Kool-Aid mustaches left over from lunch. And, some belong to all the former kids (moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, teachers, nannies, etc.) who are wishing they had had a Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center when they were growing up.
In downtown Hammond sits a hubbub of fun that features 19 exhibits and creative stations. They range from a hot-air balloon ride over the greater New Orleans region complete with gusts of wind that blow through your hair to a miniature Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts complete with a center stage, working lights and curtains, a backstage make-up room and seating for the packed audience. You can surround yourself in a giant bubble or play a life-sized version of the Game of Operation, yet another reason for the grown-ups to reminisce.
The newest addition to the center is the Discover Me exhibit that showcases a Balance Skateboard, Vertical Leap Test, Hang Time Test, Nutrition Café, Human Torso and Human Skelton. Guests can test, measure and record their results so they can set goals for future improvement and leave energized, motivated and inspired to live a healthier lifestyle.
My 7-year-old stepdaughter Kira came bounding up to me during our first visit to the center with words of high praise for the center—especially its bovine offerings. She lives in Austin, Texas, and makes sure the Hammond LCDC is on her itinerary anytime she gets to stay with us. “This museum is better than the one in Austin,” she stated matter-of-factly. “And, the cow even squirts water when you milk it!”
In other words, anyone over the age of 10 should be jealous.
Beyond the exhibits, the LCDC has positioned itself as a champion of children’s programming, both on-site and off. Celebration of Winnie the Pooh’s birthday entailed a visit from an apiarist who brought samples of fresh honey from his hives. A Name Our Robot Contest in conjunction with North Oaks Health System was hosted by the Hammond High School Torbotics Team and the LCDC BayouBuilders FIRST Lego League. It brought the daVinci surgery system to the center for guests to try their hands at robotic surgery. Or you might find members of the Southeastern Louisiana University Lions baseball team reading Casey at the Bat at the base of the center’s Old Cypress Tree book corner.
The creativity and fun will continue this spring with all sorts of new events and activities, including the center’s sponsorship of a regional Scripps National Spelling Bee, the nation’s largest and longest-running educational program. The purpose of the bee is to help students improve spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives.
The LCDC 1st Annual Spelling Bee, set for 2 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Student Union Theater on Southeastern’s campus, is open to children from public, parochial and home schools. Schools with students in 4th-8th grades in a 17-parish region that stretches from West Feliciana to Washington parishes are invited to participate. Each school may send one champion to the LCDC Bee, with the winner advancing to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. (A separate bee for St. Tammany Parish only is sponsored annually by the Times-Picayune.) Visit spellingbee.com for more information or to register a school.
Another fun new initiative for the center this spring is the Lamar Advertising Chicken Little Contest during the 7th annual Smokin’ Blues ’n BBQ Challenge in downtown Hammond March 23-24. A Kansas City Barbeque Association-sanctioned event, the fundraising contest is part of the Tour of National BBQ Champions. For grown-ups, the event involves more than 50 traveling professional BBQ teams and local teams that want to show their stuff against the best BBQ teams in the nation. Judges from across the country will determine who receives $12,000 in total cash and prizes for their pork ribs, Boston butt, beef brisket and chicken BBQ masterpieces.
For the younger crowd, the Chicken Little Contest pits children ages 6 to 16 in a contest to see which budding chef can BBQ the best chicken in Hammond. Rules state that an adult must accompany the children, but the children will have to do all of the preparation, seasoning and cooking on their own. Parents may help in the sectioning of the chicken only. Judges will award prizes from 1st to 10th place and each participant receives a certificate.
As a new beneficiary of the challenge’s fundraising, the LCDC will encourage young BBQ chefs to compete, help secure additional Chicken Little sponsors and staff the contest.
After a Seuss-tastical debut last March, the LCDC is once again coordinating an all-day Seussabration Fri., March 2, to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the National Read Across America program. With surprise visits from the Cat in the Hat himself, samplings of Green Eggs and Ham, a Create-A-Who Contest and Ham-It-Up Photos, accompanied by around-the-clock book readings, guests at the center will have a Seuss-talicious experience.
The center will also welcome repeat performances of its Spectrum Day, which is dedicated to autistic children and their families. With an overarching goal of accessibility for all children, this is one example of specific days set aside at the center to welcome children who are challenged physically and/or mentally. Students from Southeastern’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders worked with the center to prepare descriptive “social stories” with photographs and video clips so parents could introduce their children to the center before actually arriving in person. The idea is for the children to be as prepared as possible for what they will experience, thereby reducing any fears or anxieties, so that the visit to the center can be enjoyable.
Parents can’t seem to say enough good things about the center, its staff and its “playologists,” the overwhelming majority of whom are Southeastern students who, through an agreement with the center, receive credit for teacher-training field-experience hours at the center. And the numbers agree. Over 51,000 visitors, 450 birthday parties, 200 field trips and about a dozen after-hours special event rentals have kept the LCDC hopping since opening its doors in October 2010.
The LCDC is a fun learning environment. It certainly has all the bells and whistles—and plenty of sirens, bubbles, music, squeals and giggles, too!
For more information, call 340-9150 or visit lcdcofhammond.org.Filed under: Children's Activities, Hammond, January-February 2012