AO Discover!, Auburn-Opelika’s hands-on science center for children, was created to provide educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (S.T.E.M.) and arts to the families and children of East Alabama and beyond.

“The younger [children get exposed to S.T.E.M.] the better,” said Katie Murrah, CEO and executive director at AO Discover!. “Educational research has shown that the times that make the biggest difference are out of school time. Out of school times are considered pre-school — early childhood education is critical to lifelong academic success — but also what you do on the weekends, what you do during holidays, what you do in the evenings. That’s really making a difference in the families and their children that have access to these opportunities versus the ones that don’t.”

Formally known as Auburn-Opelika Children’s Hands-On Science Center, the class 501c non-profit’s vision is to help people discover S.T.E.M today to foster opportunities for tomorrow. Its goals are to serve children of East Alabama through partnerships and community support; to ensure that underrepresented groups can access opportunities; to act as a beacon for S.T.E.M education throughout the region and nation; to promote workforce development in Alabama and to conduct research to continuously improve its programming.

This holiday season, AO Discover! invites the children and families of East Alabama to participate in its second annual “‘Tis the Season to Discover!”, presented by Kali Bryan Chadrick of State Farm.

“Come out and see us first-hand,” Murrah said. “We are lucky that we have a growing awareness of what we are trying to bring, but when families get to come to an actual event, they get a much clearer sense of who we are and what we do.”

‘Tis the Season to Discover! is offering holiday S.T.E.M. fun at the Grand National in Opelika on Dec. 12 and at the AU Hotel and Dixon Conference Center on Dec. 18.

“We are so glad that they have donated their space and wanted to partner with us,” Murrah said of the event venues. “I’m glad we are going to be able to be in Opelika and also be in Auburn because I think it gives more families the opportunity to come see us.”

At both locations, AO Discover! will bring its traveling S.T.E.M. exhibits for attendees to get hands-on with their educational fun.

“To have events that go out into the community, it allows families to kind of have these S.T.E.M opportunities in their backyard,” Murrah said.

Some of the exhibits include: redesigning Santa’s sleigh to help it run faster, coding a path for the elves to deliver presents, designing a gingerbread house, making ice necklaces, helping Santa get up the chimney, preventing the Grinch from going down it and more.

“Children can move through and try all the things out,” Murrah said. “… Be creative, be inventive and learn some new things.”

Additionally, Grand National will be providing spa deals, discounts on brunch at one of its restaurants, movies in a converted theater and outside games. At the Auburn Hotel, all the same AO Discover! exhibits will be available along with the hotel’s annual Gingerbread Village which is displayed in the conference center, a hot chocolate bar, dining at Arricia Cucina Italiana and “incredible” gift baskets (including one with four tickets to go see the MLB Champions, Atlanta Braves, next season) to be raffled away. One raffle ticket can be purchased for $5 or three for $10.

Make sure to secure your spot now, as event tickets and pictures with Santa are discounted to $10 before Dec. 1. In December, tickets are $15. Furthermore, at both locations families will have the opportunity to have professional pictures with Santa Claus for just $39 ($29 if bought before Dec. 1).

From babies and toddlers to full-grown adults, this opportunity promises to provide unique educational opportunities for all.

“Everyone can have fun, but it’s probably most fun for ages 1 to 13,” Murrah added. “Our focus is really kids all the way around.”

The second annual ‘Tis the Season to Discover! at Grand National takes place from noon to 5 p.m., and will be split into two sessions at the Auburn Hotel, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a two-hour break in between.

“We want to bring [S.T.E.M] right here to East Alabama,” Murrah said. “So that families can have access right here without having to travel and for the families who maybe can’t travel, this can come to them.”

For tickets or more information, go to www.aodiscover.simpletix.com or www.aodiscover.org

AO Discover! is located at 1999 S. Donahue Dr., Suite F in Auburn.