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Building Interest In a Museum : Kids Learn About Construction in Exhibit That Also Gives Clues About Expansion of Galleries

November 07, 1987|CATHY CURTIS

Give a child a T-square or a hard hat to play with, and who knows? You may be nurturing a budding architect, contractor or carpenter. At the Children's Museum at La Habra, "Building the Future" gives kids a friendly, hands-on introduction to the tools of these trades.

Not so coincidentally, the exhibit also primes youngsters, and older viewers, for the $500,000 expansion of the 10-year-old museum, expected to be finished by spring 1988.

In a tiny "Architect's Office," the blueprints lining the walls are actually the museum's own plans to transform a pocket-sized lobby and three small galleries totaling 3,500 square feet into an area three times as large, with three new galleries, a multipurpose room, storage areas, a workshop and an enlarged lobby.

Above the real drafting tables--outfitted with templates, T-squares, pencils and paper--big signs clue in a youngster to the basics of architectural planning, from "Idea" ("Let's add on to the museum") through "Concept" and "Drawings" to "Construction" ("Let's build from the drawing").

Another space is devoted to the "Construction Area," where small children can try on safety vests, hard hats, plastic kneepads and other gear while they play with toy cement trucks, handle pieces of roofing material or dump blocks in a wheelbarrow.

Stacks and bins of Lego and Tinkertoy pieces and "waffle blocks" invite a child's constructive imagination, and pictures of buildings ranging from a tepee to a cathedral suggest some of the possibilities. For older children or parents with an instructive bent, diagrams of architectural features (quick, what's a crown molding?) offer detailed information.

Designed by architect Jim Handsel and built as a class project by high school students in the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program in Anaheim, this exhibit was heavily dependent on donated materials. Toy manufacturers eagerly offered samples of their wares. Local businesses contributed samples and a medley of illustrated informational material.

As a result, the contents of the show are somewhat unbalanced. There is a certain point at which the educational function breaks down. (Why, for example, include a toilet--with the lid nailed down--and a non-functional sink? And why so much stress on roofing but not on other building materials?)

Despite an attempt to meet the needs of a fairly wide age span, the show seems designed mainly for younger children. And there are no references to the museum's own architectural gambits, beginning with the recycling of an old train depot in 1977 and continuing today with the plan to add needed square footage by moving buildings from a former La Habra school to create a new wing.

But of course this exhibit, which remains on view through Dec. 5, isn't intended to offer a real course on architecture and construction. Instead, assistant director Melissa Banning said, it's "a stage setting that gives (a child) an idea to think about and things to do."

Dorothy Fite, a cheery docent who greets small visitors in huge bear-foot slippers and a bear mask, said one of the best things about the exhibit is the way "parents really get on the floor and see through a child's eyes."

The Children's Museum at La Habra, at 301 S. Euclid St., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., including Veteran's Day, Nov. 11. Admission is $1 for children ages 3 - 16 and seniors, $1.50 for adults. Reservations are required for any group of 10 or more (call 213-905-9793). Group tours--scheduled for 10a.m., 11a.m., 1 p.m. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.--are limited to 35 people per one-hour visit. Today and next Saturday, there will be special Lego contests. Today's will be to see who can build the biggest structure; the one Nov. 14 will be to see who can build the most imaginative structure.

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