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Giving Kids Their Own Space : Children's Museum in Pasadena Encourages Patrons to Take a Hands-On Approach to Exhibits

August 01, 1990|RANDYE HODER | Hoder is a regular contributor to San Gabriel Valley View

Sitting in front of a cardboard backdrop of the Los Angeles cityscape at night, a composed Kelli Craig waited for one of her colleagues to say "Action!"

Then she launched into the nightly news.

"We had an earthquake and lots of buildings fell down," the 9-year-old announced while playing the role of an anchorwoman and sneaking a peek at herself on the television monitors. Before bursting into giggles, Kelli assured her audience: "We are going to build new, earthquake-proof buildings."

The soon-to-be fourth-grader, along with 21 other children from the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church's summer camp, was visiting the mock TV station at the Kidspace children's museum in Pasadena.

The television studio is one of two new attractions at the museum, which has been growing steadily since the mid-1980s.

The other one, Colorworks, lets children experiment with colors, light and shadows by using a gigantic kaleidoscope and a harmonograph, a device for making three-dimensional drawings with movable colored markers.

"It's neat," said 6-year-old Justin Tarnoff, who came with his father and several friends from the Antelope Valley, anticipating that Kidspace was a "space" museum.

"It's not what we expected," said Justin's father, Mitch Tarnoff, "but the kids love it."

Unlike most other museums, where prominent signs say "Don't Touch" and guards glare when children get too near the exhibits, Kidspace encourages children to touch, create and explore.

"It looks like fun and games, but it's a whole lot more," said Executive Director Elaine Fleming, who has been with the museum since its start in 1981.

The museum rents space from the Pasadena Unified School District in the gymnasium of what used to be McKinley Junior High.

Along with its two new exhibits, Kidspace has an expanded performance area for puppet and magic shows, storytelling, dance and film, and a new room where workshops are held on everything from rocks to comets to artwork.

Still, the new space is not enough. "We are bursting at the seams," Fleming said. "Kidspace can't keep up with the demand."

About 100,000 people visit the museum each year, up from 60,000 in 1986, Fleming said. Kidspace is beginning to look for a larger, more permanent home. "We have outgrown this gym," Fleming said, "and we definitely would like our own building."

She said the museum, a private, nonprofit organization, spends about $600,000 a year to operate its programs.

In the meantime, children at Kidspace continue to play at being firefighters, race-car drivers, disc jockeys and television news anchors. "It's special here because it's just for kids," said Rachel Bulling, 10. "You can dress up and pretend to be whatever you want."

That's exactly what her sister, Laura, 7, did as she placed magnetic symbols for the sun, rain and snow on a weather map in the Kidspace television studio.

"I'm doing the weather report," Laura said, a bit confused about where to put the large red H for a high-pressure system. Placing it squarely in the Golden State, she declared: "It's very hot in California."

KIDSPACE MUSEUM What: A hands-on museum for children between the ages of 2 and 12.

Where: 390 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

When: Summer hours, through Sept. 2:

Tuesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12:30 to 5 p.m.

How much: $3.25 per person; children under 2 free.

For more information on programs and workshops, call (818) 449-9143.

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