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FOR THE KIDS GULL WINGS MUSEUM : Fun Takes Off : Young visitors can dig for fossils or weave yarn. Fifteen exhibits help turn playing into learning.

October 04, 1990|JANE HULSE

It might not wow Luke Skywalker, but the space station at the Gull Wings children's museum in Oxnard is out of this world.

It's a five-foot-tall conglomeration of Styrofoam blocks, covered with a zillion-odd little doodads like buttons and bits of plastic. Next to the space station is a box of scraps, and children are invited to glue on a doodad wherever they like.

It's just one of the hands-on activities at the museum, which opened in May 1989. The museum has 15 exhibits--everything from a stage with costumes to stairs that children can try mounting on crutches to experience the hardships of the handicapped.

Founded by retired teacher Pat James, the museum is on the verge of change, according to board member Jean Marshall. A new museum director, Gig Wishon, comes on board this month.

"We want to upgrade the museum," Marshall said. "Rather than have small exhibits, we will begin focusing on theme sites." One of the sites planned is a Mexican market where children can "buy" and "sell" items.

So many of the children in the area are Latino, she said, and one of the museum's goals is to expose children to the county's cultural heritage.

The museum, entirely the creation of volunteers, is spacious. After a long search for a home, Gull Wings' founders focused on the building it presently occupies in downtown Oxnard. When the USO gave up its charter, the building reverted to the city, which now leases it to the museum.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. On Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon, the museum allows individuals to have exclusive use of the facilities for birthday parties.

On a recent Saturday a group of kids was celebrating a 5-year-old boy's birthday. They huddled under the long poles of a tepee and opened presents. After pizza, they had the place to themselves.

In the Hear, Touch and See Room, a little girl squealed, "Let's play music." She and her pals clanged cymbals and shook marimbas, and stuck their hands into a dozen sock-like bags to guess at the gewgaws inside: toothbrushes, buttons, you name it.

In the main room ran a model train, an exhibit the museum hopes to upgrade to a full-scale transportation center. Two dollhouses--one a contemporary design, the other a turn-of-the-century type--are on display.

A stage is set up with a row of theater seats and is popular with all ages. Children can put on their own puppet shows in the "puppet palace."

"One of the purposes of the museum is to encourage active rather than passive activity," Marshall said. Kids can dig for fossils in a sand enclosure, blow giant bubbles with a huge bubble ring, make kachina dolls out of discarded toilet paper rolls, or weave yarn on a makeshift loom.

One area, set up for very young children, includes blocks, cushions and rocking horses.

Another section, for children 6 and older, offers experiments the kids can do. They can tap out the Morse code or examine their fingerprints. They can shake an hourglass-like bottle and see the water inside imitate the swirling funnel of a tornado.

If the museum doesn't serve up enough to keep the kids busy, a gift shop sells everything from dinosaur paraphernalia to seashells.


Gull Wings children's museum is located in Oxnard at 418 W. 4th St. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The admission fee is $1.50 for children 3 and older, and $3 for adults. On Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon the facilities can be reserved for birthday parties. The cost is $1 per child, and a $25 rental fee includes the use of the kitchen. For more information, call 483-3005.

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