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IN THE NOSE : Youngsters Find Certain Body Parts Make Sense at Children's Museum

February 25, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Pencils up, students, it's quiz time.

Question. What household item best symbolizes the division between youth and adulthood?

Stumped? It's the Kleenex.

Look at it from a child's viewpoint. You're about to explore some fascinating, uncharted personal territory--say, the inside of your nose--and out of nowhere some adult swoops in with a tissue and blows the whole project. Sigh. Another frontier lost to convention.

The folks at the Sacramento Science Center understand. "Body Wonder-full," their interactive health exhibit for children, not only allows but encourages children to explore the human machine through hands-on experience; Kleenexes are definitely optional.

The touring exhibit continues through April 22 at the Children's Museum at La Habra. Featuring over a dozen interactive learning stations, "Body Wonder-full," portions of which previously visited the museum in 1991 (alas, the crawl-through colon is missing this time), teaches youngsters about the five senses and the brain through graphics and minimal text, then reinforces the message with child-friendly activities. In the brain section, for example, lessons on memory and emotion are underscored with an electronic Simon Says game and a pair of blank magnetic faces to which children attach facial expressions to portray different moods.

Although it is skewed toward third-graders and up, "Body Wonder-full" can appeal to younger children and even adults, said Children's Museum education curator Carrie Wictor.

"It presents the information simply, but not simplistically," she said.

To teach children about the sense of smell, the "Nose Knows" panel uses a three-foot-high plaster model that would put Cher's schnoz (pre-surgery, of course) to shame. Even the humble nose hair gets its day. Inside, plastic bristles demonstrate the hairs' role as part of the body's "built-in air conditioning system," filtering out impurities in the air as we inhale.

Judging from a sampling on a recent weekday morning, this part of the exhibit intrigues the younger crowd. Three-year-old Jonathon Filipko peered cautiously inside one of the pie-plate sized nostrils ("Ooh, spider webs!"), gingerly stuck in one hand, then quickly withdrew it.

"It's yuck," he concluded triumphantly.

Jonathon's reaction is typical, Wictor said, and demonstrates one of her own pet theories about human behavior.

"It's the old nature-versus-nurture thing," she said. When docents leading school tours stop at the model, "the girls will always giggle . . . but it's the boys who always stick their hand in." That's with full approval of the guide, she added.

Also featured in the exhibit is a "Smell Lab" table at which children can guess the scents in several plastic vials, plus an optical illusion display, and a hearing game in which viewers guess at the contents of a bottle by shaking it. Skin and the sense of touch are explained in several large graphics. This is further illustrated with large wooden blocks covered on each side with a different texture, ranging from plastic hair brushes to corduroy. Children are encouraged to examine the blocks with their eyes closed and to try to identify the material, Wictor said.

Other parts of the exhibit are less interactive. A multicolored map of the brain helps teach about brain functions. (Surprisingly, even though the text stresses the brain's role in making correct "life choices," there is no mention of drugs and their effect on the brain, and docents "may or may not" use the opportunity to discuss drug abuse with schoolchildren, Wictor said.)

On a panel beneath the map, children can push a button to light up nine different brain parts, including the cerebellum, which controls muscular coordination.

"We tell them it's the part that lets you walk and chew gum at the same time," Wictor explained with a smile.

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