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Taking the Kids

Boston's Uncommon Museums

March 02, 1997|EILEEN OGINTZ

BOSTON — Calling all kids and parents who groan at the mere mention of a museum. This city's for you.

I can't think of a better place than Boston for converting museum haters into museum lovers. That's because almost every museum in Boston has child-friendly exhibits guaranteed to engage even the most reluctant ("When can we go back to the hotel and swim?") youngster. He won't have time to think about being bored because he'll be so busy participating in the Mystery of the Mummy treasure hunt at the Museum of Fine Arts or writing backward like Leonardo da Vinci in an interactive exhibit at the Museum of Science or trying out what experts have voted the best children's computer programs at the Computer Museum.

Nor will kids be in a rush to leave the USS Constitution. Built in 1797, Old Ironsides, as it is nicknamed, is the world's oldest commissioned ship. It has been fully restored and will set sail on a day trip this July for the first time in more than 116 years. Meanwhile, how about a virtual sail into battle at the adjacent USS Constitution Museum?

If war games don't excite your gang, there's plenty else to choose from in Boston's museums, including presidential politics at the JFK Library and sports memorabilia at the Sports Museum of New England. There are paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Fine Arts, whale watching with a crew from the New England Aquarium and antique doll houses at the Children's Museum.

Parents will appreciate all the discounts for families from the ultra-luxe Four Seasons Hotel, where even accommodations for the family pet can be arranged, to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where the second child is admitted free. (Call the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau at [800] 888-5515 for ideas.)

Remember to follow the kids' leads, even if it means you won't get to spend the time you'd like where you'd like. Not only will they be less restless but you may discover some of their less obvious interests.

My second rule: Make sure the children are well rested and well fed before walking into a museum. A tired, hungry child cannot enjoy anything, much less something that might require concentration.

My third rule: Leave before they--and you--want to go. The point is for them to want to return, not for them to be so exhausted that they can't remember anything they've seen or done.

All that said, here are some don't-miss museum exhibits for families visiting Boston in the coming months.

* The new Leonardo da Vinci exhibit (March 3 through Sept. 1) at the Museum of Science is the only U.S. stop for the largest and most comprehensive look at the work of the famed Renaissance scientist and artist, and it includes 13 separate interactive areas to explore different facets of his life and genius. Families can experiment as Leonardo did, altering the flow of water, for example, building a bridge or considering the impact of light and shadow on drawings. Reservations are recommended. Leave plenty of time for the museums 450-plus exhibits on everything from lasers to mirrors to solar energy. Call the museum at (617) 523-1441. It is open daily.

* Head to the Computer Museum's Best Software for Kids Gallery to search for titles based on your child's age and interest. Even better, try some of them out for free. (Look for the Computer Museum Guide to the Best Software for Kids at the Museum Store for $16.) On Boston's waterfront, the Computer Museum is the perfect place for the techies in the family: They can walk through a PC the size of a two-story house, answer e-mail or move text on a 12-foot-high monitor. Before you come, visit the museum's Web home www.tcm.org. The museum is open daily in the summer and Tuesday through Sunday in the winter. For information, call (617) 426-2800.

* Adjacent to the Computer Museum is the Children's Museum, where you and the kids can dance the "snackarena" while learning about healthy snacks during the new "Blue Plate Special" musical revue designed to teach kids how to improve their eating habits. If you're lucky, maybe you'll get picked to wear the gold carrot costume or pasta bowl hat during the finale. Bring your budding chefs to the Friday Night Kitchen, when admission is $1. Established by a group of teachers in 1913, and now located on Boston's wharf, the Children's Museum pioneered the development of the kind of interactive exhibits that are now used around the world and has remained a leader in innovative exhibits. Call the museum at (617) 426-8855. From September until June, the museum is closed Mondays, except during school vacations and holidays.

* Leave lots of time in your schedule for the New England Aquarium. Starting in mid-April, children can watch staff veterinarians and biologists take care of sick fish, seals, baby penguins and turtles. No one in the family will resist getting their hands wet at the hands-on tide pool. If there are young scientists in your house, consider the Science at Sea Harbor Tour that enables them to take part in different experiments, from testing ocean temperatures to searching for plankton. The aquarium is open every day. Call (617) 973-5200.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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