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FOR THE KIDS | Outings: Ventura County

Inspiring Young Minds

Museum takes the interactive approach.

May 15, 1997|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Gull Wings Children's Museum in Oxnard is having an open house Saturday on the occasion of its 8th birthday.

It's a popular place. Annually, more than 25,000 families and school groups have been visiting its interactive exhibits--where kids from 2 to 12 get to play firefighter, geologist, doctor, auto mechanic and farmer.

"We have no signs here saying 'Do Not Touch,' " says executive director Doreen Lacy. "And kids don't want to leave when it's time to go."

Yet, this year the museum faces a budget crunch. Saturday's anniversary celebration is intended to help publicize the private, nonprofit institution.

"We've never not charged before," Lacy says, referring to Saturday's waiver of the museum's usual $2 entrance fee for kids and $3 for adults. She hopes the free open house will attract lots of people and result in more volunteer docents, school group bookings and corporate and private benefactors.

The reason for having such a museum, Lacy says, is that "children need to experience ideas and theories physically, with hands-on experiences, surprising, inspiring or involving processes."

Among the features of the museum are rooms devoted to geology--with rocks and fossils--a realistic "medical room" with appropriate equipment and garb for the kids, a farmers market where they can buy and sell heaps of plastic produce, and a cutaway automobile display donated by Saturn of Oxnard, where the secrets of motor travel can be grasped.

For the smaller kids, there is a a mass of toy-train components the children can assemble and operate cooperatively, experiencing some of the challenges of running a real railroad. There is also a "career room," where children can dress up in the garb of various professions, including a firefighter, and see themselves on a TV monitor.

Local schools send entire classes on visits--and parents who bring their kids--may find that it's a richer experience than that found at an amusement park. "There's a special quality of interaction between adults and kids that results," Lacy says. "And kids don't forget what they learn here."

Indeed. After dressing up as doctors and nurses and dismantling an anatomically correct doll to study its internal organs in the medical room (donated to the museum by local health professionals), kids recall the experience with enthusiasm, teachers say.

"They find out what happens when they go to the doctor--or the car repair or the supermarket," says Heather Rubio, the museum's volunteer coordinator.

"And teachers tell us that when kids get back to school after visiting the museum, they write and write."

Saturday's open house will include the following special events:

11 a.m.--Shuffles the Clown will perform a magic show.

12:30 p.m.--Carol Ashley of Resource Roundup, a county recycling program, will show kids how to make craft items from reusable materials donated by local corporations.

2 p.m.--Rita Vrtis' Kindermusic program will provide an interactive music experience for all ages.

2:30 p.m.--Ella the Storyteller will present a Latin-themed version of her Storytelling Theatre.

3 p.m.--Children can join in a karaoke session, singing along and watching themselves on TV monitors while performing on stage.

Visitors can also find out about summer day camp programs taking place at the museum during July and August. These themed events will focus on the rain forest, theater, astronomy and art.

BE THERE

Gull Wings Children's Museum celebrates its 8th birthday Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 418 W. 4th St., Oxnard. Free admission, and birthday cake served all day. (805) 483-3005.

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