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FAMILY: Ventura County | FOR THE KIDS

Mind Games

Museum's experiments and scientific activity areas are a magnet for youth.

January 01, 1998|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Taking the kids to a movie, or several movies, would be one way to pass the time until school starts again. A few years ago, that's what Jerald Adlof, a local entrepreneur who used to be a movie theater manager, would have recommended.

But in the fall of 1996, Adlof and his wife Tracey rented space in a shopping center on Tierra Rejada Road in Simi Valley and created an alternative to passively watching special effects on the big screen.

The Adlofs' site, called Castle Earth Children's Museum, is a place where kids create their own special effects using things like centrifugal force, capillary attraction, chromatography, magnetism and something the Adlofs call "slimes."

Castle Earth's three-dozen scientific experiments cover everything from acids to zoology. Each involves individual instruction and costs $15. For a general admission charge depending on a child's age, the museum offers activity areas with names such as "Illusions," and "Star Room." The Adlofs' also have more than 100 live animals--birds, turtles, snakes, rabbits--and insects.

The overall effect is Indiana Jones meets Chuck E. Cheese. (There's a real Chuck E. Cheese next door to the museum, by the way.) And, just as is the case with that famous kid attraction, Castle Earth has youngsters 4 to 12 asking their parents to bring them back every week.

Last week, Kyle Kaplan, a Simi Valley second-grader on vacation from school, visited Castle Earth for a workshop devoted to the mysteries of acids, including how human breath can change the color of a liquid. The process involves boiled cabbage and drinking straws. Along the way, Kyle also learned why he should be interested in forest preservation. Trees, using the chemical process he had duplicated, convert into breathable air the carbon dioxide we humans and our cars spew out all day long.

For parents concerned about letting kids play with chemicals, the museum assures visitors that experiments are kid-safe.

Castle Earth is an outgrowth of a volunteer project the Adlofs' embarked upon in the late '80s when they went into schools and presented science experiments. It seemed a natural thing to Jerald, who was always messing around with baking soda and vinegar when he was growing up in Simi Valley.

But then, he says, "The school people started wanting to bring classes over to our house. So we went out and got a building."

The Adlofs have an unusual relationship with their landlord, shopping-center owner Irv Berg of M.V.B. Investments. To provide reduced group rates for school groups, the museum has set up a nonprofit foundation for which Berg provides matching grants.

On weekends and after school, Castle Earth runs scavenger hunts for knowledge. Designed for any child of reading age, or for parents willing to read clues to a younger child, the hunt is for science facts. All the answers are in the museum.

BE THERE

Castle Earth Children's Museum, 77 Tierra Rejada Road, Unit A, Simi Valley. Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. General admission for children 3-12, $5.50; adults and youth 13 and older, $3; 2 years and younger free. Individual workshops (per child per session) $15. Group rates available. Call (805) 583-5243.

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