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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be . . .

At area day camps and museums, kids get to be marine biologists, archeologists, artists, engineers and even puppet creators.


In past summers, Lisa Hestin Lerner's two children, 9-year-old Alison and 11-year-old Jonathan, have experimented with being a cardiac surgeon, a Web site designer and a robotics creator. But Jonathan keeps talking about the time he dissected a sheep's brain--something Lerner was glad he did away from home.

"I think we have done it all," Lerner says with a laugh as she describes the other activities her children have participated in at various summer programs offered at museums and other places that are more typically considered family or tourist day trips.

Even though she fights traffic in the summer months to drive her kids to such destinations as the California Science Center, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Natural History Museum, Lerner, who lives in Encino, says it's all worth it.

"The access our kids have to education and fun here in the Los Angeles area is amazing," she says. "And unlike school classes, kids can go in depth on topics they really want to explore."

Indeed, fun and education are hallmarks of successful summer camp programs. Parents appreciate that their children are participating in hands-on programs that oftentimes are led by professionals. Children, like Jonathan and Alison, say they like such programs because they offer experiences they don't find every day, sheep's brains just one.

So don't assume this summer will mean a loss of brain cells for out-of-school kids. And while the season may be a couple of months away, now's the time to start planning.

Note that most camps offer limited scholarships for underprivileged children and that most preschool programs require that an adult participate with the child.

Our rundown of nontraditional camps:

* Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.

Children will unearth more than dirt and worms when they attend the Skirball's Adventures in Archeology Summer Camp. During the weeklong program, participants will get the chance to write like an ancient Babylonian, build a Viking boat or discover local artifacts of the Chumash and Gabrielino Native Americans. The center also will host a series of Saturday Archeology Dig Workshops this summer that can include the whole family.

The summer camp sessions take place in August and cost $120-$150 for the week. The Archeology Dig Workshops are $7 per person. Call (310) 440-4684.

* Kidspace Museum, 390 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

In addition to the regular roundup of science and entertainment-based workshops for big kids, Kidspace is launching a new summer camp program for 5- and 6-year-olds. Kinder-Kampers will be introduced to the marvels of mud or an exploration into the five senses.

Big brother and sister, however, will have a variety of workshops to choose from--they can learn tricks from Magic Castle magicians, work on acting skills with Shakespearean actors and extract DNA from split peas.

KinderKamp takes place July 16-20 and is $85 per workshop. Kamp Kidspace runs from July to August. Half-day sessions are $130 a week, full day $205. Call (626) 449-9144.

* Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino.

During the month of August, the Huntington introduces children to the finer arts and sciences as part of the Huntington Explorers program. In the art galleries, they can learn the secrets to creating a masterpiece and later can paint one of their own. Budding botanists will dissect flowers and study plant cross-sections in the lab. Bookworms can craft their own handmade books, while shutterbugs learn landscape photography.

Cost for the Huntington Explorer program is $110 a week for half days or $195 for five full days. Call (626) 405-2127.

* Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Can~ada Flintridge.

Organized hikes throughout Descanso Gardens, including some off-the-beaten-path spots, will bring youngsters nose to nose with butterflies, frogs and other woodland flora and fauna. After participants in the Summer Adventure Camp explore the garden, they will head back to the Sycamore Science Center Terrace for some nature-inspired crafts.

The day camp begins in July. Cost is $140 for the weeklong morning sessions. Call (818) 949-7980.

* Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles.

This year, the Los Angeles Zoo has revamped its Zoo Camp programs so participants can choose between weeklong morning, afternoon or full-day sessions as well as single-day workshops.

Preschoolers can explore creepy-crawlies, take a jungle journey or discover animal noises. Older kids can pick classes that focus on animal homes, airborne creatures and zoo careers that includes a field trip to Moorpark College. One workshop will teach kids to see what kind of "zoo" exists in their own backyard.

This summer, families will get behind-the-scenes tours of the zoo at nighttime during the popular overnight Sundown Safaris. Bring your own tent or rent one from the zoo.

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