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Totally Gross, and Educational

The Discovery Science Center goes into detail to teach kids about their bodies. Ewww.

April 25, 2002|MARGO WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul, 10, a bespectacled expert in many things gross, was boosted by his dad above an excited Saturday morning crowd of parents and kids so that he might be picked as an authority.

But Sally Snot, clad in mismatched plaids with a ribbon of toilet paper trailing from her shoe, didn't choose Paul in her search for three young experts on those bodily functions that make kids smirk and parents cringe. She drafted her helpers, then divided the group into teams to compete in a "Gross Me Out" game show.

Now playing weekends at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, "Gross Me Out" attempts to "use that gross element to teach some good, solid educational information about the body," said Janet Yamaguchi, the center's vice president of education and "Gross Me Out" co-author. Snot, also known as actress Della Lisi, asked her visitors, "Have you ever wondered what that gurgling noise was in your belly? Well, that's peristalsis. Gas is going through your intestines." She unspooled a hose and pulled it like a tamed snake until it was 21 feet long. "This is the size of your small intestines," she said. "Your large intestines are another five feet and the gas has to go through them."

Lisi translated the vernacular into more socially acceptable terms. "Did you know farting is called flatulence or passing gas?" She demonstrated facts about the body by using stick-in-your-mind visual cues. With a volunteer to help her measure "my little brother Scott Snot's urine," Lisi showed that the amount of fluid that enters the body equals the amount that leaves, and that urine levels fluctuate depending on how much you sweat and what kinds of fluids you drink. When the demonstration was over, Lisi chug-a-lugged the amber liquid. "Oh, I'm sorry," she apologized to the audience. "Did you want some?"

"Ewwwww!" the kids screamed.

Lisi seized the moment. She explained that she really was just drinking apple juice and that she would never drink urine. She also quizzed the kids on their bathroom hygiene, making sure all agreed on the value of flushing the toilet and washing their hands.

After the show, Lisi, in a sleek, ungross black dress, said she feels that "these are subjects that are kind of taboo. But they need to be addressed so they can be euphemized and handled with manners and etiquette."

In the opinion of Bunni Tobias, a Lake Forest licensed educational psychologist, "What they are doing is totally age-appropriate.... Children learn through their eyeballs, their fingers. They have to touch it, feel it, slop in it. You learn through your sensory-motor skills.... Once you create an interest, then kids have something to learn about. They will read it, write it and conceptualize it."

Gross facts and figures, such as how many bacteria are in the human mouth (more than 100 million), and recipes and experiments, such as Eyeball-O-Rama, are available through the museum's Web site, www.discovery cube.org. Sarah Dingess, 13, of Fullerton, and her sisters, Ashley and Rebecca, both 10, seemed to confirm Tobias' assessment. Not only did they like the show, they planned to test the mucus recipe at home.

"I liked the urine the best because it looked like she was drinking it," Ashley said. "I liked the slime because it looked real," Sarah said. "Gross Me Out" is not the first science show to try to reach kids by shocking them and making them laugh. A Grossology traveling exhibit is now at Space Center Houston and is part of a mini-empire of the gross from author Sylvia Branzei and illustrator Jack Keely of the "Grossology" book series. But the Grossology exhibit wasn't available, so the Discovery Center designed its own program, Yamaguchi said.

"Gross Me Out" is teamed with workshops relating to the human body that are led by the center's education staff. Workshop topics include "Walk Through the Eye," "Stroll Through the Heart," "Tour Through the Digestive Tract" and "Mouths and What They Contain." The center offers three or four of these hands-on workshops daily.

Jesse Resendez, 11, and brother David, 10, of Bellflower, and Omar Prieto, 10, of Garden Grove, hunched over a table to match photos of animals with mammals' skulls at a "Pictures and Skulls" workshop. David said he left "Gross Me Out" early because "I like this better," although Omar said he thought "Gross Me Out" was cool. David and Jesse's father, Felipe Resendez, said the boys had been at the center since it opened that morning, had tested its bed of nails and had showed no signs of flagging. "This would be a good place to come on rainy days."

Kathy Kim, of Torrance, and Yong Kim, of Palos Verdes, were enthusiastic about "Gross Me Out." Kathy Kim said her son, Peter, 7, is interested in science and actress Lisi "touched on the daily things we all do, and now he knows why they happen and that it's not something to be ashamed of." Peter said the show taught him about "passing gas." Yong Kim's son, Grant, 7, added, "But it was gross." The boys giggled. Peter agreed. "It still was gross."

"Gross Me Out," Discovery Science Center, 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana. Adults, $11; ages 3 to 17 and 55 and older, $8.50; ages 2 and younger, free. "Gross Me Out" game show, 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through June 2. Center hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call (714) 542-2823.

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