Originally created 03/04/03

Children learn while having fun at museum



ATLANTA - Imagine a place that children enter by crawling through Swiss cheese, skipping between two giant potatoes or gliding down a banana peel.

A place with no "Do Not Touch" signs, where children can get wet with nobody fussing and get a fish's view of a stream. A place with few walls, and one wall you can even paint.

Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta exists, as its founders like to say, "for the pure delight of learning." The museum opened Saturday on the ground floor of a new high-rise building across from Centennial Olympic Park.

The museum is designed to excite youngsters' senses. Lighting is playful and colorful with spotlights and miniature bulbs. Bathroom floors are designed like puzzles with orange, blue, green and purple pieces. There are benches for grown-ups and aprons to protect clothes. Patrons can dance in a shadow box or plant a garden.

Exhibits are aimed at children 2 to 8, although toddlers and older kids will find activities of interest. There's also a special crawling area for babies.

"We want the grown-ups who are here with their kids to really be engaged in the experience with them," said Pat Turner, president and executive director. "It's not the kind of place where you come and drop your kid and then watch your watch until it's time to leave."

The museum expects from 150,000 to 200,000 visitors a year. It already has booked 1,000 children from school field trips during the first six weeks it's open. Chief Operating Officer Kathryn Hill said the museum will offer children a haven where they can use imagination and learn by having fun, knowing they can touch things and roam around without being told "no."

She noted one exhibit geared toward toddlers and preschoolers called "Leaping Into Learning." It includes a forest where kids can crawl, a stream in which to splash and a climbing wall.

Another exhibit called "Fundamentally Food" helps children learn about where food comes from, how it's grown, gathered and transported. Younger children may simply learn that strawberries come from a patch, not a supermarket, or that hamburgers come from cows, not drive-through windows.

"Let Your Creativity Flow" allows children to dance, sculpt sand and decorate a wall.

The 30,000-square-foot museum contains 16,000 square feet of exhibits. It's much smaller than the nation's largest children's museum, the 300,000-square-foot Children's Museum of Indianapolis, where Ms. Turner is a former chairwoman of the board of trustees.

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