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Exploring the world's largest children's museum.

In April, My family and I visited the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. This turned out to be a very large building with five floors of things for kids to explore. The exhibits are meant to be interactive; you don't just look at them, but you can climb inside and actually play with them. It was more like an amusement park with learning simulations for children. How you played with the exhibits was up to you to decide.

When we first walked into the museum, there was a wall-size glass sculpture with water running through its various parts that immediately attracted my attention. I couldn't stop looking at it. I walked up to it and suddenly realized that it wasn't just a sculpture; it was actually a giant water clock. Minutes, seconds, and hours were measured off in this clock as the water flowed into its various parts. You read the time by looking at the fluid-level indicators, something like reading a measuring cup. Cool.

We went down a circular ramp to the archaeology exhibit on the floor below. As you head toward the exhibit, it gives you the impression of entering a tomb. As you enter, the first thing you notice is a mummy's tomb. You are flung into the role of playing detective by finding clues to the identity of a teenage mummy by using hieroglyphics. Along the way you can smell the materials used in the burial of the mummy, such as myrrh, cedar, cinnamon, and pine. We got to piece together an entire mummy, using puzzle pieces depicting the body, the wrappings, the casing, and the sarcophagus. There are exhibits of papyrus, Egyptian combs, and personal items of the unidentified mummy so that you can imagine how she lived in the ancient past. At the end of the exhibit, we learned the name of the unidentified mummy, but I can't give you that secret. I leave it up to you to become a detective and to take up the challenge.

We next visited the undersea exhibit, where they asked you, "What if you could go under the sea?" My sister, Maeghan, and I entered into the submarine and pretended to run the control center, since it seemed that the regular personnel must have taken a break. We then ventured out of the submarine to become creatures of the sea. First we had to select what creatures we wanted to be and put on the appropriate costumes. I pretended to be a lobster with huge claws, and Maeghan was a crab. We danced around in the ocean, which was really a special-effects blue screen. This made it look like we were actually swimming underwater. After spending some time underwater, we decided it was time to get some air. We proceeded to answer questions about how fish lived, their habitat, the quality of water, and the biosphere. Everything was made for children to explore and have fun. No one minded if we touched everything, and there were plenty of volunteer helpers to point you in the right direction if you couldn't decide what to do next.

On the next level, we played with the international musical instruments, rode a carousel, and saw a neat toy-train exhibit. We were even allowed to sit in a real Indianapolis 500 racecar! And if that wasn't enough, we played with a computer-simulation game where we each became a king and ran a kingdom. My mom played, but she didn't do so well. She drove her subjects away. Oops! Every one of my simulated people loved me, though. I gave them enough to eat, didn't make them work very hard, and also paid them well.

Last, but not least, we got to be archaeologists for the day. We were given tools like shovels and brushes. Our job was to search for bones, pieces of pottery, and metal artifacts. This was very similar to an actual archaeological dig that I had participated in last year. The area for the search is first marked out on a grid, then you carefully remove the soil. Whatever artifacts you find, you must be sure to record the date and its exact location so that you can piece together its origin and purpose. Sometimes you can recover enough pieces to reassemble the original article, just like putting together a puzzle.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis was a great place to learn about nature, science, cultures, and the prehistoric era. It bills itself as being the largest children's museum in the world. I'd have to agree, because it's the only museum that I have ever seen where I got to be part of the exhibit. If you're going to be in Indianapolis, be sure to nag your parents to take you there.

It"s A Child's

World After All

Nearly 1.3 million visitors each year explore the imaginative exhibits at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis - the world's largest children's museum. In the five-story, 356,000-square-foot facility, children of all ages (and parents) can explore the arts, foreign cultures, and history - as well as gain hands-on understanding of the fascinating world of physical and natural sciences. There are so many activities that the biggest challenge for families is which one to discover first!

How about a Fossil Dig, built to resemble the actual layers of limestone found in the earth - complete with fossils that "new geologists" can date to gain an in-depth knowledge of our common past? Crawl through a simulated mound of dirt to witness firsthand the animals that reside underground, or glimpse living plants and animals from atop and under an Indiana pond. One can even scale a 20-foot limestone rock wall at the new ScienceWorks - a $2.5 million state-of-the-art science gallery that opened in June. Also in 1996, the Children's Museum unveiled the IWERKS CineDome Theater - Indiana's first high-tech, large-format theater, seating more than 300 people in a 76-foot-high dome. From June until January 1997, the museum is host to the first major fine-arts exhibit to appear in a children's museum with "Calder's Art: A Circus of Creativity." The interactive art exhibit highlights the work of American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976), who is credited with creating a new art form, the mobile sculpture. Visitors not only view the original art but are encouraged to explore their own creative talents through numerous hands-on activities.

Over 4,000 programs, classes, and exhibits in ten galleries are offered for children of all ages each year, using the museum's collection of more than 110,000 artifacts. "Learning is fun" is the museum theme that greets you at every corner with every object, activity, and event. There is a purpose behind each display, a story to tell with each exhibit, and an idea to unfold in each gallery. Unlike the signs in a typical adult museum, many of the signs here encourage visitors to touch the exhibits, to get their hands dirty. Visitors can also explore the twisted passageways of an Indiana cave, pace the platform of a Victorian railway depot, ride a turn-of-the-century carousel, barter for goods in a French trading post, and conduct science experiments.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is located just minutes from downtown Indianapolis. To learn more, write to The Children's Museum, P.O. Box 3000, Indianapolis, IN 46206.
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Title Annotation:Indianapolis, Indiana
Author:Kearney, Michael K.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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