Build-a-beast kits from children's museum help youngsters learn

What holds three ''boffos,'' two foam lemons, six foam donuts, five blue snakes, and other bizarre thingamabobs? A build-a-beast Snood kit that may be rented by schools or families for two to three weeks from Boston's Children's Museum.

The Snood and its sister Sneed kit are just part of about 30 different discovery kits in the museum's lending department. The Snood and Sneed Discovery Kits are meant to teach children ''connection'' techniques using foam parts (boffos), paper fasteners, and rubber bands to assemble an imaginary animal.

There are also some 30 exhibit kits (packed full of artifacts) and study kits (minicourses on diverse anthropological subjects), as well as 12 school curriculum units designed by museum staff to help teach children about other countries and cultures.

Some of these kits are relatively new. The idea behind them, however, was what started the Boston Children's Museum in 1913 when science teachers began distributing collections of natural history specimens to Boston schoolrooms. (The first children's museum in this country began in Brooklyn in 1899.) Eventually a Boston women's organization opened up a room where teachers could borrow the specially prepared kits.

Over the years, the various kits have been updated with everything from fresh Sahara sand (in the Ancient Egypt kit) and buffalo horns and wart hog tusks (in the Animal Defense kit) to 16-mm movies and phonograph records in the more sophisticated curriculum units. They are packaged in colorful cardboard or wooden boxes.

Because of budget cuts and the cost of renting the kits ($10 to $40), they are no longer integrated into the Boston public schools' curriculum. An administrator with the Boston School Department said he was vaguely aware of the kits, but that it had been several years since there were funds to pay for the kits and their delivery to schools around the city.

But teachers from other schools with special grants - or organizations and families - still can pick up kits at the museum or have them shipped throughout New England. There are six ''published'' kits that may be purchased for about $ 600 each.

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