The number of youth museums in the United States has grown in recent years, say children's museum specialists.

"They're not new, but of late - within the last decade to 15 years - they've really exploded. We're constantly being visited and studied," says Paul Richard, vice president for exhibits and programs at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the country's largest youth museum.

Even established youth museums are expanding. Museums in Houston and St. Paul, Minn., will be opening new additions in the near future, says Mr. Richard.

These museums feature exhibits that are meant to be handled and touched by children. The idea is to stimulate a child's interest and imagination through either games, role-playing, or just plain fun.

Visitors to the Boston Children's Museum's "Teen Tokyo" exhibit can take a simulated ride on a Japanese subway, or tussle with a 6-foot tall replica of a sumo wrestler. In other exhibits, kids climb up walls and through mazes, and work in metal or woodworking shops.

"If kids are enjoying themselves, they can learn anything," says Ken Brecher, director of The Children's Museum in Boston.

More youth museums than ever are tending in this direction, says Richard. And fun is as important on the outside of the museum as well, he says. That's why many museums are showcasing whimsical, playful architecture for their buildings.

"There's just a realization that the form and the function of a facility have to be sympathetic and symbiotic to kids," he says. "More and more children are being brought into the planning processes [in designing these museums]."

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