Children's museums can be just the ticket for family vacations, a rainy day, or just plain fun

Children's Museum of Manhattan

I am greeted by Shelli, a staff member of the Children's Museum of Manhattan, who tells me she is a grasshopper. She is wearing a bright green mask with some spastic antennae ... well, maybe she looks like a grasshopper if you have the imagination of a child.

As it turns out, there are lots of children around with active imaginations.

The children are visiting the museum during "Bug Week" when they are learning about insects, bees, crickets, and bright green grasshoppers.

Bug Week is just one of 13 theme weeks that the Upper West Side museum is hosting this summer. Starting in July, children can take part in Independence, Geology, Fish, Habitat, and Human Body weeks. Then, in August, there are Water, Energy, Flower, and Bird weeks.

The museum's main summer exhibition, called "Tar Beach," is based on contemporary artist's Faith Ringgold's memories of her rooftop in Harlem.

Ringgold's forum was a "story" quilt that now hangs in the Guggenheim Museum. From the quilt came a book of the same name. New York City schoolchildren helped to create the exhibition, which includes spaces where children can unleash their imaginations and crawl into adult-free spaces.

The adults are not left out. They can listen to the poetry of Langston Hughes or the music of Duke Ellington as they reminisce about their own tar beaches.

After a trip to the beach, it might be time to watch your children become television celebrities at the just-opened Time Warner Media Center, which features television cameras, microphones, and a kid-friendly weather map. Production workshops, which are held twice daily, let the children become news reporters, meteorologists, and "motor-mouth" hosts.

For children who want to check out computers, there are plenty of opportunities to experiment with CD-ROM and learn how to operate dinosaur and encyclopedia programs.

For children old enough to read, there is the Scholastic Gallery, which focuses on the books of New York author Maira Kalman and her fictional dog, Max. Children can also play with words on a "poetry tree" or just sit quietly in a room listening to a good story.

At the end of the day, the museum staff gathers on the first floor to sing songs. The last song, a goodbye song, makes leaving all the fun a little easier.

The Tisch Building, 212 W. 83rd St., New York, NY 10024; (212) 721-1223.


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