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By Eileen Ogintz
Ready to tinker?
At San Francisco's Exploratorium (www.exploratorium.edu), visitors are invited to do just that. In fact, there's a Tinkering Studio where recently kids were busy figuring out how to connect wires to make buzzers work and lights go on and taking apart mechanized stuffed animals to see how they operate. They could also use wire to create mechanized sculptures a la Calder or work with an artist in residence to make their own metal creations. (Find projects to do at home on their website, www.tinkering.exploratorium.edu.)
"This isn't a museum, it's a laboratory where people get together to inspire each other. It isn't like anywhere else," said Tim Humkin, a well-known British engineer, cartoonist and TV personality, who was here as a visiting artist to teach the tinkerers welding -- their creations to become part of a huge whimsical metal arch welcoming visitors to the space.
When the Exploratorium opened in 1969, it served as a prototype for what science museums around the world would eventually become -- a place to interact with exhibits, not just look at them. And that continues today as the museum tests what will work when it moves to its huge new digs on Piers 15 and 17 on the Embarcadero in 2013, more than doubling its exhibit space to 230,000 square feet. (Fans like my kids will be pleased that the Tactile Dome where people enter a pitch-black environment and must find their way out by touch will be larger too.)
The Tinkering Studio is one way for museum staff to see what works and what doesn't. You are encouraged to leave all of your creations so they become part of the exhibit and inspire the next group of visitors -- "changing the experience for the next person," explains the Exploratorium's Mike Petrich, who helps oversee the space and the Learning Studio where museum staff in turn "tinker" with what will become future exhibits, while visitors watch through big windows.
Whether your kids are science geeks, future engineers or artists, or you just want them to have a unique experience, San Francisco's (www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com) two-dozen museums deliver. The California Museum of Sciences -- one of the city's top tourist draws since its move to Golden Gate Park -- is the only place in the world to combine a natural history museum, aquarium and planetarium in one building. It's the greenest museum in the world.
Learn a little San Francisco history as you go. Stop in at the
(If you plan to visit several museums, check out City Pass, www.citypass.com, which gets you deeply discounted admission to some of the city's top museums, as well as an array of other savings.)
At the Exploratorium's cavernous no-frills space, kids and adults are literally making waves, making a pulley system, making balls "float in the air," making wind, spinning patterns. No one tells them to be quiet.
"We create the experiences," Petrich says, watching the kids in the Tinkering Studio. Then it's up to them to "make sense of it."
"There is not one way to do any project here or approach any exhibit," he added. "The experiences are different for each person."
As they should be.
© EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
Vacations - Taking the Kids to San Francisco's Museums