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Spring excursion ideas for the family

Every year, as early spring teases us with occasional balmy days or all-out, day-long rains, my five-year-old and I yearn for adventure. But with the freedom of summer still weeks out of reach, where can we go?

Even though we live in a medium-size city and have long ago seen the obvious tourist attractions, our itchy feet and curious spirits have discovered there are plenty of small adventures to be shared. The following are some of our favorite explorings, most of which are available in metropolitan areas throughout the country:

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When your one free afternoon turns out to be a rainy one, take your child to a good commercial greenhouse. Escape into the warm, moist, green world and marvel at all those exotic plants. Listen to the rain beating on the glass and conjure up visions of tropical rain forests.

Or visit a delicatessen to smell the spices and see what strange foods the world has to offer - even on a dreary day. Read the labels saying ''Product of . . .,'' and see how many countries are represented.

Perhaps you can remember a day, many years ago, when you stood on tiptoe, peeping through the hole in a construction fence, watching huge earth-moving equipment gouge out an enormous basement. Most cities have a number of such little events and places beckoning you and your child.

Find a few sunny minutes some afternoon and walk with your child to where the lot is being cleared down the street, or the house is going up, or the bricks are being laid, or the cement is being poured.

If you have a bit more time, get in the car and set out together for a downtown-tower tour. Take the elevator to the top of a couple of your city's skyscrapers to enjoy the views. (If you're not sure whether there are any windows accessible to the public, check in advance.) Perhaps your city even has a revolving restaurant with a bird's-eye view. Lunching at the top could make a special occasion out of ''towering,'' but call ahead to check menus and prices, and to see if you need reservations.

If the sun has come out in force, consider packing a picnic and gathering your child and a friend or two to search out a never-before-tried park or playground. Plan the excursion a day ahead (anticipation being part of the fun), and help ensure success by asking across-town friends where their children think the best play equipment is in their part of town. Then, as the day begins to warm, set off to explore. (If you're not the join-in type, take along that book you've wanted to read while you wait for the explorers to get hungry.)

If the family car is transportation king at your house, your child may consider the city bus a mysterious novelty. Why not check into the location of the nearest stop and plan a few hours of aimless adventure with your child? (The bus company, if they are public-relations-minded, may be able to tell you about some good circle routes.)

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Collect a bunch of jingling dimes (or whatever change is required - check that in advance, too) and perhaps a bag lunch to eat in the first park you spy. Then get aboard and enjoy the sounds and surges of this big ''people mover.''

We've found open, adventuresome minds, especially on my part (my daughter's mind seems always open), to be the only essential ingredient for making our city adventuring satisfy our early-spring wanderlust. A sharing, drink-it-all-in approach can make even the simplest excursion seem like a touch of summer vacation.

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