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Indoor Holiday Explorations

Storytelling Draws Out Los Angeles Youngsters

IN the shadow of the city's burgeoning skyline, beneath the honeycomb of law-office buildings made famous on "L.A. Law," one of Los Angeles's big jackpots for kids lies buried in a most inopportune spot for its sprawling population: smack dab in downtown.

That means long drives for most of the Southland's suburban population, and an annoyingly high price for parking. But once on the scene, kids immerse themselves in this 18-room hall of craziness, where learning sneaks up on them when they aren't looking.

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The Los Angeles Children's Museum takes its philosophy from the old Chinese proverb: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Guidebooks claim that the two-story museum, where kids can paint their faces, drive real city buses, sing their own hit single or mug for a video, is "festive and theatrical." If my two kids (aged 2 1/2 and 6) are any gauge, that line is right on the money. And judging from the busloads of children from infants to age 12 unloaded there, it holds true for many others.

Part of the appeal is the specific attention paid to different age groups. Almost exclusively hands-on, the exhibits are intended to engage children in different developmental stages with specific tasks in themed rooms. Underlying the fun stuff is the message conceived by developmental specialists ostensibly convincing kids that they can "overcome their environment and move the world."

Here's what's cooking for the holidays:

* Local storyteller Sarah Rosenburg will perform tales about Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, and Kwanzaa (the African-American winter holiday) on Dec. 26 and 27 in the Louis B. Mayer performance space.

Children will be invited to tell their own stories. Candace Barrett, director of exhibits and programs, comments, "Stories used to be central to the way human beings entertained and communicated, but we have somehow moved away from that," she says. "This will be a way to let children know they are players in this world."

* Also, in the art studio, Ms. Rosenburg will conduct bookmaking workshops that may include pagemaking and the construction of bookmarks. A gallery will display books made by children in the museum workshops.

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* For holiday hours and additional information, call The Denver Children's Museum at (303) 433-7433, The Children's Museum in Boston at (617) 426-8855, The Los Angeles Children's Museum at (213) 687-8800, or The Children's Museum of Manhattan at (212) 721-1234.

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