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TOUCH AND GO, IN PHILLY

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by Joe Lugara

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Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum is no defeatist. At one time, the museum had plans to relocate to Penn's Landing on the city's waterfront, but when the developer suddenly pulled out of the project, the institution, which was founded in 1976, was forced to rethink its near future within the context of its existing building at North 21st Street. To its credit, the museum didn't stand pat. It continues to invest in its current location to make it the most enjoyable kids’ museum experience possible. Please Touch presently houses six major exhibitions, and there are no indications anywhere that it's likely to slow down. The current exhibits cover about as wide a variety of topics as any kid or parent could possibly hope for — from literature to transportation, consumerism, media, and life in a barnyard. First, literature. Maurice Sendak is no stranger to fantastic imagery, and since kids like the fantastic, the legendary children's author is an appropriate one to have his works enlarged and made tactile: in the case of the simply titled exhibition "Sendak", the 1964 classic Where the Wild Things Are, and 1970s In the Night Kitchen. Like his books, which address the complex emotional life of children, the exhibit is designed to assist young people to an understanding of how daydreams can be useful tools in helping them respond to their everyday feelings. The work of another, considerably more fantastic author, Lewis Carroll, is the subject of the museum's delirious "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" exhibit. Unlike "Sendak", there are no hopes for self-awareness in "Alice"; kids can just drop their reality at the door as they go to tea with the March Hare, play croquet with the Queen, or seek out the party who stole the tarts. (As the largest exhibit ever staged by the museum, "Alice" needs all the room it gets). Getting there is the goal in "Move It!", the museum's transportation exhibit. Cars, buses, trains, boats and even monorails are highlighted here — but so are traffic jams, tolls, and ever-rising gas prices. Kids can sail a boat over a mini Delaware River, get gas, run an interactive railroad track safety course, climb aboard a suspended monorail, and even take the wheel of a real SEPTA bus. (For out-of-towners, SEPTA stands for "Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority"). For young domestics of all ages, "The Supermarket" offers a child-size grocery store where kids can either be employed stocking shelves and ringing up orders, or loading up their carts with realistic products; while in "Barnyard Babies", the museum's youngest visitors, age 3 and under, can go down to the farm to dress scarecrows, drive tractors, feed baby chicks, and plant and harvest vegetables. Kids with a bent for the dramatic will gravitate toward "Me on TV!", where they can don costumes and act out dramatic plays via live TV cameras and monitors. (For parents who want to read to their children while visiting Please Touch, the museum's "Story Garden" is 360 square feet of serenity, with an 8-foot cedar gazebo and a wide variety of books). September's special weekend event theme at the museum is "Saluting Heroes", which will include live performances and the making of thank-you cards for police, fire and ambulance stations, and the crafting of "Superhero Masks". The Please Touch Museum is located at 210 North 21st Street, in Philadelphia. For more information, call (215) 963-0667 or go to www.pleasetouchmuseum.org.


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