Visiting Boston, The Museum Capital

BOSTON -- Calling all kids (and parents) who groan at the mere mention of a museum. This city's for you.

I can't think of a better place than Boston to convert museum-haters (including the one who lives in my house) to enthusiastic museum-goers. That's because almost every museum in Boston has designed child-friendly exhibits guaranteed to engage even the most reluctant (read that ``when can we go back to the hotel and swim?'') youngster. He won't have time to think about being bored because he'll be busy unraveling the Mystery of the Mummy at the Museum of Fine Arts, writing backward like Leonardo da Vinci at the Museum of Science or trying out the experts' picks of the best children's software at The Computer Museum, the only one of its kind.

Kids won't be in a rush to leave the USS Constitution, either. Built in 1797, the fully restored Old Ironsides remains the world's oldest commissioned ship. It will set sail in July for the first time in more than 116 years. Meanwhile, how about a virtual sail into battle?

If wars don't excite your gang, there's plenty else to choose from in Boston's museums: stars or sharks; giant bubbles or a 20-foot-long computer keyboard; presidential politics at the JFK Library or memorabilia at the Sports Museum of New England. That's not counting the paintings or sculptures at the Museum of Fine Arts, whale-watching with a crew from the New England Aquarium or antique doll houses at the Children's Museum.

The kids found so much to do inside Boston museums that they didn't even gripe when it rained.

(Parents will appreciate the family hotel packages and discounts offered everywhere from the ultra luxe Four Seasons Hotel, where pet accommodations can be arranged, to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum where the second child is admitted free. Call the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-888-5515 or visit Boston's Web site at www.bostonusa.com.

My museum rule wherever we are: Follow the kids' lead, even if you don't get to spend the time you'd like where you'd like. They won't get restless, and you might discover some of their less obvious interests.

My second rule: Make sure the children are well rested and well fed before walking into a museum. No tired, hungry child can enjoy doing anything, much less something that might require concentration.

My third rule: Leave before they -- and you -- must go. The point is for them to want to return, not for them to be so exhausted they can't remember anything they've seen or done.

All that said, here are my don't-miss picks for families visiting Boston in the coming months.

-- At the Museum of Science, the new (opened March 3) exhibit devoted to Leonardo da Vinci. This is the only U.S. stop for the largest and most comprehensive look at the famed Renaissance scientist and artist, complete with 13 interactive areas to explore different facets of his life and genius. Families can experiment as Leonardo did, altering the flow of water, for example, building a bridge or considering the impact of light and shadow on drawings. The da Vinci exhibit will be at the Museum of Science for six months. Advance reservations are recommended. Save time for the museums 450-plus other exhibits on everything from lasers to mirrors to solar energy. Call the Museum at 617-723-2500 or visit its Web site at www.mos.org. The museum is open daily.

-- Head to the Computer Museum's Best Software for Kids Gallery to search for titles based on your child's age and interest. Even better, try some of them out for free! (Look for ``The Computer Museum Guide to the Best Software for Kids'' at the Museum Store for $16.) Located on Boston's waterfront, this is the first museum devoted solely to computers. Here's the place for the techies in the family: they can walk through a PC the size of a two-story house, answer e-mail or move text on a 12-foot high monitor. Before you come, visit the museum's Web site at www.tcm.org. The museum is open daily in the summer and Tuesday-Sunday in the winter.

-- Adjacent to the Computer Museum is the Children's Museum Boston where everyone can dance the ``Snackarena'' while learning about healthy snacks during the ``Blue Plate Special'' musical revue designed to teach kids how to improve their eating habits. If you're lucky, maybe you'll get picked to wear the gold carrot costume or pasta bowl hat during the finale! Bring your budding chefs to Friday Night Kitchen, when admission costs $1. Established by a group of teachers in 1913, and now located on Boston's wharf, the Children's Museum pioneered the development of the kind of interactive exhibits which now are used around the world and has remained a leader in innovative exhibits. Call the Museum at 617-426-8855. From September until June, the Museum is closed Mondays, except school vacations and holidays.

-- Leave lots of time in your schedule for the New England Aquarium. Starting in mid-April, children can watch staff veterinarians and biologists take care of sick fish, seals, baby penguins, turtles and others. No one in the family will resist getting wet at the hands-on tide pool. If there are young scientists in your house, consider the Science at Sea Harbor Tour that enables them to take part in different experiments. The aquarium is open every day. Call 617-973-5200 or visit the Web site at www.neaq.org. Say ``hi'' to the penguins for me. (c) 1997, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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