Communications Exhibit Gets Them to Push the Buttons

Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

"Cut! Cut!"

Still peering through the viewfinder, Bobby Freeman waved his hands over his head in a fit of pique. Heaving an exaggerated sigh, he stalked up to the set and shuffled the reporter's scripts, throwing them a critical glance as he returned to his position behind the video camera.

"OK, go," he barked. Then: "No, wait. You're fired."

Hey, when you're in the business of words, there's not always time for small talk.

Although he may not have realized it, Bobby, 4, had just given a stirring demonstration in verbal and nonverbal communication, two of the topics highlighted in "Kids in Touch," an interactive exhibit now at the Children's Museum at La Habra. The display explores the various ways people communicate, covering everything from mime to computers.

"Kids in Touch" has more than a dozen hands-on stations designed to encourage children to learn by playing. According to museum assistant director Melissa Banning, curator of the exhibit, the communication theme was chosen to "reflect our concern for literacy and . . . to recognize the important role electronic communication plays in children's development."

On a recent weekday morning, it was the modern means of communication that was attracting the most attention. One of the busiest spots was the mock television studio equipped with video camera, monitor, news set and scripts. There, Bobby was acting as cameraman, director and producer for news reports by his sister, Joanna, and mother, Kathy. (Although both children seemed to enjoy their "on-air" experience, they weren't so sure about careers in television. Joanna, 8, says she would lean toward a job that has "anything to do with talking and the movies," but Bobby, clearly a level-headed guy, would prefer "to do nice things.")

Meanwhile, another group of youngsters were clustered at a computer center where a simple interactive program was introducing them to data input. Because more schools are using computers in the classroom, this part of the exhibit was familiar territory for many, floor manager Maura Barrett said. "I've had 9-year-olds coming in who know more about computers than I do," she said with a laugh. The two working facsimile machines, however, seemed to be comparative novelties--the children inserted their scribbled messages in one, then dashed to the other to wait for their arrival.

GTE, which provided the grant money for the program, has outfitted the museum with a variety of telephone equipment that includes pay phones, desk phones, a mobile phone and a TDD device for the hearing-impaired. Some of the equipment has been partly dismantled to reveal the internal workings--but most visitors seemed to be more interested in chatting on the stuff than exploring its tiny wires and cables.

The history of the printed word is showcased in a display coordinated by the International Printing Museum of Buena Park, which loaned such items as a 1930s proof press and a large type cabinet from the late 1800s. Nearby, there is a Braille stylus and slate accompanied by detailed instructions. On a neighboring wall, large cards demonstrate finger spelling and instructions for basic mime movements.

Museum docents are on hand during regular gallery hours and can answer questions on a wide range of communications matters, Banning said. Docent-led tours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. In addition, the museum has free workshops with a communications theme most Saturdays at noon. This Saturday, it's "Max and Ruben's Traveling Fun Shop," a cartoon and mime workshop for ages 5 and older.

What: "Kids in Touch."

When: Through Sept. 14.

Where: Children's Museum at La Habra, 301 S. Euclid St., La Habra.

Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to Lambert Road, head west to Euclid Street, turn right.

Wherewithal: $2.50 to $3.

Where to Call: (213) 905-9793.

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