Museum's special edition Cloisters introduces youngsters to newspapers


THE NEWSPAPERS are bigger than life, but the hands tha put them together are small at the Cloisters Children's Museum.

The pages of a newspaper have become puzzles and the stories on those pages a computer game designed to let youngsters 8 to 11 years old get their hands on and into newspapers.

"Extra, Extra, The Newspaper Exhibition" is the latest addition to "Ready, Set, Read," the museum's reading-incentive program. The hands-on exhibit gives youngsters the chance to put together a historic front page, make their own comic strip and compose a news or sports story while discovering that reading a newspaper can be fun and helpful.

"It takes something that we read and makes it participatory," says David Berman, the museum's exhibits coordinator.Berman, who designed this exhibit, says he hopes that his playthings will "demystify" newspapers and show youngsters that papers can be used in many ways -- other than as raw material for airplanes or hats.

Children will see that they "can use the newspaper" not only for information, but also to make dinner or travel plans, Berman says.

One of the puzzlelike pages is patterned after a page about food. On the top are ice cream recipes, in the middle a feature story about a visit to an ice cream plant, and on the bottom advertisements from pretend stores. The child can match the ingredients in the recipes with the items in the ads, move the vinyl magnets from the ads to make a grocery list and even compute his or her savings from coupons.

Another page, from a travel section, features a story on a ghost-town trail in the West. Children can move a covered-wagon piece from town to town as they read the story and match certain artifacts with each location.

The exhibit also includes a computer program, conceived by Berman and designed by Baltimore software freelancer Bob Hummel, that lets youngsters research a news story, interview sources for the story and then assemble the paragraphs. The "reporter" then gets a copy of the story he composed on an 8-by-11-inch replica of a news page that will include the weather and news from the Cloisters, as well as his story.

Berman has designed the hands-on activities especially for children in the third through sixth grades, although parts of it will be appropriate for younger children.

For the exhibit, Berman has also built seats out of newspapers. Stacks of papers of varying heights are held together with wooden dowels and the tops are laminated so the ink will not rub off.

The newspaper exhibit, sponsored by The Evening Sun and The Sun, is the fifth segment of the "Ready, Set, Read" program, which opened 18 months ago with a kids' reading zone and a post office playroom that lets children write, mail and deliver letters. Also included are a pop-up story book that children can move through and a giant game board that walks children through a make-believe town.

All of these hands-on activities encourage children to read and to see reading as a pleasure as well as a necessity. "That is the challenge of 'Ready, Set, Read,'" says Susie Breaux, the museum's spokeswoman.

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