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Hands-on fun at the Children's Museum of the East End

From left, Edgar Huacon, 3, of Bridgehampton, Aurora

From left, Edgar Huacon, 3, of Bridgehampton, Aurora Petty, 3, of Sag Harbor, and Geoff Lopez, 3, of East Hampton, all dress in costume The Children's Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, with over a dozen hands-on exhibits relating to the East End, for infants to elementary aged children, Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

Edgar Huacon and Geoff Lopez, both 3, slide their feet into pint-size black rubber firefighter boots and don firefighter jackets, pants and signature hats. They clamber into the front seats of a bright red fire truck and listen to the call over the radio.

"Victor Victor 2-2-4. Just got a call from a young lady whose cat is apparently stuck in a tree," the dispatcher says. The prerecorded tape loop continues with a local flair -- firefighters responding that it's taking them a while to arrive because of the summer traffic.

The fire truck is just one of more than a dozen hands-on exhibits in the Children's Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. The museum interior looks like a Hamptons village, with play areas incorporating East End landmarks. A farmstand lets kids peddle carrots, apples and cucumbers, a soda-fountain reminiscent of Bridgehampton's famed Candy Kitchen lets kids serve one another ice cream cones, and a towering windmill like the one in East Hampton teaches kids about wind power. There's even a 4-foot Mr. Potato Head-like figure with interchangeable eyes, ears and noses -- after all, the East End used to be dotted with potato farms.

"It's pretty much a 'please touch' museum," says Paul Johnson, museum marketing assistant. "Nothing is off-limits. We want kids to experience and figure things out for themselves."

Big name support

This is Long Island's "other" children's museum. The Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City is 43,000 square feet and sees 200,000 visitors a year, says Maureen Mangan, director of communications. By comparison, the Children's Museum of the East End -- affectionately known as CMEE, pronounced "see-me" -- is 10,000 square feet and has 60,000 visitors a year, says Steve Long, its executive director.

The East End museum is in the midst of a $2 million capital campaign; the first phase of it enabled the museum to add a miniature golf course on the grounds that opened Memorial Day weekend, says Lara Sweeney, development officer.

The museum was launched in the late 1990s, when eight East End moms -- including Beatrice Alda, a daughter of actor Alan Alda -- wanted to bring more educational facilities to the area, Long says. The building opened in 2005 and focuses on kids aged 9 and younger.

About a third of the museum's patrons visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and Hamptons luminaries have supported it through the years, Long says. The amphitheater, for instance, is named for Alan and Arlene Alda. And this year's annual Family Fair counted among its honorary chairs George Stephanopoulos, Joy Behar and Ali Wentworth.

Year-round fun

But there's plenty of action throughout the fall, winter and spring, as well. Later this month, Katharine Holabird, author of "Angelina Ballerina" and "Twinkle" children's books series, will do a reading from her newest work.

The museum also offers art classes, cooking classes, pajama nights and other special events.

Emily Tobar, 7, a second-grader from Hampton Bays, attends an after-school program at the museum. Her favorite exhibit is the two-story boat, where she can lie in a bunk, peer through a periscope or go up on deck to spin the ship's wheel.

"It's like you're in a real ship, but you're really not," Emily says. "I play that I'm a pirate. I go 'Arr!'"

CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF THE EAST END

WHEN | WHERE Winter hours 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays), 376 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Tpke., Bridgehampton

INFO $10 a person, younger than 12 months admitted free; miniature golf $5 a person (open weather permitting); cmee.org, 631-537-8250

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