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Interactive museum exhibits for kids on Long Island

Frankie Harris, 10, uses a tablet to access

Frankie Harris, 10, uses a tablet to access the Mars Augmented Reality Experience at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Sept. 2. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

When museum doors close for the night, some people imagine the exhibits come to life and start to talk. At the Raynham Hall Education Center and Museum in Oyster Bay, that actually happens during the day.

The chatty portraits are one of a few interactive exhibits shown at museums on Long Island this fall. At other museums, visitors can drive rovers across Mars, stand inside giant bubbles, build robots out of recyclable goods, or go on a scavenger hunt in a sculpture garden.

Here's how seven Long Island hands-on museums are making a cutting edge, COVID-safe comeback.

TALKING PORTRAITS

When you enter the Raynham Hall Education Center and Museum, you’ll notice portraits of two merchants, a colonel and a slave who lived during the American Revolution. Hold your phone up to each portrait and pop in your ear- buds. The person in the portrait will appear on your phone, move, and tell you what he or she was doing in that very spot hundreds of years ago.

Next, hover your phone over a diorama of Oyster Bay. On your screen, a hologram-like George Washington will appear and tell you about life in 1776. It’s all part of a digital tapestry program created by a company known as 360XR. As Chief Technologist Jack Stephenson describes it, "We stand on the shoulders of giants, but we’ve created software and worked with historians and storytellers to bring portraits alive. The idea is if you point your phone toward an object, it will recognize it."

Since the museum is based on life in Oyster Bay around 1776, there’s also a 70-inch screen filled with games based on spy decoding techniques used during the American Revolution, quizzes, and more. Kids can tap the screen with a stylus to send an imaginary message to George Washington. Also in the museum, families can sniff and identify scents during those times, steer the wheel on an old ship, and move a wall with a flipping narrative.

THE DETAILS: 30 W. Main St.; 516-922-6808; Tuesday through Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.; raynhamhallmuseum.org. Adults: $12, seniors and students: $8, children under 5, members, military: free.

MARS ROVERS

The hands-on theme at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City is "the future is now." In the museum, there’s a new 12-by-12 simulated surface of Mars, which coordinates with augmented reality. Museum visitors can move space rovers across the Mars surface, dig up space dust and fly helicopters.

Here’s how it works: At home, begin by downloading a specific Mars app on your phone (the link is on the museum’s website). On your phone screen, you’ll choose a rover that will allow you to launch it on a full mission to Mars. Museum Creative Manager Rod Leonhard explains, "Since the rover is on your phone screen, you can place it anywhere on our Mars surface in the museum. You can drive it and fly the Mars helicopter."

While having this experience in the museum, you’ll learn a lot about the planet. Bonus tip: working with augmented reality isn’t limited to the museum. "Augmented reality is the future of technology. Scientists are actually using it when they work on high engineering projects," Leonhard says.

THE DETAILS: Charles Lindbergh Blvd.; 516-572-4111; Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., cradleofaviation.org. See website for various program admission.

BUBBLES AND BEAST FEAST

In the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City, there are 14 interactive exhibits for kids ranging from birth through age 10. Here are a few:

The Bubble: Stand in the center of a giant ring, and a tire brings a bubble around you. You’re inside a six-foot bubble.

Feast for the Beast: To examine what, how and why animals eat, there’s an animal diner. Animal sculptures sit at a diner table while kids serve them pretend foods and predict if the animals will eat them. The answers "yes" and "no" will appear on mustard and ketchup containers.

"At the museum, we’ve noticed how much parents and children want to have these hands-on experiences again," says Maureen Mangan, director of communications at the museum. She feels it’s the way kids learn best. "Take a concept and put that into practice. Experiment. It provides a more lasting memory." With that in mind, the museum staff takes COVID regulations seriously. "The staff members are armed with cleaning fluids throughout the day," Mangan explains. "It’s almost like a concierge situation. If a child touches something, someone on staff says, "Let’s clean that up."

DETAILS: 11 Davis Ave.; 516-224-5800; Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (see website for appointment times); licm.org; General admission is $14, members and children under 1: free, group rate: $10, Seniors 65 and up: $13

FROM SCIENCE TO COOKING

At the Long Island Science Museum in Manhasset, the "Science and Cooking" workshop is an after-school highlight. Director of Education Huse Kivrak says, "kids discover cooking is science with foods." And a new program called "Tiny Science" makes its debut this fall. Working with live insects, field microscopes and microscope slide collections, kids discover the tiniest of tiny.

DETAILS: 1526 N. Plandome Road; 516-627-9400; smli.org; program rates vary.

SCULPTURE GARDEN SCAVENGER HUNT

Pick up a self-guided scavenger hunt clue sheet at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn. There is one indoor scavenger hunt based on the current exhibit in the museum, and a second outdoor hunt around the garden sculptures. The hints inspire families to go on an imaginative, creative journey as they read clues in the sculpture garden such as: "Her body goes one way, but her head’s turned around. Is she running away? Did she hear a strange sound? She’s traveling on something which has two round wheels. When you look at her face can you tell how she feels?"

DETAILS: One Museum Drive; 516-484-9338; Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; nassaumuseum.org; See website for varied admission prices.

STEM AND GARDENS

In the Long Island Explorium in Port Jefferson, everything that’s physically in the museum is interactive. As Lisa Rodriguez, director of media/marketing programs, describes it: "If it’s out there on the floor, it’s there for kids to explore." Since the museum is located on the Port Jefferson shoreline, there’s an outdoor STEM club and rain garden activities. Indoors, kids can build with everything from rods to little pipes to tires to shapes. Hands-on activities rotate all the time, so kids have created projects ranging from LED circuits to magic tricks with paper.

DETAILS: 101 E. Broadway; 631-331-3277; Wednesday through Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.; longislandexplorium.org; $5 per person, members and children under 1: free

BINOCULARS AND MAGNIFYING GLASSES

Weekends are hopping at the Garvies Point Museum and Preserve in Glen Cove. On Saturdays in the fall, families can participate in guided nature walks and field sightings in the preserve. Using magnifying glasses and binoculars, they look for everything from birds to mushrooms to fossils. Each walk focuses on a different, hands-on theme and is followed by a craft related to the topic. Inside the museum, there’s an interactive Native American Village. Kids can climb into a canoe, crawl into wigwams, and pretend to garden, fish and cook on a pretend smoking fire. If you’re planning to join a walk on a Saturday, it’s recommended that you call in advance.

DETAILS: 50 Barry Drive, Glen Cove; 516-571-8010; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; garviespointmuseum.com; adults $5, children 5-12 years $3, free for members.

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