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New 'Secrets of Circles' exhibit at the Long Island Children's Museum

Brianna Gonzalez, from the Children's Greenhouse Child Care

Brianna Gonzalez, from the Children's Greenhouse Child Care Center at Nassau Community College, is all eyes as she plays in the Round and Round section of the "Secrets of Circles" exhibit at the Long Island Children's Museum. (Jan. 15, 2014) Credit: Linda Rosier

'Can I have a turn now?" asks Jack Merlo, 4, waiting to spin a wheel at the new "Secrets of Circles" exhibit at the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City. As Jack spins, images of how circles show up in everyday life flash on the "Circle Videos" screen before him.

Flamenco dancers whose skirts whirl out in a circle. Kids playing Duck Duck Goose. Girls using Hula-Hoops. "Look at that," says Nicole Slater, an assistant at Jack's child care center, The Children's Greenhouse of Garden City. "Did you see the pizza?"

"Wow!" Jack says.

Nearby, a half-dozen of Jack's classmates on this visit to the museum's newly installed exhibit are inside a round Vietnamese-style boat made of bamboo at the "Circles of the World" station. They've donned conical Vietnamese sunhats and are rowing with wood oars; some of them are enchanted by an adjacent pulley system that lets them hoist a bucket up and lower it down.

Circles are cool

The just-opened "Secrets of Circles" exhibit is at the museum until May 4 as part of a museum exhibit-sharing collaborative among six children's museums nationwide. It was created by the folks at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, Calif.; it replaces the Long Island Children Museum's contribution, "Broken? Fix It!," which will be traveling to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Calif.

Because San Jose has a large population of Vietnamese residents, the 16 stations of the interactive exhibit also highlight that culture, with explanatory signage in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

The "secrets" aspect of the exhibit is meant to alert kids to the fact that circles are ubiquitous -- in soccer balls, Frisbees, cans, doughnuts, bagels, manhole covers, umbrellas. "I think of the 'secret' as 'I've discovered something, I'll share it with you,' " says Erik Schurink, museum director of exhibits. "Circles are the most efficient shape. They're totally symmetrical."

When asked to come up with some circular objects in their lives before entering the exhibit, the kids suggested sliced pickles and Cheerios, says museum educator Toby Gopen.

Circle workshops

Some stations of the exhibit delve more in depth for older kids. They'll learn how circles are efficient shapes for containers because they hold the largest volume using the least amount of materials, and they'll discover how every point on the edge of a circle is the same distance from the center.

A station with two heavy cement blocks -- one flush on the ground, the other on wheels -- lets students use their strength to see how much easier it is to pull the latter. "Wheels don't slide, they roll," a sign at the "Inventing the Wheel" station explains. "When wheels are rolling, nothing drags across the ground."

Several craft workshops featuring circles will be offered during Presidents' Week school break, including Tick-Tock Clock on Feb. 17 for ages 5 and older, Painted Piggies on Feb. 19 for ages 3 and older and Push-and-Pull Toys on Feb. 20 for ages 5 and older. All workshops are an additional $3, begin at 3 p.m. and don't require advance registration.

"I think this is particularly brilliant," Schurink says of the cement block station, where preschoolers are yanking on the rope to cajole the cement blocks. He predicts the concept will stay with children when they take a future course in physics: "Ten years later, in high school, they'll think back to this exhibit they saw at the children's museum."

WHAT "Secrets of Circles"

WHEN | WHERE Now through May 4 at the Long Island Children's Museum, 11 Davis Ave., Garden City

INFO Included with museum admission of $12 for adults and children older than 1, $11 for seniors and free for babies; 516-224-5800,

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