Past Picks: The 10 Best Children's Museums

9. Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose

  • Houses a 120-seat theater where kids can create their own plays, costumes, and set designs.
  • Features the "Step Into the Past" exhibit, where kids can watch a bee colony, sit on a porch swing, use a grinding wheel, beat carpets, and wash clothes by hand.
  • Produces an online magazine in CDMedia.Studio, where kids can also learn computer graphics and make a movie.
  • Offers an environmental study program in which students perform authentic scientific tests of the local water quality.
  • Encourages children to create a two-dimensional flap map of their head in the "Map Your Head" exhibit.
  • Best for ages: 2 to 12

In 1998, Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose invited developmental psychologists from the University of Santa Cruz to videotape the interactions of parents and children in the museum's "Current Connections" exhibit, which focuses on energy. "To our great surprise, the researchers told us that parents were three times more likely to cue boys on science content than girls," says Marilee Gandelman Jennings, director of development.

Immediately, the psychologists and museum staff began brainstorming ways to get girls more involved. The following year, they tested the addition of Power Girl, a pigtailed character clad in overalls and a toolbelt who appears throughout the interactive components. "She did the trick," says Gandelman Jennings. "Now parents are just as likely to discuss the exhibit with girls as with boys."

The museum decided to keep the psychologists around, making it the only children's museum in the country with an ongoing university partnership. Their latest project: testing the prototype of the museum's new "Alice in Wonderland" exhibit, which opens in full swing this month.

Contact: 408-298-5437; Entrance fee: $7 per person.

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