A visit to the National Geographic Society's Explorers Hall will change any number of museum misconceptions.
For example, not all the museums worth driving to Washington, D.C., for are at the Smithsonian Institution. That was certainly the conclusion of a trio of neighborhood friends -- a second-, fourth- and eighth-grader -- who recently visited Explorers Hall, the National Geographic Society's museum devoted to geography and exploration. The three youngsters matched wits with computer quizzes, zoomed a microscope lens onto a live tarantula and stopped a mock tornado with one hand.
After asking for a second trip through the museum, they gave it the ultimate review: "It's not boring!"
This museum challenges the notion that geography is simply knowing capitals and words such as "tundra." In fact, the National Geographic Society has been dispelling that notion since it introduced National Geographic magazine in 1888. Though a few critics say the magazine's "lens on the world" is overly optimistic, Explorers Hall leaves children with a taste of endless possibilities to explore and protect the world.
Geography is an action word here. Geo Whiz, the first exhibit inside the door, sets the stage with a computer trivia quiz. The quiz guides visitors into a theater with a short introductory movie. Somewhere in the adjacent interactive exhibits are the answers to all 46 Geo Whiz questions and countless others.
The children were especially drawn to interactive touch-screen kiosks about undersea and space exploration and the remote-controlled microscopes that examined rock specimens. There's a haunting audio-visual about the men and robots that discovered the Titanic remains.
"Earth Station One" simulates a futuristic space station trip in an amphitheater. Facing an 11-foot diameter globe, visitors answer more questions by pushing buttons in front of the seats. The responses are tallied and the answers explained by the journey's "pilot."
Small by some museum standards, Exploreres Hall is hands-on and a manageable size for families. There were minimal waits at the exhibits, which were all in working order. Though the narrations that accompany the audio-visual presentations are sophisticated for children, graphics and photographs easily hold their attention.
Admission to the museum is free, though parking lot prices in Washington are high by Baltimore standards. The Metro's Farragut North stop is about three blocks away.
And while many museums will not be accused of having a sense of humor, hoots of laughter fill the last exhibit, "In The Picture" -- each child makes the cover of National Geographic.
Visitors sit in a booth and choose one of four past Geographic cover stories. A short audio summarizes the story and then a squeeze on a joy stick captures their image on a monitor. Whether surrounded by dinosaurs or elephants, nuzzling a gorilla or posing in the ruins of Rio Azul, no one leave Explorers Hall without a grin.
Explorers Hall is on the first floor of the National Geographic Society's Headquarters at 17th and M streets, N. W. Washington, D. C. Hours: Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (202) 857-7588. The south portion of Explorers Hall offers changing exhibits. "Automobilia: Fun, Fact & Fantasy" will be displayed through Jan. 27, 1991. Kodak international Newspaper snapshot Awards are on exhibit until Monday.