- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

'Did you ever watch the clouds move in the sky?"

This is the question Fred Rogers poses to the preschoolers in the audience at the Maryland Science Center's Davis Planetarium. The museum, located at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, recently premiered the multimedia show "The Sky Above Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," which teaches youngsters the basics of sunrise and sunset, clouds and the moon, and how to find constellations such as the Big Dipper.

"The show is really on a kid's level," says museum spokeswoman Christine Rowett. "It explains the sky with familiar characters."

For many preschoolers, however, the characters aren't terribly familiar. Mr. Rogers, who hosted "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" on PBS for more than 30 years, retired in July. And in recent years, his show was rather hard to find on the dial, which has been ruled lately by such newer children's television fare as "Clifford," "Arthur" and "Dragon Tales."

That doesn't matter, though. Parents of the preschoolers might be amused by the "Neighborhood" characters they remember from their own childhood, not to mention being soothed (or sedated) by Mr. Rogers' calm voice. Children will enjoy the fact that the 25-minute show is indeed geared toward them.

An animated version of Daniel the Striped Tiger explains to the children why the sun rises and sets. Meanwhile, the glowing ball changes color and, just as the tiger explains, rises and sets on the domed ceiling of the planetarium. King Friday XII teaches his son, Prince Tuesday, about the constellation Orion and how the stars line up to make the shape of the hunter if you use your imagination. Meanwhile, a side story involves Lady Elaine attempting to catch the moon.

Upon leaving the planetarium, visitors find a temporary hands-on exhibit devoted to Mr. Rogers. The exhibit, developed by the Pittsburgh Children's Museum two years ago, has traveled to several children's museums nationwide, Ms. Rowett says.

The exhibit features a re-creation of the television show's set. Each of the displays is intended to evoke a central theme of the show, including fostering creativity and imagination, instilling curiosity about the world and encouraging exploration of self and relationship to others, says Stephanie Ratcliffe, senior director of exhibits at the Maryland Science Center.

Those displays include a life-size King Friday's castle, where guests can dress up as the king, Queen Sara or Prince Tuesday; a small trolley to move back and forth; a life-size neighborhood trolley; Lady Elaine's Museum-Go-Round; and space and supplies to put on a puppet show.

The hands-on exhibit comes at a welcome time for the science center, which temporarily has closed its Kids' Room for renovation. Many of the activities in the "Neighborhood" exhibit are the same sort of tactile and visual experiences children could have in the Kids' Room.

Meanwhile, the Imax theater at the museum is, for a limited time, showing a re-released version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." The movie has been drawing huge crowds at the museum, the only location in the Baltimore-Washington area that is showing the film, Ms. Rowett says. The movie is impressive in the large format, where the artwork and minute details really can be seen.


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