Stepping Out

‘Secrets of Circles’ rolls into Long Island Children’s Museum

Round and round we go

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Think about what a basket, a ball, and a baseball bat all have in common. Each one has a circle inside. Circles are extremely familiar because they are simply everywhere, but why? Find out the answer at Long Island Children’s Museum’s newest exhibit, “Secrets of Circles,” which opened last month and runs through May 4. Explore how circles are made, how useful they are, and where they are found throughout the world.
Why are circles everywhere? What makes them the best shape for both pizza and wheels? The answers can be found among the 16 interactive exhibits that place visitors at the center of experiences rich with the math, science, engineering, and the beauty of circles. Whether you are drawing a perfect glow-in-the-dark circle at the Compass Table or building your own gear contraptions in Gear UP!, children — and adults — will uncover the properties of a simple shape with powerful applications.
“’Secrets of Circles’ is a wonderful example of what children’s museums do on a daily basis,” explains LICM President Suzanne LeBlanc. “Complex subjects like geometry and physics are introduced to young children using hands-on activities suitable to their age and interests, to spark an interest that they will carry with them as they grow.”
LeBlanc notes that the exhibit’s stay is perfectly timed to provide LICM visitors with a dynamic introduction to science and art education themes. “’Secrets of Circles’ will be in residence during our busiest school visit period, as well as two school break time frames (Presidents’ Week and spring break), providing thousands of visitors with the opportunity to add to their understanding of STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts, and math) topics.”
The exhibit comes to the museum from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, Calif., where it originated. It replaces the first LICM-developed exhibit, “Broken, Fix It!,” which is traveling to California as part of a museum-sharing collaborative, of which LICM is one of six members nationwide.
“We work together to create exhibits that respond to all communities,” says LICM spokesperson Maureen Mangan. “This exhibit was especially attractive to us because it has such a strong STEM component, which is so central to what’s happening in schools right now.”
“Secrets of Circles” was designed to intrigue a wide range of ages, as well as visitors from different backgrounds. Since San Jose has a large Vietnamese community, that culture is reflected throughout the exhibit’s different stations, including the tri-lingual descriptive signage (English, Spanish and Vietnamese). The rich colors, bamboo plywood, eco-friendly building materials, and cultural and historical artifacts within the exhibit represent people and circles from around the world and over time.
Families will leave the museum understanding, LeBlanc says, that “seeing circles is an everyday occurrence. A circular wheel makes a cart move easier, and they use circular shapes to build bridges. Circles are in every part of life.”
The exhibit has been designed, Mangan explains, so that visitors can “look, feel and then try do it yourself.” To that end, museumgoers will have a chance to:
* Look for circles in the colorful international marketplace fruit stand, in the shade of the Vietnamese boat you paddle, and in the umbrellas and hats that provide shelter.
* Draw a perfect circle — one that glows in the dark — using mathematical techniques familiar to artists and engineers.
* Place reflective shapes on a large turntable and set it spinning. The random placement is transformed into a beautiful pattern, captured by an overhead camera. Change the placement and the pattern changes.
* Build gear contraptions and put those circles to work turning the hands of a clock, a music box ballerina and a drill.
* Set three colorful lights, like the spokes of a wheel all connected to the same center point, all whirling, and discover how three circles of different sizes are then created..
* Find out how moving points can make circles when you move glowing circles to create a cylinder, a sphere, or even a torus.
* Use your muscles to figure out which is easier to move: a cinder block on a cart with wheels or a cinder block on a cart without wheels. Here, you’ll find out what kinds of wheels work best.
* See what happens with wheels that aren’t round, or wheels that don’t have an axle in the center, with unusual cars.
* Find out why builders use circles and parts of circles for their strength and efficiency by experimenting with an arch bridge. Take it apart, put it back together, and walk over it.
* Use a modern wood lathe, specially built for kids, to carve wood into decorative circular shapes.
* Watch videos of circles whirling, waving, and working in the world, ranging from folkloric dancers to a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.
* Play with symmetry by using mirrors to build a whole circle from a part, experimenting with shapes and mirrors. Watch how one slice of pizza can become a whole pie.
* Send a ball across a slowly moving turntable and see what it does. Try the same thing with discs or hoops, or all three together for a spinning, rolling surprise.

Circular reasoning
As always, the museum’s staff has planned a variety of theme activities to enhance the key concepts introduced in the exhibit. Numerous workshops this month enable families to delve deeper into these topics, including clocks, wheels and toys.
During the upcoming Presidents’ Week school break, the museum will offer “Tick-Tock Clocks” on Feb. 17, in which visitors can learn how to make clocks; “Painted Piggies” on Feb. 19 (repeating March 29), an introduction to coin collecting; and “Push and Pull Toys” on Feb. 20, where participants will explore the history of the popular toys and create a wooden pull toy.
The museum’s staff is excited by visitor response to the exhibit. “It’s been fun for us to see and hear what the kids are doing and thinking and how they are making connections,” says Mangan. “That probably continues on their way home as they play circle games on the drive back home.”

‘Secrets of Circles’
Long Island Children’s Museum, Museum Row, Garden City.
Admission: $12 for adults and children, $1 seniors, free to museum members and children under 1 year old. Additional fees for theater and special programs may apply.
View the LICM events calendar at www.licm.org for additional information or call (516) 224-5800.