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3 exhibits to help keep metro Atlanta students smart this summer

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

The heat and humidity are oppressive enough at the moment to make any Atlantan feel, well, a little slow. Which is exactly the speed that many parents fear things are moving inside their kids’ cerebellums during summer break.

We can’t change the weather, but we can offer some suggestions to help keep those student synapses in shape. Here are three family-friendly exhibitions that can inform, enlighten and challenge, and even have the advantage of getting your crew out from under the broiler and into cooler settings.

“De Soto’s Footsteps: New Archaeological Evidence from Georgia” at Fernbank Museum of Natural History

In a photo at the beginning of this modest-sized but fascinating exhibit, Ellen Vaughn, then a high school senior, holds a tiny glass bead in the palm of her hand. Her 2006 unearthing of the red, white and blue orb, in South Georgia’s Telfair County, was the first clear evidence that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have taken a different route through the region starting in 1540 than history has recorded.

Or so Fernbank’s lead archaeologist, Dennis Blanton, concluded, as the earth yielded more trade beads — plus pottery, pipes and stone tools — during that summer’s dig and subsequent ones.

“Each time we come, new questions are raised, and we feel an obligation to come back and try and answer those,” Blanton says in a five-minute video that’s one of the exhibit highlights.

Beyond tracking the conquistador and his small army — which was searching for food, information and riches — the exhibit provides a intriguing glimpse at the archaeological process. There’s information here appropriate for students age 6 through high school.

Getting the chance to study seven of the glass beads and other discoveries in a viewfinder doubtlessly will make some of the younger visitors take trowels and brushes to their back yards as soon as they get home.

>>Through March 1. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. $15 adults, $14 students/seniors, $13 ages 3-12, free members and ages 2 and under. 767 Clifton Road N.E., Atlanta.               404-929-6300         , www.fernbankmuseum.org.

“Dr. Seuss Goes to War … and More” at the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum

Callers and visitors have told Breman Museum employees that they didn’t know that Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was Jewish.

He wasn’t. Geisel, the grandson of German immigrants, grew up Lutheran in Springfield, Mass. But the bigger surprise of this detailed exhibit is that before he became the famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss, Geisel was an editorial cartoonist whose work expressed a strong anti-Fascist stance.

“He tried to sound the alarm about the dangers of isolationism, racism and anti-Semitism when all of those were unpopular subjects in the United States in the early ’40s,” museum spokeswoman Phyllis Lazarus said. “He really spoke out.”

Indeed, his cartoons from the early years of World War II, as displayed amply here, find Geisel hitting many targets squarely, from Col. Charles Lindbergh, whom he considered a political ostrich and referred to as “one of our nation’s most irritating heroes,” to Hitler.

One cartoon shows a schoolmarm, wearing a sweater emblazoned with “America First,” reading this passage from “Adolph the Wolf” to horrified students: “… and the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones … But those were foreign children and it really didn’t matter.”

Geisel later wrote, “Whatever I lacked (and it was plenty) as a polished practitioner of the subtle art of caricature, I did become prolifically proficient in venting my spleen.”

The cartooning section of the exhibit is appropriate for middle-schoolers and up. The second half, aimed at the smallest visitors and their parents, is an interactive Seussian playground where all can make a musical racket (on an over-sized xylophone, garbage lid cymbals, cow bells and horns) like the Whos, stack turtles a la Yertle and step into a Sneetch star machine.

Many parents pick up one or more of the selection of Seuss books — in which political messages are present, of course, but much more subtly expressed — and read them to their broods.

>>Through Aug. 31. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10  a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, $3 ages 3-6. Talk by Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets (includes refreshments and all Breman exhibits), $18. 1440 Spring. St. N.W., Atlanta.               678-222-3700         , www.thebreman.org.

“Conservation Quest” at Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta

What better time than summer, when the ozone layer is endangered, for a crash course in energy? Opening July 3, “Conservation Quest” will tell youngsters where it comes from and ways they can help conserve it.

At “home,” “park” and “school” activity stations, kids can turn a crank to compare the amount of energy required to illuminate different types of light bulbs, discover how far some foods must travel to reach us and check out energy-saving inventions.

In “Operation Green!” a mini-musical performed one or more times daily by the Imaginators, Imagine It’s acting troupe, the Energy Vampire is the baddie who must be conquered.

The museum generally is targeted at age 8 and under, but “Conservation Quest” should engage up to age 12.

>>July 3-Sept. 12. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $12.50 adults and children ages 2 and up; under 2, free. Imagine It, 275 Centennial Olympic Park Drive N.W., Atlanta.               404-659-5437         , www.childrensmuseumatlanta.org.

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