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CHILDREN'S MUSEUMS SPRINGING UP ALL OVER

New children's museums are popping up faster than you can say "hands on."

Between 1991 and 1994, the number of kids' museums in the United States jumped from 92 to 121, a 32 percent increase, according to the Association of Youth Museums (AYM), a trade group based in Washington, D.C.Museums have opened recently in Memphis, Tenn.; San Jose, Calif.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Lexington, Ky., among other places. And more than 80 museums are in the works in such cities as Atlanta, Baltimore and Milwaukee. "They practically breed themselves," says former AYM president Jeanne Finan.

Children's museums first emerged during the '60s, when museum directors abandoned traditional "look but don't touch" policies in favor of a more interactive approach. "We now have children looking through a pair of Eskimo snow goggles instead of looking at them," says Michael Spock, a University of Chicago children's education researcher.

The museums' appeal, Spock says, is that "you understand something more clearly if you use it instead of just look at it."

Once found almost exclusively in cities, children's museums are now spreading to the suburbs as well.