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These Are a Few of My Favorite Green Things

A kid-powered green city machine? Yes! Have fun with your kids learning about wind, solar and water power at the 'Clean Green Energy Machines' exhibit at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

Pulling your computer-savvy 8-year-old away from the screen to learn about renewable energy can be a challenge—unless there's fun involved.

For a kid-friendly fun and hands-on exhibit, the at the is a fantastic choice. Learn how not only wind, solar and hydro power—but also kid power—can replace a fossil fuel plant to generate energy for a whole city.

“Connect that to climate change and the importance of renewable energy,” and you've got a fun, educational experience for the whole family, said exhibits director Tina Keegan.

The may be the oldest children's museum west of the Mississippi, but its educational exhibits are quite contemporary. Many Palo Alto elementary-school students begin learning about renewable energy from a young age, but this idea can seem abstract in the classroom.

“This is a way for them to get hands-on experience ... where they can actually manipulate and control the energy,” said Keegan. Kids work together, rotating cranks to move tennis balls through the ball maze or to pump water in the hydropower exhibit, shooting high pressure into the water wheel and lighting up a plasma ball.

“When this powers the solar panels, the lights turn on!” one kid exclaimed excitedly while spinning a small hand wheel as fast as his skinny arms would let him, causing the lights in the model “Green City”to light up. The bicycle-powered generator proved even more effective.

Many local parents make weekly trips to the museum to check out the kid-powered ball maze or Solar Power Machine, where kids learn to use solar panels, plugging and unplugging wires to power a light, fan or buzzer.

“Anytime I can get them away from the Wii is great,” grinned Mike Sharland, who travels from Santa Clara with his kindergartner and second-grader to visit the Junior Museum.

Smith says that his younger child enjoys the green exhibit more than his older one. “Sometimes the ones that understand the least have the most fun,” said Smith, whose second-grade son has already begun learning computer programming in school.

Although Smith's family has a membership to the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, his two children still enjoy going to the Palo Alto Junior Museum, where they can also see bobcats, boa constrictors and hedgehogs at the mini zoo.

Though the space is small (the green energy exhibit is only 1,000 square feet), its central location on Middlefield Road, at the intersection of Embarcadero Road, makes for a convenient after-school activity.

“This is a tried-and-true museum where you could easily spend a few hours,” said Redwood City resident Laura Smith, who takes her 4-year-old, Vincent, to explore the different exhibits each week.

For Smith, who teaches her kids green habits by composting at home, exhibits like this one are a great place to encourage innovative thinking for the little ones. 

Check out the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo at 1451 Middlefield Rd. in Palo Alto. To learn more about the museum, check out its website. The insect exhibit, "Buzzzz," opens in June.

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