CULTURE- BUZZBOX- So big! Kids get to be grownups at VDM

Old fashioned street lamps line the lane where four-year-old Lia, dressed in a golden gown and fuchsia Crocs, pushes a kid-sized metal grocery cart packed with produce, books, and a life-sized golden retriever. Behind the checkout counter, one-year-old Vivian sits on her grandpa's lap wielding a scanning device and stacking up a mountain of groceries, including the biggest box of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish on the planet. Three-year-old Jeremy, resplendent in a firefighter's turnout gear, proudly prances up the firehouse steps and slides down the pole before racing off to an imaginary conflagration. 

In one of their most successful exhibits in recent memory, the Virginia Discovery Museum's "Meet Me on Main Street" provides all the props wee ones need to imagine themselves as big people. Kids can sort mail at the Post Office, shelve books at the Library, check a doll's blood pressure in the Emergency Vehicle, or feed the dogs and cats at the Pet Store. Along the way (and with a bit of parental support), they can learn real-life lessons about nutrition, caring for pets, fire safety, and how many quarters make one dollar. 

The most popular spot on Main Street seems to be the Discovery Market, where young shoppers can load up their cart or basket with boxes of oatmeal, granola bars, frozen waffles, and cartons of milk from the well-stocked grocery shelves. At Peppy's Produce stand (named, no doubt, for the VDM's long-time director Peppy Linden), customers can choose from a variety of plastic pears, plums, apples cucumbers, onions, and potatoes before heading for the checkout and the cash register that talks. 

Like boxes in which big, expensive toys come, those grocery carts are a child's preferred plaything. Young dancers and dragon-slayers wander all over Main Street collecting and distributing the signature items from the various business establishments in these wonderful wheeled carryalls. They have more fun layering Green Eggs and Ham with a bottle of Tide, a fuzzy white kitten, and the battalion chief's fire-proof jacket than they do having Mom read to them from the popular Dr. Seuss book.

It may not always look like life as adults know it, but this mockup of Main Street lets kids invent the motif they like the most.

Meet Me on Main Street is displayed in the VDM Back Gallery through January 19. Admission is $4 and includes permanent exhibits and live guinea pigs, too. East end of the Downtown Mall. 977-1025.