You get to do it yourself (or your kids do): The Franklin Institute's Traveling Science Show allows you mess around with things you shouldn't: liquid nitrogren, machines, magnets and energy.
And there is more: storytelling, magic, juggling and clowning.
"Finally, we have an event where a parent can bring his child, find quality entertainment and go home happy," said Bill Royston, program director at Penn's Landing and one of the engineers of the festival that, if successful, may become an annual event.
"The performers have been chosen for their high caliber of artistry and their ability to both entertain and educate," Royston said. "The children will explore family issues, diverse cultural histories and legends, and other subjects in a variety of imaginative ways with performers. And best of all they will have fun while learning."
Royston and his co-consultants, the Annenberg Center for Communications, Arts and Sciences, may have perfect timing. Now that many public and private pools have closed for the summer and families are preparing for the new school year, the search for something to do intensifies. (There are just so many ways to play with small plastic devices that unfold into killer robots.)
Here is a schedule of events for the festival, which begins at noon tomorrow on the 7-Up Pavilion at Penn's Landing.
Noon: The Shoestring Players, members of an improvisational theater group who, with the imagination of children, transform themselves from humans to animals to machines.
1 p.m.: Oscar Brand, a Canadian-born folk singer who presents a program of sing-along songs for children and musical games.
2 p.m.: Kim and Reggie Harris, Philadelphia natives, sing and tell stories about the Underground Railroad.
3 p.m.: Shoestring Players.
4 p.m.: Oscar Brand.
Noon: Tom Chapin, host of the National Geographic "Explorer" series, sings songs from "Cabbage Patch Kids" and his most recent "Family Tree" album.
1 p.m.: RosenShontz is two crazy and wildly talented guys from Vermont who have taken a back seat to kids' star Raffi for years. They are just as much fun and as lyrical as their Canadian counterpart, with songs such as "My Security Blanket." For example, "I'll give it up if you wash it in a hurry/ I'll give it up cause it's smellin' pretty dirty/ But when it's clean, I'll keep it till I'm 30. . ."
2 p.m.: Felix Pitre remembers what life was like growing up in Puerto Rico, so it is easy for him to treat his audiences to a crash course in Latin American culture through songs and stories.
3 p.m.: Tom Chapin.
4 p.m.: RosenShontz.
What? You want more? Look for more storytelling, magic, juggling, clowning and strolling peformers along the Delaware. In addition, several cultural institutions geared to children will set up booths not only to entertain but to distribute information on their upcoming programs.
The Franklin Institute brings its Traveling Science Show with demonstrations of liquid nitrogen, static electricty, magnets and simple machines - all designed to turn the audience into miniature Mr. Wizards and market the institute's weekend workshops.
"We want to show people that you can do more at the Franklin Institute than walk around the museum," said Lynne Warrne, museum educator in charge of the Traveling Science Show.
The Philadelphia Zoo's traveling exhibit will arrive at noon Sunday with four or five live animals to teach children about conservation.
Two other exhibitors include the Annenberg Center, with information on its upcoming 10th season of theater for children, and representatives from "A World of Difference." The program, organized by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the Coalition for Intergroup Harmony, is modeled on programs that have been success in other cities. It encompasses a wide spectrum of activities, from teacher training to television programming, to help counter prejudice.
Now that you know about the fun, here's the stuff that will get you through the day:
Consider bringing a picnic lunch for refueling - the lines are long at the concession area, and food offerings are limited (mainly hot dogs, soft drinks, potato chips and the like).
There are two bathrooms at Penn's Landing - across from the Moshulu restaurant and directly underneath the Great Plaza.
Look for lost children at the medical tent set up near the main stage.
So if you're tired of watching your kids numb their brains with Smurf reruns, tempt their imaginations with something completely different.
IF YOU GO
The Back to School Festival is tomorrow and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. on the Great Plaza, Penn's Landing, Delaware Avenue and Chestnut Street. Admission is free.
To get to Penn's Landing by car, at Front Street, turn left and drive north to Chestnut Street, turn right, and follow Chestnut Street across Interstate 95 to Delaware Avenue. Turn left and follow the signs to Penn's Landing.
Parking is $5 at the Penn's Landing parking lot. Rates vary at nearby privately run lots.
You can come by bicycle because there are places to park and lock your bike. You also can come by SEPTA bus: on the Route D to the foot of Chestnut Street, 5 and 42 to Front and Walnut or Locust streets, or the 17, 33 or 48 to Front and Market streets.
Remember that when you're taking your children to the city, make the journey getting there part of your adventure. For example, you might drive into the city and park near an entrance to the Broad Street subway or the Market Street El and take a subway into Center City.