Three-Ring Playground

Circus fun for ankle biters

WED-SUN 12/31-1/4

Anyone who's ever sat under the big top knows that little kids go wild over circus eye candy. Cantering horses, big cats, and pretty ladies astride elephants are all fine distractions, but what really widens young eyes is acrobatic feats of daring.

That's great news for modern circus performers, who typically eschew animal acts for astonishing human tricks. However, since many nouveau groups are given to rampant Euro-artiness (Cirque du Soleil), gross and violent antics (the Jim Rose Sideshow), and burlesque-style adults-only naughtiness (just about everyone else), that makes many of these shows less suitable for children.

Heliosphere Jr. : We could do this, 
we just don't wanna.
Heliosphere Jr. : We could do this, we just don't wanna.
Young archaeologists study the tools of the 
Young archaeologists study the tools of the trade.
New Year's fun from around the world.
Colin Adams
New Year's fun from around the world.

Instead, take the kids to Heliosphere Jr. There, Gregangelo and his Velocity Circus Troupe allow kids 2 and up (and their families) to virtually board the "Starship Heliosphere," where dervishes whirl, clowns caper, aerialists perform death-defying stunts while dangling from the ceiling, and contortionists bend their nimble bodies into all sorts of strange configurations. The show starts at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (with no performances Jan. 1) at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 McReynolds (at Murray), Sausalito. Admission is $18-20; call 339-3900 or visit
-- Joyce Slaton

Another Santa?
Italy's good witch

TUES 1/6

In this country, most kids have their cute little noses pressed to the I-want grindstone at Christmastime. They're not particularly aware of the folkloric traditions of other countries, to say the least. Take the Italian legend of La Befana, a sort of amalgam of our Halloween witch and Santa Claus. Astride an old-fashioned broom, dressed in a head scarf and raggedy clothes, she brings gifts and candy to good kids and coal to bad ones, stashed in stockings hung by the hearth on Jan. 6. Tonight, Enzo D'Alò's animated film The Blue Arrow celebrates La Befana. As an adult, you can encourage a tot's appreciation of culture -- just tell him you'll buy him something afterward. The screening begins at 5 p.m. at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 425 Washington (at Battery), S.F. Admission is free; call 788-7142 or visit
-- Hiya Swanhuyser

Great Excavations
Unearthing weekend fun

SAT 1/3

Need to keep the kids busy before they head back to school? Start off the new year by exploring years past at the Digging Into Archaeology Family Faire, an Archaeological Institute of America-sponsored afternoon of activities that gives fledgling Indiana Joneses the chance to get their hands dirty -- literally. Real-life archaeologists bring children on a mini dig, lead Native American folk games, and tell stories of archaic civilizations. Tykes can see skeletons and artifacts or try on ancient costumes (they're probably already bored with their new toys anyway). Drill into something besides pie and presents starting at 11 a.m. at the Hilton San Francisco, 333 O'Farrell (at Mason), S.F. Admission is free-$6; call 771-1400 or visit
-- Jack Karp

Worldwide Whoopee

WED 12/31

Americans aren't the only ones partying hard as 2003 draws to a close, and at the New Year's Eve Day Party families can learn how people from other lands celebrate. Try traditional festivities from Korea, Japan, and Africa on for size when the fete begins at noon at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Centennial & Grizzly Peak, Berkeley. Admission is free-$8.50; call (510) 642-5132 or visit
-- Jack Karp

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