03/15/2013 07:19 pm ET Updated May 15, 2013

Kids Can Learn How to (Literally) Build Bridges

Is it possible to teach a slightly esoteric topic, such as architecture, to a young child? A little-known museum in New York City is doing a just that by offering hands-on school and family programs. I have taken my kids to many of these monthly events at The Center for Architecture. The Center has programs where families get to make (and keep) their own light fixtures, build a geodesic (in a group, out of 3 foot long straws and then individually, with marshmallows and toothpicks) and create a towering set of skyscrapers.

Recently, we attended another classic -- building bridges. Our terrific instructor introduced the kids to a series of bridges -- the basic beam bridge, the truss -- made up of triangles, the Roman arch and the suspension bridge. And then it was time for the real fun to begin. The Center provides an endless array of building materials for the kids to use and they dived into piles of cardboard boxes, wooden rods, toothpicks, corks, bottle caps, string, colored cellophane and glitter. As everyone knows, a solid Roman arch looks better when it is covered in blue glitter. Mine certainly did.

The Center's volunteers were on hand to help with kids with structural advice. The children learned by trial and error just how hard it is to glue toothpicks together and why is might make more sense to build with a bigger base. Budding engineers and architects unwittingly learned about physics, aesthetics and patience. The program is a great way for a family to work together on a project. It turns out that parents love the chance to build things as much as kids do. Another bonus, besides the relatively low-tech slide show, the Center's building zone was tech-free and for a few brief hours, it was as if video games had never been created.

Family programs are relatively inexpensive -- $20 for a family of four, but they do fill up fast. Anyone who lives in New York or is planning a trip should jump on the chance to visit this downtown treasure. After the family program, spend a few minutes walking through the exhibit space. The current exhibit is devoted to optimal school designs and is entitled: "Building Great Schools." Kids can see how it feels to sit at the coolest school desk in town.