Days out: Jane Furnival runs her family to the Science of Sport exhibition
Hands-on museum shows are passe. Legs-on exhibits are the in thing. Machines enabling you to put your whole self in, out, and shake it all about. That's the aim of Science of Sport, the Science Museum's new would- be blockbuster exhibition, and their answer to the V&A's Cutting Edge fashion show next door.

In an effort to get us off the couch and into trainers, they have constructed a cross between a glittering gym and a fairground, full of virtual reality machines, including volleyball, tennis, golf and rock-climbing.

You can also shoot real goals in basketball or take a penalty shoot-out to the eerie accompaniment of roars of approval (or groans, if you miss it) from an invisible crowd.

Ageist it ain't. Each exhibit is staffed by impressively qualified sportspeople, often champions, who help anyone to have a crack at anything, even arm- achingly hard wheelchair racing. You can use Linford Christie's Olympic running-block to race 10 metres against a top runner. As you take your first step, the virtual reality image turns into a Bugs Bunny-style streak into the distance, so no prizes there.

The visitors

Jane Furnival went to the Science of Sport exhibition with her husband Andy Tribble and sons William, 10, and Charlie, five, and family friend Alexandra Nadel, 13.

Jane: Each of us discovered unknown skills, so we all left feeling pleasantly surprised with ourselves. I beat off all comers in the "how steady is your hand?" test, a skill developed by holding overloaded shopping baskets in supermarket queues.

There are two virtual-reality pods, which you sit in and press a button to experience bobsleigh, Superbike TT, rally-driving or Formula One racing. It's claimed they give you the real feeling of G-force, but in fact it felt more like sitting in a giant cocktail shaker. The children loved it, but I found it no different from ordinary fairground rides.

The real plus of this exhibition was not the machines, which all had their limitations, but the infectious enthusiasm of the helpers. We had an ex-Marine called Andy, and Darren who had endless championships. With great good humour, they taught little Charlie how to kick a ball and William how to swing a golf club.

The potential problem for this show will be the queues, the invasion of yobs, and also boys pushing out girls. I hope the staff will control that. I would go again soon, before too many machines get tired and break down. Virtual reality machines can be tetchy.

Andy: I liked the virtual volleyball because it didn't involve too much exertion. Better still was the test for the speed of your reaction to sound and light. Great, because it involved the exercise of one finger only - and I was best at that.

I love the fact stuff about how fast people can run, and the section on the history of tennis was fascinating, but there wasn't enough of it.

What was missing for me was discussion of the cultural aspects of sport. One of the most famous Somalis is a woman who runs wearing shorts, but I'd like to know how this goes down among the Islamic community. And it's all very well saying how sport is so good for you, but I'd like to know how sport can be bad for you, too.

Alexandra: I've never done any visual reality things before, and it was fun playing volleyball with a ball that was just a shadow on a screen, but responded when you hit it. But you take the game less seriously than if a huge, real ball whams towards you.

Climbing the rock face was hard work, but I enjoyed it so much that it made me think about taking up climbing.

I was amazed that I scored best against everybody at the football penalty shoot-out. The sports experts taught me to kick the ball with the side of my foot, which will help me when my brother wants me to shoot at him in goal.

I don't usually like museums, but I will definitely come back.

William: Snowboarding was best. You stand on this moving, wobbly board in front of an awesome screen showing a landscape that makes you think you're sliding really fast over the ice. It was easy to balance while the board twisted and turned, until you looked up at the screen. Then everyone fell off.

Now, about the treadmill - warning! Try it after lunch, not before, because it shows you how many calories you're using, and it's useful after you've had chocolate cake. As you walk on it, it takes a video of your feet which helped me to walk properly. When I got on it, I was shuffling my feet. My mum tells me off for that, but really seeing myself doing it on the video helped me correct it.

I wonder why they didn't have anything about cricket or hockey.

Charlie: I liked the running, because I could beat those boys who were helping.

The deal

Science of Sport is open for 18 months at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD (0171-938 8000) from 10am to 6pm every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Allow at least two hours to visit.

How to get there: Tube: South Kensington. Buses: 9, 9A, 10, 52, 14, 345, 74, 70, C1, 49.

Entry costs are in two parts: pounds 5.95 for adults aged 18 and over to get into the museum itself, plus an extra pounds 3 for the Science of Sport section - for children aged five to 17, plus concessions, that's reduced to pounds 3.20, plus an extra pounds 2 for the Science of Sport. Under-fives go free.

Expect long queues to get in. You can bypass these by pre-booking a priority, timed visit from First Call on 0990 661 030, paying a 75p booking fee.

Kit you need: trainers and sporty gear.

Vital to know: There is no re-entry to the exhibition, so make sure that you use the child-friendly loos just outside by the lifts before you start. Also, time your visit so that you don't become thirsty or ravenous half- way through.

Feeding time: The museum cafes are expensive, and crowded. There is a picnic room for those with packed lunches. Leave your lunch bag in the free cloakroom in the basement, or you will be forever picking it up and putting it down while you visit the show.

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