"A FAMILY ALBUM," which kicks off the Kennedy Center's 10th season of Programs for Children and Youth, slips some important messages in with the funny noises and chipper songs.

Based on conversations with kids about their fears and fantasies about changes in their families, "A Family Album" was developed by the Improvisational Theater project of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The show is aimed at kids (and parents) grades K through six.

While pianist Roy Barber plays bouncy piano and makes cheerful, chattery synthesizer noises, the six-member cast of local performers gets the kids giggling right away by reluctantly revealing family nicknames.

Then we see a series of five decidedly '80s families posing for a snapshot. Each one dissolves into a view of the family through the eyes of kids who are insecure about adopted siblings or new parents; feeling responsible for family quarrels, divorce and new parents; confused about pressures and disappointments when money is tight. The comic vignettes encourage children to consider their parents as people and suggest that family problems are best solved by talking them over.

The show is zippy and never condescending, and there's still more fun in watching the unrestrained response of the audience -- squirmy, enthusiastically vocal kids who literally will not sit still for something if it isn't working onstage. (But, as the actors will tell you, when they love you, they really love you.)

Certainly some of the messages may be lost on the young audiences. But perhaps the best thing about "A Family Album" is that not only does it tell kids that life isn't necessarily like television -- it also tells them that television isn't the only form of entertainment around.

A FAMILY ALBUM -- Free performances at the Kennedy Center Theater Lab through October 27. Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Call 254-7190 for tickets.