THIS FALL you can organize a family expedition down the Zambezi or along the Yangtze at the new National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian art. But after you've explored the depths of these exciting new buildings, the museum people want you -- and your kids -- to come back and learn more about the art and culture of these two continents. So both museums have planned a fall full of activities and special programs.

At the Sackler Gallery, education director Lucia Pierce is determined to raise children's "visual literacy" by helping them learn first how to look at things in the museum and then about Asian culture. "We want to make children feel comfortable in the galleries, to be surrounded and involved with the objects, which we use as jumping-off spots for learning about Asian culture."

Every day, kids 6 to 12 can pick up a clipboard at the information desk with printed guidelines for the museum's Storytelling Contest. Take the stairs down one level to the "Monsters, Myths and Minerals" special exhibit and find a favorite animal to write or dictate a story about and draw a picture. Then hand in your story at the information desk when you leave. Each month, a panel of museum judges will choose the best and invite the authors back to receive a small prize.

Every other Saturday, starting October 10, there'll be two half-hour storytelling sessions for all ages. "We didn't want children whisked into learning rooms away from the objects," says Pierce. So the storytelling takes place right in the galleries a half hour before the museum opens and just after it closes. A museum emptied of other visitors should add its own special aura.

Over at African Art, they'd like children to look on a museum visit as something they want to do, not have to do, says Edward Lifschitz, curator of education. "We want to draw them in, fascinate them and make them want to learn more about the art and the culture."

October 10 the museum resumes what has become a Washington childhood rite of passage: African Folk Tales. Popular for years at the museum'scramped former home on A Street, the tales now have a spacious new venue in the museum's multipurpose Learning Center, two levels below the ground-floor entrance pavilion. Kids can sit on a carpeted floor or in chairs for these hour-long sessions of African lore and history. The Learning Center is also where hands-on workshops in cloth printing and sculpture casting will be held in November.

And on Halloween, the museum has an alternative treat, an African Art Gallery Search. Kids and their parents can pick up pamphlets at the information desk and go on a hunt for objects in the museum and then take some paper activities home.

Here's the schedule for family events at both museums. WHAT'S NEW AT THE NEW MUSEUMS



Daily during museum hours, 10 to 5. Six- to 12-year-olds are invited to create their own stories about the creatures in the "Monsters, Myths and Minerals." Printed guidelines for the contest are at the information desk at the entrance.


Every other Saturday beginning October 10. Free half-hour sessions are held in the galleries at 9:30 (arrive by 9:25) and at 5:30. Seating is limited to 25. All ages. Reserve the morning session by calling 357-4886; register at the information desk for the 5:30 session.


October 17 at 4. An hour-long presentation of a scene from the Beijing Opera featuring 15-year opera veteran Hong-jun Guan and six local high-school performers. Free, on the concourse level. Reserve by calling 357-4886.



October 10 & 31, November 14, December 12 at 1. Storytellers bring African lore and history to life in the Learning Center, on the second level. Free. Call 357-4860.


October 31 at 1. Children are invited to bring their parents to share in a two-hour treasure hunt. Free.


November 1, 1 to 2:30. A gallery/studio workshop where kids 6 to 9 can design and print their own African adinkra cloth using blocks dipped in ink. Bring your own T-shirt to print on, if you like. This is a joint museum/Smithsonian Resident Associates program, so registration is required. Call 357-3030. $9 for Young Associates, $10.50 for nonmembers.


November 14, 10:15. A two-hour workshop for kids 8 to 11, using wax and plaster molds to learn about lost-wax metal casting as practiced in the Kingdom of Benin. Limited to 15 participants. Free but registration required. 357-4860.