THE COLONIAL Adventure program offered by the DAR Museum just might be an ideal way to introduce early American history to 5- to 7-year-olds.

From the moment they don Colonial-style clothing to their visit to a reproduction of a typical 18th-century one-room house, tiny tourists are learning about life two hundred years ago. What's more, while volunteer docents guide the children through the program, parents can go off on their own and visit the DAR's main gallery or go on a guided tour of the period rooms.

The hour-long program starts in the museum's main exhibition gallery. There, parents help their children put on costumes: long skirts, aprons and mobcaps for girls; starched white collars, craftsmen's aprons and tri-cornered hats for boys.

Once appropriately dressed and divided into groups of five or six, the little ones join hands in a circle with the similarly garbed docents and pretend to travel more than 200 years back in time. After waving goodbye to their parents, they take an elevator to the fourth floor. The program's content varies, depending on the ages and attention spans of the group but generally the children spend 15 to 20 minutes in each of the three teaching areas used to illustrate American life long ago.

For example, make-believe colonists can start at the Wisconsin Room, one of the earliest exhibits at the museum. Though furnished by the Wisconsin State Society of the DAR, it is a reproduction of a one-room house that could have been inhabited by early settlers in Maine or New Hampshire.

From the wide observation area behind a low barrier, children can view mannequins of a mother resting in a chair with her knitting, a baby in a cradle that was probably brought over from England and two very young girls, the older restraining the younger one from getting too close to the open hearth.

In the room are a bed for the parents -- children would sleep on a trundle bed that pulls out -- a trunk, a table, medicinal and cooking herbs hanging from the wall to dry and a huge cooking pot by the fire.

The volunteer docents encourage the children to imagine that the girls have been out playing and now have returned home before sunset, as mother requested. Older brother is still in the woods with father, learning to hunt.

The docents remind the group that the clothes the settlers are wearing might be the only set they own. And that they have few toys beyond the two dolls made of rolled-up tea towels and a ball created from leftover bits of yarn.

Next the group may visit the New Hampshire Room, every child's dream of a rich grandmother's attic, almost overflowing with toys of every description. Victorian in concept, the toy attic features dolls, tea sets, games and other amusements dating mostly from the late 18th through 19th centuries. While a departure from the program's Colonial theme, the attic can be used to illustrate the progress of American life using objects dear to every child's heart.

The tour's last stop may be the best. The children arrive at the "Touch of Independence," a hands-on area supplied with reproduction toys that they can play with. There are dolls in carriages, a wooden Noah's ark, scaled-down period furniture, kitchen utensils and a real slate with chalk. The largest display in the touch area concerns the history of lighting. There are samples of wax, several candle molds and different lighting devices. Visitors can handle a pierced-tin lantern meant to hold a candle or different kinds of oil lamps.

Of particular interest is the touch area's horn book. A thin piece of wood about five inches long and two inches wide with a short handle, it has the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer lettered on a tiny piece of paper. Paper was expensive then and books were scarce. The horn book was a child's first exposure to reading.

"The father would cover the paper with a thin sheet of transparent {animal} horn to protect it from rain, mud and tears," Donna Southall, a volunteer docent, says. "The children went from the horn book to the Bible. That's how we conquered illiteracy in early America."

The hour up, the children rejoin their parents downstairs. As they return the clothes they receive a four-page handout based upon what they have seen and heard during their visit.

The Colonial Adventure is an excellent starting point for encouraging your youngster's interest in our nation's early history. And the program comes with a bonus for adults: a guided tour of the authentically furnished state rooms.

On the day my 5-year-old son took the tour, I enjoyed the first museum visit in five years where I did not have to rack my brains trying to keep my children occupied. While my prime motivation for visiting was introducing my son to history, going through the DAR Museum solo was pure bliss.

DAR MUSEUM -- 1776 D St. NW. 202/879-3254. Open 8:30 to 4 Monday through Friday and 1 to 5 Sundays (closed Dec. 22-26 and Dec. 29-Jan. 1). Metro: Farragut West. Call in advance to use handicapped entrance.

COLONIAL ADVENTURE tours are held from 2 to 3 the first and third Sundays of each month at the museum. Tours are held for as few as two or three children ages 5 to 7, up to a maximum of 15 participants. Next available tours are Jan. 6 and 27, Feb. 24 and March 3 and 17. The program is free but you must make reservations, preferably 10 days or more in advance; call Andrea Loewenwarter, curator of education and public services coordinator, at 202/879-3239.

Linda J. Adler will take her son just about anywhere to get him to stop talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.