Every other Wednesday at noon, local experts from washingtonpost.com share their best bets for arts and entertainment options for kids and their families. Our group specializes in local dining, museum, sports and recreations, day trips, children's theaters and the special events that keep life in metropolitan Washington interesting.
We're happy to answer questions, but we need to hear from you too. Tell us about
your favorite public swimming pool, a movie that wowed your family, a toy shop with
a "do touch" policy, or a restaurant where pizza is as welcome on the floor as it is on
the plate. This is an hour for kids of all ages: So if you have teenagers who need a
night out without you -- or vice versa -- ask away. Together we can fill our calendars
with memorable activities.
Our "With Kids" editor hosts each discussion, but the entire group will be sitting at the kids' table. If you need more ideas, see KidsPost and the Entertainment Guide.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
The Kids' Table:
Welcome aboard! Passengers, please check your tickets before departure. This is not the Polar Express; this is the Holiday Local, making frequent stops for seasonal delights -- museum shopping at Strathmore (see the neighborhood of gingerbread houses there, too), the Washington Ballet's D.C. "Nutcracker" at the National Building Museum; Thanksgiving races and parades, light displays, even a little light opera.
We're ready (including Alexa, back from maternity leave). All set?
Just call out your stop (i.e., submit a question) and the Kids' Table will go there.
My daughter is turning 6 in December, we are desperate for party ideas that appeal to both boys and girls (there will be approximately 20 kids). I was thinking maybe a party at a movie theater, but I can't find any theaters close to Washington that do this. Any other ideas???
Jen: When you say close to Washington, do you mean in the city or a nearby suburb? I know the Magic Johnson Theatres do birthday parties. They even have a couple of party rooms that you can use. It's in Landover, but not too far away from the District.
As a child I always loved the holidays because it was a time when my family would gather and do a local Home Tour. It was a great way to get in the spirit and to admire beautiful homes. Do you know of any Home Tours that will be taking place this year?
Thank you kindly.
Anne: Off the top of my head, I know there's the St. Albans House Tour and the Logan Circle House Tour, both the first weekend in December. Also, many historic houses in the area have a special tour and activities for the holidays. We'll be adding more holiday events to the site shortly, so keep checking back with us.
I agreed to watch my neighbors children, boy 9, girl 6, on this Friday. I also have a 6-year-old daughter and wanted somewhere interesting and inexpensive to take them to explore and learn while having fun. Any ideas? Thanks for your help!
Anne: If you haven't been yet, Friday is a perfect day to explore the new hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center, complete with the space shuttle Enterprise. You'll avoid those weekend crowds, and all you have to pay is that pesky $12/car parking fee.
Hi there. I'm looking for toddler-friendly activities over the Thanksgiving weekend that will also keep an out-of-town relative happy, too. The toddler is 2 (nearly 3); the relative is 55+.
I guess I'm looking for events that will provide enough "moving around" room for the little one and enough attention-holding interest for the older one. To make it even more difficult, the out-of-town relative used to live here, so many of the tourist-y things are not going to hold interest for her. (Been there, done that.)
My contribution for your chat today is a great-sounding drop-in event for all ages at the National Building Museum on Saturday (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.): Artful Architecture Family Day
During this two-part interactive program, the museum and the Washington Ballet join together to interpret architecture through dance and design. From 11 to 12:30, explore Washington themes featured in the ballet's new production of "The Nutcracker" that celebrate D.C. history. After this presentation, design a piece of architectural costume to wear on your head! The dance presentation is free; it's $5 per project.
Maura: Your family might enjoy a visit to the Reston's holiday parade and tree lighting. If the weather holds up, you could journey up to Glen Echo Park. Your child will enjoy the rides and surely your relative will like the old-time feeling of it all. The Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest for area museums, so it's not a bad thing that your relative has "been there, done that."
As for the Artful Architecture Family Day, we say yes, a grand idea.
In the last chat, somebody asked about local restaurants that had "Kids Eat for Free" nights. Here are a few I've taken advantage of:
Chevy's (Monday nights)
Hard Times Cafe (Thursday nights; and if you order before 7 p.m., there are happy-hour specials -- not always just at the bar -- such as half-price appetizers and beer specials)
BJ Pumpernickels, Olney (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday nights; there is also a free caricaturist most Wednesdays, but you have to sign up ~6 p.m. as the few available slots fill very fast)
Armand's, Silver Spring (Wednesday nights they have kids make their own individual pizza for $4, includes a drink)
And here are several I've heard about but have not actually checked out, so I'm not 100% certain:
Chi Chi's ($1 kids menu on Sundays?)
Chick-Fil-A (free kids meal when you buy a combo meal one night of the week)
Perkins (Tuesday nights?)
Lone Star (Tuesday nights?)
Red, Hot & Blue
Alexa: Wow. You really know your stuff. Thanks everso. I'll make a note.
Hi. Can you help my mom think of a cool place to host my December birthday party in Northern Virginia or D.C.? We'd need room for about 25 people, including grown-ups.
Almost 5 in Arlington
Jen: Did you type this all by yourself, Almost 5? That's pretty impressive.
Tell your mom to take a look at this list of ideas, which was part of a Weekend story on birthday parties a few months ago. The Challenger Learning Center in Alexandria, which is mentioned as one option, sounds like it might be a lot of fun.
Two weeks ago, a single dad from Alexandria mentioned kids-eat-free times at some Denny's, IHOP, Lone Star, Red Hot & Blue, Shoney's and T.G.I. Friday's locations, and 99-cent McDonald's Happy Meals at certain times. Can he (or anyone at the table) let us know the particulars? Every dollar saved helps, right?
Thanks, and keep up the great work! This column is such a valuable resource for our family!
Alexa: Yikes, I'm afraid I don't know the particulars. I do know that Noodles & Co is a very inexpensive place to take kids -- the mac and cheese is luscious, the kids' portion well under $4. Also, Joe's Pizza at Bailey's Crossroads is an absolute steal for adults and children alike. This is an all-u-can-eat buffet that is really rather good: nice pizza, penne pasta and a healthy salad bar for under $5. (Kids are $2.50 or $2.99)
Good party ideas for young kids are activities like the rock-climbing wall at Sportrock in Rockville, or if the kids are amenable, the "bear factory" at Montgomery Mall, where each kids goes home with a freshly stuffed animal.
Museum trips can also be a good idea. The Air and Space Museum or the National Aquarium, or if you don't mind ferrying the kids around, the Maryland Science Center or the Baltimore Aquarium.
Tickets plus a box lunch can be cheaper than a traditional party.
Jen: Thanks for the birthday party tips. Maybe our 5-year-old-to-be can benefit from these, too.
A food question, but Tom hasn't answered, so here goes ...
Is the Rainforest Cafe worth it? Fun, good food, kids like it? Thanks.
Alexa: I haven't been yet, but I hear these things: Kids love it; it's expensive; there's usually a line to get in; and it likes you to spend in their gift shop. Can anyone confirm the truth? -- Alexa
College Park, Md.:
Thanks for taking my questions. My sister is coming to town this weekend and she wants to take her kids to the National Archives, the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of American History. This may be too ambitious, but we'll give it a try. My question is, which fills up first? I was thinking we'd just walk down the line (i.e., Archives, Natural History and U.S. History). Are there long waits at the Archives? I assume the Natural History Museum becomes a madhouse on Saturdays.
Maura: It's not impossible, but it's a long day, College Park. There are often significant lines at each museum, particularly on weekends. It's not really a matter of a museum filling up, but rather a wait to get through security checkpoints. The Archives does involve standing in line and waiting both inside and outside. I might do that first just to avoid all that standing when you're already tired. Late afternoon is not a bad time for either Smithsonian museum. There's often a rush when it first opens. And if you get the chance to go Sunday morning, all three open at 10 a.m. Good luck.
My son is 2 and his grandparents are watching him for Veterans Day. Is there any place you would recommend that they take him to help break up the day a bit?
Anne: Mount Vernon, always an ideal place to visit, offers free admission to veterans on Veterans Day. There's lots of room for little ones to stretch their legs on the grounds. Likewise, the Manassas Battlefield has plenty of open space and is a thought-provoking and probably quiet place to spend Veterans Day. And non-Veterans-related, there's the Adventure Challenge indoor playhouse in Manassas.
I have family coming to visit me. They are coming from Malaysia and this is their first visit to the United States. They have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old with them, along with six adults. I am racking my brain to find a place to take them for tomorrow (Veterans Day). Where should I take them? They are deathly afraid of this cold weather in D.C. I know it will be warmer. But I am hoping to find an indoor place. Any suggestions? Please help!
Maura: If they've never been to Washington before, I think you have to show them some highlights downtown. A trip inside the National Museum of Natural History (the kids will like the Hall of Mammals) or Air and Space should entertain everyone for hours. From there pick a few other highlights. Hopefully with temperatures rising toward 60, you can see some of the outdoor monuments as well.
I am looking for indoor sports activities (e.g., floor hockey, basketball, indoor soccer, etc.) for my 6-year-old this winter and having a hard time finding a Web site or other listing of things available in the area.
Anne: The National Capital YMCA has a basketball fundamentals class for kids 6 to 12 that starts this winter. Check other locations for their offerings. Some county rec programs don't let nonresidents in, but others do for a slightly higher fee -- check with Montgomery, Prince George's and Arlington county rec departments.
Rain Forest, Ca.:
You pretty much have it down pat. Think a large chain with a Disney flair -- very commercial, food is okay to nice but not special, very expensive (for what it is) and, yes, the kids LOVE it ... after (an often) long wait in line.
Alexa: Oh good. I wasn't too far off.
The Rainforest Cafe is fun. Once.
The animatronic animals and the rainforest setting is neat, but it can also scare the life out of really young kids.
One mom sitting near us had to bail before they got their meal because the 2-year-old freaked at the yelping, chest-pounding gorillas and the flashes from the fake lightning.
After the first visit, it's just expensive.
The last time I was there (mid-summer), the tab for three adult meals and one kiddie menu item was about $76. That was after waiting about 45 minutes for a table.
Needless to say, my son wanted everything he saw in the gift shop. That cost me about $18.
Do it once and consider it better than trekking to Kings Dominion.
Alexa: More on the Rainforest ...
Our holiday plans just evaporated. (Extended family is headed to Costa Rica, without us -- sniff!) What kind of local adventures can my husband and I plan to do with our kids, ages 5 and 7? We love to be outside. Money's a little tight.
We live in southeastern Frederick county -- in case you were wondering where Monrovia is -- so the north side of D.C. is preferred.
Matt: Hello, Monrovia.
I'm assuming you're talking about the Thanksgiving holiday. It just so happens that the Maryland Christmas Show will be at the Frederick Fairgrounds Nov. 26-28. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children. It includes 500 artists and craftsmen, and Santa Claus.
And downtown Frederick has a Frosty Friday on the 26th with Frosty the Snowman, carolers and gift wrapping if you plan to do some shopping.
The annual Festival of Trees is at the Maryland Fairgrounds in Timonium Nov. 26-28 and has a Kids' Fun Zone.
For outside, you always have the National Zoo, which is free. If you want to do north to Baltimore, its zoo also has a children's section. And Baltimore also has the Inner Harbor that offers plenty of shops and eateries.
Hi there, kids! I'm looking for a baby (stuff) exchange. Someplace where we can sell/trade all the gear our son has grown out of and maybe buy some gently used items from other parents. There's GOT to be something like that around here somewhere, right?
Alexa: I've just the place -- The Purple Goose on Mount Vernon Avenue. Call 703-683-2918.
I am new to the area. Are there any events or activities I can keep my 20-month-old and 12-year-old involved in -- on the weekends of November -- in the D.C. area?
Anne: Browse the Rockville Recreation Department programs, especially those at a nature center that has programs for big and small. At Croydon Creek Nature Center, there are Tiny Tot Walks sized just right for your little one, and later, a chance to meet some reindeer for ages 7-13. Bookstores and libraries can also appeal to both ages -- and November is an ideal time to visit, for Children's Book Week begins on Monday.
Washington Ballet at the Building Museum?
I think my tickets (when they come) will be at the Warner Theater.
Jen: Your tickets will be at Warner and you'll see the full performance of "The Nutcracker" there. The mention of the National Building Museum relates to a special event in conjunction with the Washington Ballet, but not the full performance of "The Nutcracker." Sorry if that was confusing.
Movies in the city -- Both the Avalon and the Diner on upper Connecticut host birthday movie parties for children.
Also, Parker's in Bethesda used to have kids eat free on Mondays. Don't know if they still do.
Jen: Thanks for the Avalon reminder, Bethesda. I should have mentioned that. And thanks for the Diner and Parker's tips, too.
What are "things to do" for a visiting family with three kids, ages 8 to 12, that have been here before and do not want to hit the Air and Space and Mount Vernon for a third time?
Matt: Have they been to the new National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles?
And how about the International Spy Musuem?
Have you ever taken them north to Baltimore? There you can visit Port Discovery, the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium and restaurants like ESPN Zone and the Hard Rock Cafe at the Inner Harbor.
montgomery village mom:
Welcome back from maternity leave, Alexa. For indoor birthday party ideas that appeal to boys and girls and are appropriate for the 4- to 8-year-old range try a party at a gym. The My gym franchise offers great parties. My daughter who is 4 just attended one last month and had a blast. Her 2-year-old brother liked it, too. They have locations in Maryland and Virginia. Here's a link to one of the Maryland locations: http://www.my-gym.com/party_fran.asp?gymid=179
Alexa: Oh thanks. And thanks.
SE DC - Congress Heights:
Hello. I really hope you can help me with this question -- I volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused or neglected children in the District. I work with two young teenagers (boy is 13, girl is 15) who live in Congress Heights, and am looking for activities in that area -- is there a community center? mall? pottery painting?
Anne: Here are some nearby community centers. Also, the Anacostia Museum and the Frederick Douglass site aren't too far away.
The Kids' Table:
Thanks so much for the pleasure of your company, the challenge of your questions and the gift of your ideas. I (Vicki) will dust off (fix links, etc.) to this discussion and arrange the table for the next time we meet -- Wednesday at noon, Dec. 1. The Kids' Table will take a Thanksgiving recess, and we all wish you a happy Thanksgiving at your tables, too.