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Got Plans? With Kids

With the Entertainment Guide Staff
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; 12:00 PM

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: Happy New Year, everyone. It's nice to start 2005 at the Kids' Table with you all. Hope one of your resolutions (a keeper) is to join our gang each and every time we get together to make family plans for our big and little rascals, which should work out to every other Wednesday at noon.

If you're with us for the first time, don't be shy. The earlier you submit your question or idea, the more time there is to get replies from our know-it-alls (and I -- Vicki -- mean that as a compliment; we have some smart cookies that pipe up at the Kids' Table). In fact, please and thank you for sending questions in waaaay early; then I'll be quick like a bunny to get them out to our little helpers at this end of the table (today that's Anne, Maura, Jen, Alexa, David and Matt).

In case you're meeting them for the first time . . . Anne and David are "in the know" regarding events in the area; Maura can take you through the shows at the museums; Jen spends her time at the movies and in the theater; Alexa frequents family-friendly restaurants (with a little boy and baby girl); and Matt gives our dad's point of view and voice of experience.


Clarksville, Md.: The Saturday before Christmas, my husband and I attended the matinee performance of "Carousel" at the Olney Theater. It was a superb production, but despite the glorious singing we don't consider it a children's musical, so we left the kids at home.

Not so the couple with a 6-to-7-year-old daughter, who entered late and spent the remainder of the first act, despite several efforts to shush them, answering the daughter's continuing, very loud, questions: Why is he sad? Who are those people? And on and on and on.

At the intermission, I said politely, it's very distracting when people talk during a performance. To which the mother said, we'll be moving to our correct seats during intermission, so we won't be bothering you anymore. Others pointed out that, unless the girl shut up, they would be bothering other people. One woman said they needed to teach their daughter manners, while someone else tried to explain to the child that such behavior is impolite. They did move, and either the girl quieted down or they moved so far away that we couldn't hear them. Relief! I don't expect pin-drop silence at a family matinee, but this went way over the line.

Incidentally, the Olney staff said they try to monitor this sort of situation and will intervene if it is brought to their attention. Next time we plan to do just that.

Sorry to vent, but some folks (including us, at times) do need reminding. Thanks for all the good tips and Happy New Year.

Jen: Thanks for this, Clarksville. I think sometimes parents of loud-talking children think the complainers are only childless, kid-hating singletons, which is not so. It's important to be empathetic and polite toward parents who are clearly doing their best to keep the kids in line. At the same time, there are certain situations where it really is best to leave the kids with a sitter, if at all possible. I find this problem especially prevalent at the movies, where some people seem to think it's completely appropriate to brings kids to just about any film at any time of day. Not only does it sometimes disturb other patrons, it also either bores or -- in some cases -- traumatizes the little ones. Then again, adults are sometimes equally disrespectful. Last week, during a screening of "The Aviator," someone in the back of the theater was snoring throughout large portions of the film. Anyway, sounds like you handled the situation well. Glad you enjoyed the play despite it.


NW Washington:
I am looking for a baby-friendly place to have playgroup meetings in bad weather. Ideally it would be somewhere in Northwest Washington that has parking and can handle about 10 babies 3- to 12-months-old. Maybe a coffeehouse or restaurant? Do you have any suggestions?

Alexa: Yike. That's a hard one. At first I thought of A Likely Story, the children's book store in Old Town. But it doesn't have parking or food. I think we'd better throw this out to the group for ideas, and while we see what comes back, I'll continue to think...


Fairfax, Va.: I have a 3-year-old and I am looking for some activities for us to do on the weekends to get us out of the house. Any suggestions?

Anne: If warm enough, nearby Van Dyck Park has playground equipment. On colder days, Borders near you has new books to try and programs for little ones, as does any nearby library. A Metro ride can be exciting for little ones: every museum on the Mall is free, so you could pick one a week to explore and that could fill your schedule for months.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I am preparing for a 6-year-old birthday party for my daughter, who is into princesses and horses. Her birthday is Feb. 13 and it's always tough to do anything really cool becuase of the (usually freezing) weather. She'll have about 10 6-year-old girlfriends. We're all bored of the "gym" or play-place party and don't want to spend a fortune for an un-memorable event.
Any interesting ideas for a two-hour party with a bunch of 6-year-old girls!? Maybe a play or other event that involves princesses?


Jen: It's too bad Enchanted Forest isn't open anymore, though I guess it would be too cold for an outdoor fairy tale theme park anyway. Imagination Bethesda does b-day parties and will be staging "Petite Rouge" -- a Cajun musical version of "Little Red Riding Hood" -- around that time, which might be an option. If you really want to do a princess theme, why not have the party at your house instead of somewhere else? You could come up with a few activities for the girls -- make your own princess hat, hold a scavenger hat with a series of clues that leads to the rescue of a princess, etc. -- without having to spend a lot of money. Birthday parties for kids have gotten so complicated these days that it might be nice to do a simple, homegrown party. One of my friends from when I was a kid still vividly remembers my birthday parties just because my mom planned fun, unique games and activities for us. It requires more work, but could be a lot of fun. Anyone else have ideas?


Alexandria, Va.: Any suggestions for rainy-day activities for a 17-month-old girl and her mom?

Alexa: Have you been to the Children's Museum yet? Or the U.S. Botanic Garden? Kids love the jungleyness of it and there are some beautiful orchids to show.


Germantown, Md.: My niece will be 3 next month and she LOVES to dance. If you put any kind of music on, she just start dancing -- it's so cute!

Anyway, my question is -- is there a place that I could sign her up for dance lessons as her birthday present? She lives in Damascus, Md.

Jen: That is very sweet. The first place that pops to my mind is Motion Mania in Gaithersburg. I know it offers classes for kids, though I'm not sure what the age range is. I'm sure there are other studios in upper Montgomery County or possibly in Frederick that might have classes she could take. Anyone know of options closer to Damascus?


Bethesda, Md.: We took our daughter (18 months) to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden on New Year's Day. Every time she got close to any of the statues, the secuity gaurd would "caution" us that touching is not allowed. Although I'm not entirely in agreement with the rule, we complied. But it made the afternoon far less fun. Is there any art museum in the area where touching is allowed? She really loves to see and touch what she refers as "art projects." Thanks.

Maura: Sadly, the very hands-on Children's Museum is closed for now. Exhibits geared specifically toward children allow some touching. Your daughter may be to young to enjoy the interactive "Five Friends From Japan" at the National Building Museum, but the otherwise hands-off Behring Hall of Mammals has some interactive features (low to the ground even) that she might enjoy. If she really needs to touch, try something like the Discovery Creek Children's Museum or Baltimore's Maryland Science Center.

The oils on any hand -- child or adult -- are destructive to works of art and artifacts. Imagine if everyone touched works these works we try so desperately to otherwise preserve. I know you mean well, but really, don't get me started on this topic.


Silver Spring, Md.: I always tell my kids how fortunate they are to live in this area. Imagine people come from all over the world to see things that are just a subway ride for us. Recently, I have been explaining to my kids (4 and almost 6) how men once walked on the moon. I told them the story and then got them a book on the subject. Then last week we went to the Air and Space Museum to see rockets, modules, space suits, moon rocks and other Apollo-related items. It was very cool and it only costs the price of the subway ride. Next I think I will take them to the Lincoln Memorial to show them exactly where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. What would be your favorite D.C. historic adventure?

Maura: Ahh! I don't know if I could choose. Readers, why don't you weigh in...


Bethesda, Md.: My understanding is that the Children's Museum is closed for construction. Is that not correct?

Alexa: Oh dear. The Children's Museum is indeed closed and will remain so until 2008 when it will reopen at L'Enfant Plaza. I'm putting this cluelessness of mine down to the nighttime demands of a 5-month-old.


Silver Spring: For the 6-year-old Birthday Party--

Tea party! Serve hot chocolate and all the fancy little sandwiches and scones and such. Use fancy little china -- or go to a thrift store and get nice looking mismatches.

While at a thrift store, find old clothes/hats/shoes for dress up. Tell the gals to dress up for their tea party. Have some simple makeup on hand. Take pictures of everyone. If you have a digital, they can all be e-mailed home.

Jen: That's a nice idea and a simple one, too. Thanks, Silver Spring.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I have a son who will be turning 5 in a month and a half. He would really like a race car-theme party. Any ideas in the Gaithersburg/Rockville area?

David: It won't be cheap, but if you want to really impress those kids you can get in touch with Xtreme Racing. It's a group based in Leesburg that will come to you and set up a miniature speedway and conduct races with replica cars. Sounds very cool, but it might be a bit much for kindergartners.


Re: Princess Party: A few ideas from a mom of a like-minded daughter. For an at-home party, Target has walk-in cardboard color-it-yourself castles on sale for $5. There was a good supply in Wheaton yesterday. Many places, including Birthday Express, have make-it-yourself crown kits, with jewels that little girls love to paste on. If you need more inspiration for an at-home party, I bet the Gesell book "Your Six-Year-Old" has suggestions: I know the 2-through-5-year-old books do. If you don't want a home party, both Potomac Horse Center and Old Maryland Farm have indoor areas and host parties with pony rides. Enjoy!

Jen: More excellent birthday suggestions. Many thanks for these.


RE: U.S. Botanic Garden: We're planning to take our 2 1/2-year-old and 14-month-old to the Botanical Garden this weekend to see the railway display. A friend went last week and her 2 1/2-year-old loved it. I believe this is the last weekend of the train display.

Alexa: Yes, I was forgetting that the train would still be on display. It comes down on Sunday. So that makes a trip there even better. It's a great one this year.


Fairfax, Va.: Are there good printed guidebooks for D.C. area activities with kids? Our library users often ask for ideas. The latest book we own is "Washington, D.C. with Kids" by Sandra Burt. Are there others?

-- Fairfax County Public Library

Maura: I think the Sandra Burt one came out in 2003 and I don't know of many published since then. I think the "Washington D.C. Guidebook for Kids" (by Bluestone and Irwin) was published around the same time. Keep in mind Fodors frequently updates their D.C. for Kids guidebooks, too.


Haymarket, Va.: I'm considering opening a cooking school for kids age 3 to 12. All foods would be creative and age appropriate. Do you think it would go?

Alexa: Oh, I think that's fine idea, especially considering the prevalence of obesity in children these days. Teaching kids about healthy food prep helps to steer them away from fast food. It would be nice if it weren't too pricey and available to all walks.


Bethesda, Md: I submitted a question last month re: celebrating a 30th birthday. I have many friends with kids, but also many single friends. I've imagined that a bowling party could work for most ages, but Maura wanted to know the ages of kids before giving more advice. Well, they range from 6 months to 12 years, with many in the 2- to 6-year-old range. I've already taken your advice and begun asking the kids' parents, but have yet to hear from them.

Maura: With kids of varying ages, I think you might want to find a spot with some flexibility. Bowling may be the perfect activity for the older kids and adults or you might reserve a room at your friends' favorite kid-friendly restaurant.


Vienna, Va.: This is my first time on this chat, but I guess my question is directed toward Alexa:

My husband and I want to meet for brunch or early lunch with another couple. We each have a baby (one 16 months, one 18 months). Can you recommend any kid-friendly (and perhaps not too busy) restaurants in the Tysons area, the Sterling area or any points in between (i.e. along Route 7)? All parents involved (and the kids, too) eat any type of food. Thanks!

Alexa: I think Cafe Deluxe at Tysons might be a good idea for you. It's very kid-friendly.


Touching the Art: Maura, I assume that when you said that I "mean well" you were not trying to be as patronizing as that sounds. It seems we simply have a difference of opinion, not that one of us is wrong and the other right. My point of disagreement is that the Hirshhorn is NOT "trying desperately" to preserve some artwork or artifact. They installed these works outdoors for the elements and birds. Obviously, I respect the things that museums are trying to preserve, namely the things they keep indoors and the things that must be outside but are otherwise protected. It seems to me that the things that are outdoors and have no barriers of any kind should be more accessible. Not everything is so precious that it must only be admired from afar.

Maura: No, I didn't mean to sound patronizing, but it's all I can do not to react the way the guard does when I see people handling works of art. I think the Hirshhorn is trying to make these works more accessible by keeping them outside. That said, like any guardian, they have to set their limits.


Playgroup idea: For the group of babies -- food court at Chevy Chase mall (the one across the street from Mazza) (Starbucks, McDs, room to roam, fountain to stare at)

Alexa: Yes, that's an idea! Thanks.


Washington D.C.: I like to take my brother's kids on individual outings. I've gotten some ideas from a list The Post did last year listing all the major events (e.g., Disney on Ice, circus) that were scheduled for the year. Has The Post published an events list for 2005? Any ideas for outings for kids ages 7 to 12 in the next three months? Thanks.

Anne: The weekend list will be coming shortly. In the meantime, you can always do a keyword search for particular events in the Entertainment Guide. Type "Disney on Ice," for example, and you'll find what's coming. Among other sporty shows, the Harlem Globetrotters spin by March 18 and 19 and the Ringling Bros. circus arrives in D.C. on March 23. Until we have more details, you may enjoy the stunts in these shows. If you type "kids" in the Entertainment Guide search, you'l find good occasions for the younger set, special events, theater and concerts. Bookmark those links and you're all set.


The Kids' Table: Thanks for all your bright ideas and sunny questions on a dreary, rainy day. (Just wanted to share with our visiting library that the "Going Places With Children in Washington, DC.," by Green Acres School, should be due for its 16th edition soon. And that book has been a bible for parents since 1958. And whatever guide you follow, parents and caregivers, call first for the very latest info to prevent any disappointments.)

Meantime . . . Please join us again Wednesday, Jan. 19; after all, you have a resolution to keep. And a reminder: For those of you going through holiday withdrawal, it's not lights out yet -- at least not until Sunday -- at Brookside Gardens and Bull Run Regional Park. And for those who like to look forward: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations are days away. I particularly like the Sweet Honey in the Rock children's concert. There will be no sitting still at that one -- hand clapping and dancing are encouraged.


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