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 to the Kids' Table, where we all attempt to answer one of life's toughest questions. No, not "What's the name of the company whose 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work just four months a year?" Everyone knows the answer to that one: Santa's Workshop! (It's too bad that the dapper elves are seldom pictured in their dress shirts.)
Our tough question: What's there to do?
At this time of year, the answer can be as easy as entering one word into an Entertainment Guide search box. Watch what happens with not so much as the wave of a magic wand: Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. Other answers require a little detective work; for instance, at the end of the Nov. 19 "Saturday's Child" feature in the Weekend section (required reading for family planning), you'll learn of upcoming related events. This Saturday your family can build its own gingerbread house; next Saturday, an ornamental origami session -- just imagine what can be done with all those bits and pieces of wrapping paper!!
I (Vicki) have had the table long enough. It's your turn. What are your tough questions? Anne, Maura, Jen, Matt, David, Alexa -- even Fritz -- we're all ready when you are.
The Kids' Table:
Sorry, family planners, we had a snafu at this end. Back to work . . .
Hi! I would like to engage in some hands-on one-time community service with my children, ages 6 and 9, during the weekday evenings of Hanukah, Dec. 8 to 16. Do you have any ideas? Also, do you have any ideas regarding cheap activities to do that are special during that time?
Anne: Here's a number of Hanukah events for families. The Community Service Day at the DCJCC isn't during Hanukah, but it's a great way for kids to learn about volunteering. You can search for more volunteer opportunities through various clearinghouses. Look for ideas on the bottom right of our Holiday Guide.
Fort Belvoir, Va.:
I have a 13-year-old son who is very much into taekwondo as are all his friends. I was wondering if you knew of any upcoming martial arts exhibitions or presentations coming to the area. I would like to get the kids to a show if possible.
Anne: Shaolin-Do Kung Fu and Tai Chi will be reopening its studio with an open house, which includes demonstrations by adult students. Give them a call for more details -- 703-880-6372. Studios and clubs frequently will hold challenges for students to advance to the next level, and I bet you could sit in on one if you find a studio you like. Readers, any suggestions?
Hi. I have a son who is turning 4 in a couple of days and
wanted to have a birthday party with some of his preschool
friends. Our house is too small to have kids run
around and I want to have a party somewhere that is
cost effective. Do you have any creative suggestions
for this time of season? The donut depot sounds like
a great idea, but Manassas seems too far for other
Anne: For a cost-effective event, why not take advantage of the many holiday activities happening this month? For example, this Saturday, there are many events accompanying the Scottish Christmas Walk in Alexandria. I especially like the ornament decorating workshop at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum (third floor of the Torpedo Factory), from 1 to 4 p.m. A very friendly woman there said it would be a fine event for 4-year-olds. The kids can use markers to decorate a hard-baked dough ornament (not for eating). (Call 703-838-4399 for details.) Everyone can take one home (so no need for a goodie bag) and you could stop at a coffeeshop for muffins and cider or hot chocolate and sing happy birthday. Pop's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, the Scoop Grill and Firehook are right nearby. The only trick is keeping your party small enough to be manageable.
Kids Eat Free Nights:
As a former waitress, I'd like to remind all the parents who take advantage of Free Kids' Nights to tip your server as if the kids had not eaten for free. The server still has to serve the food, and often Kids' nights mean twice the amount of running around for soda refills and cleaning up. You'd be amazed at what kinds of messes people let their children make in a restaurant and the percentage who leave a tip based only on the adult meal.
Alexa: Yes, that's a very good point. Thank you for making it.
My son, 4, loves model trains and train rides. We will go to Union Station to look at the wonderful Norwegian model train exhibit during December, but do you know of any other model train or train rides in the area for the holidays?
David: The Norwegian Christmas at Union Station is certainly worth checking out. As for other model trains in the area, you might want to try the Holiday Model Train Show at the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum or Holly Trollyfest at the National Capital Trolley Museum in Wheaton. The Botanic Garden also has a model railway as part of its Home for the Holidays exhibit.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I'm thinking about taking my children to one of the "Nutcracker" performances in this area and was wondering if some are particularly good for young children. In particular, I am considering the Metropolitan Ballet Company's show in Rockville. Does anyone know how long it usually lasts?
Jen: The Rockville "Nutcracker" is billed as a family event, so I'm assuming it's okay for young children. You could also try this version in Alexandria, which is designed especially for young audiences. As far as running time of the Metropolitan Ballet, I'm not sure. Anyone else know?
Another question about Medieval Times: How long does the meal and show usually take? We have a 6 o'clock reservation on Saturday.
Jen: Hi, Springfield. The shows at Medieval Times are about two hours long. On Saturdays I believe they have an 8:30 seating as well, so you should be out of there no later than 8.
My mother and I would like to take my 6- and 3-year-old daughters for a high tea. We had a nice experience in NYC, where they were served tea sandwiches and pastries and chocolate milk in formal china. Does anyone know of a tea house in the Washington area that offers a children's menu? We are interested in going on Saturday, Dec 18.
Thanks for any suggestions!
Alexa: The Ritz Carlton Pentagon City is serving a Hansel and Gretel Tea, but I think it's before the 18th. Otherwise what about a Brunch with Santa that happens on Sunday, the 19th? Reservations and info at 703-412-2760.
Santa's Runway, College Park Aviation Museum:
Happy Holidays! The College Park Aviation Museum is excited to begin the holiday season by welcoming Santa Claus to our museum this Saturday at about 1 p.m.
Santa will arrive via helicopter and be available for photographs in the museum's mock biplane. The program is called Santa Fly-in and is from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $4/adults, $3/senior and $2/children. There will be crafts and holiday fun while you wait for Santa Claus.
In addition, we are glad to welcome back the National Capital Trackers and their model train exhibit. This was a huge success last year and we're looking forward to seeing it again. The "Trains and Planes at the College Park Aviation Museum" model train exhibit will run from Dec. 18 to Dec. 26 in the museum's gallery.
For more information about these programs, call us at 301-864-6029 or check the Web site, www.collegeparkaviationmuseum.com.
Maura: A great time of year for model trains -- and Santa. Parents can pick up more ideas in our Holiday Guide.
Hey there, gurus. Jen, this one is for you. Is Seneca Creek State Park having its annual Christmas light display?
Can you give any details?
Jen: Yes, Gaithersburg's Winter Lights display is already up and running and will continue through Jan. 1. It's been a long time since I've visited, but it's a nice display. Would be better if they did some sort of holiday-lights tribute to "The Blair Witch Project," which was filmed in Seneca Creek State Park, but that might be a little alarming for the kids.
I have a 7-year-old who went to horseback riding camp this summer (through Vienna Parks & Recreation) at Potomac Horse Center, which is in Gaithersburg. She is now continuing to take lessons there, but the trip to Gaithersburg from Vienna is a real hassle. Does anyone know of any place in NoVa (preferably I-66 corridor) that offers lessons?
By the way, Potomac Horse Center offers a very affordable birthday party package.
Jen: I'm afraid I don't know about Northern Virginia stables, though I'm sure there must be options in that area. I used to live near Meadowbrook Stables in Chevy Chase, which would be a shorter trip than Gaithersburg. Any Virginia horse riders with suggestions?
Silver Spring, Md.:
Hi, folks. I'm looking for some suggestions of places to have a birthday party for a group of 8-year-olds -- mostly (but not all) boys. I'd prefer not to spend a fortune, and would go for museum-type-experience over Chuck E Cheese-type. Thanks for your help!
A confused mom
Maura: You could try the National Zoo. They host birthday parties that incorporate a tour (choose an indoor exhibit area like Amazonia, if you like). Any parents out there with birthday party ideas?
Where can I find out information on "Breakfast with Santa" type events? Thanks.
Alexa: You make me realize that this is a list I need to be compiling. Mostly it's something that hotels tend to do. See above for the Ritz-Carlton Santa brunch. The Kennedy Center Roof Terrace can also do seasonal events like this, but I've not heard anything yet. I must get busy.
My niece and nephew (10 and 14) are visiting from Florida over the Christmas holiday. They usually visit twice a year so they know the area pretty well. We've visited most of the major sites before (all the Smithsonians, including the new Udvar-Hazy Center, plus the Spy Museum). And they've visited the Baltimore Inner Harbor (aquarium, science museum). Two new attractions I can think of are the American Indian Museum and the new Space Shuttle Hangar at the Hazy Museum. Is there another new attraction that can keep their attention? (It's tough convincing them that being in D.C. during the winter is better than being in Disney World.)
Maura: Ashburn, the National Indian Museum is a terrific idea. If the kids enjoyed their last visit to Udvar-Hazy, they're sure to enjoy the new Space Hangar. The National Archives has a new exhibition that might spark their interest -- Public Vaults. Check it out.
Hi! What do you know about McLean's Reindog parade? I've heard that it's this Saturday at 8 a.m., but is it fun for kids? Thanks!
David: Yes, the McLean Reindog parade is this Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Langley Shopping Center. I can't tell you too much about it other than that there will be plenty of dogs in costumes parading around and there will likely be an appearance by Santa. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be fun for kids. Anyone have more specifics?
montgomery village mom:
Well, this may be an off-topic question, but I am looking everywhere for two items for kids. One: holiday T-shirts for toddler boys. I can find plenty for toddler girls at Old Navy, Gap, Lands' End, Hechts, Target, etc., but none for boys -- any suggestions? Second: Where can I find toddler-safe mugs with handles that are dishwasher and microwave proof (I would prefer it not be glass).
Finally, a going-out question -- any suggestions for places to go to see holiday light displays that are open early -- say 5ish. My two kids are in bed by 7 p.m.
Jen: I'm surprised you can't find holiday tees for boys at any of those places. Did you also look on their Web sites? Sometimes you can find things online that may have been sold out at a particular store; plus you avoid the hassle of battling holiday shoppers that way. Janet (our shopping guru) also suggests Full of Beans or Tree Top Toys.
On your second question, try Bed, Bath and Beyond or a baby place like Buy, Buy Baby. They must have safe mugs with no glass handles.
And lastly, the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens opens at 5:30 p.m. You could spend an hour there and get the kids back home relatively close to 7 p.m.
This year will be the first time when I'll be at home for two weeks over the holidays because of school holidays. Can you please suggest some activities for a 3 1/2-year-old before we both drive each other nuts? Thanks.
Alexa: You don't say which holiday you will be celebrating. If it's Christmas, then you could use up one day going out to cut your own tree. VRE does a Santa Train and, of course, there are all kinds of fun light shows. Have a look here at all of the big fun going on in December. Otherwise, can you bake together? Have cocoa beside the National Gallery's ice rink. Wear your PJs inside out and hope for a day of sledding?
What age range would you recommend for an outing to Medieval Times?
Jen: I'd say 9 and older is about right. The jousting violence is obviously not real, but it can be jarring or intense for younger children.
Re: Kid's tea:
I've heard the Four Seasons in Georgetown serves a kid's tea. Haven't been yet, so I can't say if it's good or bad.
Alexa: I'm not finding anything on their site, but they certainly used to. Like I say, I'll check and compile a list.
Single dad in Alexandria:
A few weeks ago I mentioned some local restaurants that offer discounts for children, and subsequently a reader asked for details. Here are the specials that I'm aware of, admittedly concentrated near Alexandria and based on either personal use or telephone calls to the restaurants:
Denny's, 7214 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria (703-765-0171) and 8625 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria (703-780-1316): Tuesday 4-10 p.m. and Saturday 4-10 p.m. two kids eat free per adult.
IHOP, 7694 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria (703-660-6659): Sunday through Thursday 4-8 p.m. one kid eats free per adult.
Lone Star Steakhouse, 3141 Duke St, Alexandria (703-823-7827): Tue two kids eat free per adult entree.
McDonald's, 5600 Franconia Rd, Alexandria (703-971-8198) and 6220 Backlick Rd, Springfield (703-455-8879): Wednesday 4-8 p.m. $0.99 Happy Meals.
McDonald's, 6020 Rose Hill Dr., Alexandria (703-924-1945): Thursday 4-8 p.m. $0.99 Happy Meals.
Red Hot & Blue, 6482 Landsdown Center, Alexandria (703-550-6465): Monday one kid eats free per adult.
Shoney's, 6630 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria (703-765-8823): Wednesday kids 10 & under eat free, other days one kid 4 & under eats free per adult.
T.G.I. Friday's, 6751-B Frontier Dr, Springfield (703-922-2130): Tuesday all day one kid under 12 eats free per adult.
Here are a couple of offers that are always available:
Ikea, 2901 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge (703-494-4532): $0.99 kids' meals with drink and gift.
Old Country Buffet, 7820 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria (703-619-9557): kids charged $0.55 per year of age.
I haven't kept track of the age ranges used by different restaurants, so readers might want to call to check for older kids.
Finally, I echo the reminder from the former waitress to tip as though the meals had been purchased at full price, a good policy for all discount dining.
Alexa: Wow. A gold star for you, Sir. Thank you very much.
Georgetown kids tea:
According to the Georgetowner:
The Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown (3100 South St. NW), which will offer a Mrs. Claus Tea from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Dec. 4, 11 & 18. Children will have the opportunity to hear their favorite holiday tales while enjoying festive treats. Parents can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea including a selection of gourmet teas, assorted pastries, scones and finger sandwiches. Each child receives a complimentary photo with Mrs. Claus and a souvenir teddy bear. Cost of the tea is $48 per person for children and adults, tax and gratuity included.
Alexa: Fantastic! Not inexpensive, but fantastic nonetheless.
On the way in to work I heard something about this Friday evening a tree lighting and fireworks event in Virginia? Was it Mount Vernon? Thanks.
David: I'm not sure, but it may have been the tree lighting ceremony in Old Town Manassas that you heard about. That happens this Friday at 6 p.m., and other activities on the schedule include live music, hayrides and the arrival of Santa, although I can't say anything about fireworks. The Manassas Museum will also have its annual holiday open house that night. Anybody out there have info about other tree lightings this weekend?
montgomery village mom:
Thank you on the Brookside Gardens and the clothing and other tips. That's perfect. And by the way I have checked online for all those stores and there is nothing for toddler boys in holiday shirts (and by holiday shirts --I mean long sleeve T-shirts with holiday graphics). Perhaps it doesn't exist for boys. Anyway I thought I would suggest the National Building Museum for an indoor birthday party for 8-year-old boys.
Jen: Glad we could help, Montgomery Village. And thanks for the suggestion.
Just to be sure, you may want to check a couple of those Web sites one more time. I swore I saw a toddler boys tee with a snowman on it at oldnavy.com. Good luck and happy holidays to you and your family.
I'm turning 30 in February, the age where I still have single friends but also many married friends with kids. I've been racking my brain to come up with a party that would/could incorporate everyone to some extent. If it were summer, a picnic in a park would be great, but that doesn't work in winter. I was maybe thinking bowling ... Any thoughts, ideas?
Maura: Bowling is a fine idea, Bethesda. You might want to talk to your friends for ideas, or at least the proper time to host the party to make it a bit more family-friendly. I'd like to know the kids' ages before offering more suggestions.
Are there any driving light displays in Southern Maryland? If not, what are the closest? I've looked in the Entertainment Guide but could not find. Thanks!
David: If you're willing to take a bit of a ride, the Winter Festival of Lights at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro is probably your best bet.
Could you recommend an event for New Year's Eve that offers something for both adults and children?
David: When we next convene, we should have more info on New Year's Eve events. Info is slowly trickling in, so stay tuned.
The Kids' Table:
And reconvene we will, every other week. Thanks for putting our Kids' Table get-together on today's "to do" list -- just one of many you're probably making and checking twice. Please be nice (not naughty) and save noon Wednesday, Dec. 15, for us, too. Enjoy the season -- even if it means losing the list. See you in two weeks.