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Got Plans? With Kids

With the Entertainment Guide Staff
Wednesday, March 2, 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: A handful of daffodils, a basket of tulips, a bowl of strawberries, a plate of asparagus . . . I (Vicki) am working on my spring-dreaming list. Cleaning? Step away from my dreams with that dustmop and bucket and no one will get hurt.

Seriously . . . I am serious. Cleaning can wait. There are babies to see at Frying Pan Park; there's a parade in Alexandria -- cars and a Fun Dog Show, too -- cars, cars and more vvvrrrooom-vvroom at the Carquest World of Wheels. Think cherry blossoms not closets.

And just "in case" we need to spend a little more time indoors . . . let's work on those lists we started last time we gathered 'round the Kids' Table: kid-friendly restaurants and play spaces for toddlers. To refresh your memory, here's that chat. And, of course, your table mateys -- at this end today that's Jen, Alexa, Maura, David and Stacey -- are ready to go where your plans -- and dreaming -- take us.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm looking for an entertaining place in the D.C. - Maryland area to have a 1st birthday party (most of the places recommended earlier seem to be best for older children). Thanks!

Stacey: Some may disagree with me, but 1st birthdays are not a time for spending lots of money. While this is an important milestone for you, your little one has no understanding of the day's significance and simply needs space to explore freely and mash hands and face into cake. These suggestions are a bit of a shot in the dark, since I don't know when the birthday is or how many people you are inviting.

If the birthday is after the weather has warmed up, your best bet is to find a toddler friendly park close to you. Some that are good around Silver Spring are General Getty Park off of Georgia, Sligo Bennington Park along the creek, Wheaton Regional (you can rent a pavilion there), Sligo-Dennis Avenue Park (there are bathrooms) and Fairland Regional Park. Here's a full list of Montgomery County parks.

If you need to be indoors, then try one of the rec centers near you, such as Gwendolyn Coffield or Fairland. Many have rooms that you might be able to rent out. Bring some push toys, balls and mylar balloons, and you'll have many happy toddlers.


Potomac, Md.: Any ideas for good places to take the kids on snowy/rainy/cold weekdays? We've been to Chuck E. Cheese, Little Sprouts (which we love), Timbertown, the mall/fast food play areas?

Alexa: What is Little Sprouts? Like I always say, I often go to National Airport. Pizza with a view at California Kitchen and plenty of room to lark about. Also Metro accessible which an amusement ride for some.


Crofton, Md.: Hi there,

I was wondering about the National Symphony Orchestra Kinderkonzerts. My 2 1/2-year-old would absolutely love watching and listening to the symphony, and this sounds like a rare performance that's actually kid-friendly for his age group. My question is, how formal/informal are these performances? Would it be appropriate for his 2-month-old sister to tag along (we would leave if she started to make too much noise, but she mostly sleeps at this point), or will one parent need to stay behind? What about bringing a stroller?

Jen: Hi, Crofton. I haven't attended one of the performances before, but since they're geared toward children and held in the Theater Lab, I'd guess they're pretty informal. I also think you're probably okay to bring an infant. My guess is that other parents may do the same, and in that setting it's easy enough to step outside the theater and into the hallway if she starts to make a fuss.
Of course, if other parents have attended one of these NSO events and have a different sense of it, please feel free to chime in.


Arlington, Va.: I'm on the search of a birthday party location in Northern Virginia that is along the lines of ExploraWorld (http://www.exploraworldcolumbia.com) in Columbia, Md. All I have been able to find is Curiosity Zone (http://www.curiosityzone.com) in Ashburn, Va., which is a bit of a trek for us since my daughter's preschool is located in Arlington. Any ideas for ExploraWorld-like locations in the Fairfax/Montgomery County areas?

Jen: This may not be quite what you had in mind, but the only place that immediately comes to mind is Jeeper's in Rockville. It's an indoor amusement park, so there are arcade games but also play areas (at least as far as I know). Anyone else have ideas?


Silver Spring, Md.: My daughter will be turning 6 soon. We're looking for some ideas for birthday parties, other than the usual gymnastics, bowling, etc. Any ideas for locations that can accommodate 15 or so children (probably a mix of boys and girls) for something fun, but maybe not as loud as a "Jeepers" type of place? Bonus points if it's not crazy expensive! Thanks.

Jen: You might try reading this story, which ran in Weekend last year and mentions lots of fun birthday party ideas. This also might be helpful to our other parent who asked about birthday ideas for a preschooler.


Washington, D.C.: When I was 5 or so (which was the late '70s) my mother took me to have tea someplace downtown. All I remember is it was summer and the building (to me at 5 or 6) was huge -- like a library or museum. We got dressed up as ladies taking tea often do, and there were other mothers/grandmothers and daughters/grandaughters, etc. And we did it perhaps every other weekend. Any idea what this was or if it's still done?

Alexa: A hotel surely. The Four Seasons in Georgetown? Or was it a restaurant in Union Station? Can any D.C. natives help us here? Tea spots in the '70s?


Arlington, Va.: Following up on last week's discussion, I'm also looking for good indoor play spaces for my 21-month-old. We recently found out about open play time at Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until noon. Cost is $2 for county residents, no registration or reservations required. Bring your own toys. Now, can others please share their finds?

Stacey: Thanks, Arlington, for the suggestion. Everyone: Keep 'em coming. And Potomac, I don't know the last time you were at Timbertown, but the one in Rockville closed in December.


Washington, D.C:. Hey guys!! I recently had a baby (1-year-old) and am back in town visiting some old friends. I was wondering if you could recommend any places we could go for a drink or two that are trendy, but would not frown on having a child on the premises. Thanks!

Fritz: Washington, your best shots: Hit a restaurant bar, consider Bethesda, and don't go at happy hour. We'd love to send you and your friends to Tallula for a glass of wine, to one of the trendier Kimpton hotel bars (Helix, maybe) or a lounge like Blue Gin, but they all get crowded after work, so there's not much room for the baby, and they all allow smoking. Since I don't see many babies on my travels (and I'm in bars almost every night), this is a little difficult.

If you could get to Cafe Saint-Ex early, their upstairs bar is nonsmoking. In Bethesda, Cafe Deluxe has seating in its bar area that may keep the little one from getting fussy.


Bethesda, Md.: To: Silver Spring: Extreme Acro in Rockville is great for a bday party. You can use the facilities during your whole party, even when the kids are eating (only one party at a time there). So, when the kids are done eating, they can go back on the floor. And another plus: The gymanstics/play floor is right where the tables are for the party, so while you are setting up, you can watch the party. They also do cheerleading parties. We did a party for our 5-year-old there (about 22 girls and boys), and the place handled it really well.

Stacey: Here you go, Silver Spring. Another option for you.


Washington, DC: My children, ages 4 and 1, love being outside. As it's been too cold to either play in the yard or visit a park, we've been holed up in the house on the weekends. What options are there for them, in D.C., at their ages, that they can enjoy together? I'm more interested in them getting some sort of exercise (like free play) although storytime or painting are just as appealing. I try to be creative at home, but I'd like them to get out and see other kids like they do in school.

Alexa: I find that a lot of the museums work in terms of just having them walk about in open spaces. Your 4-year-old would love the transport hall at American History surely? The Mammal Hall at Natural History. The Air and Space?


Crofton, Md.: Thanks for the input regarding the NSO.

Regarding the question about Port Discovery in Baltimore that someone asked during the last chat -- it's great! Very hands-on, and there's plenty to do for toddlers up to around age 8 or 9, I'd guess. They have a huge climbing gym/activity area that takes up three stories where the older kids can blow off some steam, and various smaller play spaces for age groups from toddler on up (a diner, a Lincoln Log area, etc.). They also have scheduled special events and workshops like making soap, watching a cooking demonstration, etc. Highly recommended!

Maura: Some follow-up on Port Discovery. Thanks!


Ashburn, Va.: Knowing that the DC Children's Museum is closed until 2008, I started to search for other kid-friendly places within driving distance. Usually I think of going north (ex: Baltimore for the aquarium, science center and Port Discovery). But this time, I headed south to Richmond. It turns out that Richmond has an excellent children's museum and a huge science museum, both sharing the same parking lot.


My 6-year-old and 13-month-old spent almost four hours in the children's museum alone. The place is clean; the attractions are more up-to-date than what D.C. had; and the staff is friendly. Note: There is a reasonable admission fee for the children museum, and a higher fee for the science musem.

Maura: A great day tip. Thanks, Ashburn.


Columbia, Md.: Hi,

Where is the Fun Dog Show and when? Thank you.

David: Hi Columbia, the Fun Dog Show is part of the Alexandria St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday morning. Regisration begins at 10:30 a.m. and the actual show begins at 11:15 a.m. at Market Square in Old Town. There will be plenty of fun categories, including Dog with Best Irish Costume, Owner/Dog with the Most Similar Hair, Most Unusual Markings, Smallest Ears, Biggest Feet, Best Spots and Longest Nose.


Manassas, Va.: I want to take my 3-year-old tubing somewhere nearby. I know lots of places offer it, but which is best for small children (has tandem, etc.) and least crowded. Thanks.

David: Wintergreen Resort is a couple of hours from Manassas, but they are one place that specifically has a tubing run designed for ages 2 and up. Adults are also permitted to ride alongside their children in a separate tube. That run is only open on weekends.


South Riding, Va.: Regarding the question on National Symphony Orchestra Kinderkonzerts. I've never heard of this before. What is it and when? My 3-year-old loves music and might enjoy this.


Stacey: According to their Web site, the NSO Kinderkonzerts are small, interactive ensemble performances that that acquaint children ages 4 and up with the orchestra and its instruments. The next one is on March 26 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and last 1 hour. Tickets are $14. If you go early, your child can participate in an instrument "Petting Zoo"

I've just spoken to Anna over at the Kennedy Center, and she points out some important points for all you parents of kids under 4. First, all entries, including babies, are a paid ticket. They don't allow "lap" tickets. Also, if you bring your child, even to a Kinderkonzert, you should feel certain that your child can stay seated and quiet for the full hour. This one on March 26 is strings, so there won't be any dialog or songs and the music will be fast-paced.


South Riding, Va.: Hi, I'm looking for an indoor activity that will get me and my daughter out of our house on Saturday. We have work being done on the house and I'd like to just get out of the way. Any fun things happening indoors this weekend?


Maura: You two might enjoy the Asian Games exhibit at the Sackler Gallery. If you're interested in theater, this weekend offers an older-kid-friendly production of "As You Like It" at the Kennedy Center or a Cajun Red Riding Hood -- "Petite Rouge" at the Imagination Stage.


Potomac, Md.: We are hoping to go to the Baltimore National Aquarium for a 4th birthday celebration this weekend. Heard of any discounts for there?

Maura: Hmm...I'm not aware of weekend discounts there, any readers with more info?


Re: Richmond: I'd like to thank the writer who sent in the bit about Richmond's kid-friendly museums. When I was in middle and high school I was a member of that science museum and went at every opportunity. The children's museum wasn't there then, but, wow, lots of fond memories coming back, thanks!

Maura: How sweet! Thanks for the follow up.


Rockville: I'm looking for a Montgomery County restaurant that would be good to celebrate an adult birthday. We'll have eight adults and six kids, ranging in age from 7 to 15, fairly well behaved, but can get a little rambunctious.

Any suggestions that would be fairly kid friendly (up a few notches from Chuck E. Cheese!) or that we might get our own room?

Alexa: I think the Austin Grill is a good bet for a mixed group of kids and adults. And what about the Rockville's Clyde's?


montgomery village mom: My sister is taking my daughter age 5 to the Kinderkonzert on March 26 so I will be sure to report back her impressions.

For toddlers and places to go I would like to suggest (on slightly milder days) going to the carousel at either Glen Echo or the Smithsonian Mall. The Sculpture Gardens at the Smithsonian are also great.

I also want to chime in on the 1-year-old b-day. I think the best parties for 1-year-olds are at home with family. The kids are very easily overwhelmed.

Stacey: Thanks, montgomery village mom. We look forward to your report back. As for carousels, there's one more that I know of at Wheaton Regional Park, which also runs a small train once the weather warms up a bit.


The Kids' Table: Okay, sometimes it is important to be good about cleaning and organizing. Just found this firsthand report from our Anne about Kidwell Farm at Frying Pan Park in the GOG Blog: "Its spring attractions of baby farm animals also arrive on nature's schedule, but the park uses all forms of modern technology to help planner types connect with the natural world. Most of the farm babies are born in late winter/early spring, and the staff regularly update the 'birthing schedule' Web page with details you'd expect from first-time parents. You can count down to Patsy the Nubian goat's due date (March 15), check the Web site or call the park for news.

"The triplet lambs (two ewes and a ram) born on Feb. 3 were the stars of the early season, when six sheep produced 10 lambs in 11 days. Now the piglets are arriving, and calves and kids (young goats, I mean) will follow. The park is like a free county fair, a live-action scene from 'Babe' daily, but spring is the best time to pet baby-soft fur and to watch tiny hooves fight for balance."
-- Anne

Thanks for the pleasure of your company, your questions and ideas today! (Wasn't it nice to hear from a couple of adults who remembered neat teas and fun times from their childhood -- just like our children will, too.)


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