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Got Plans? With Kids

With the Entertainment Guide Staff
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; 12:00 PM

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 mid-February! You know what that means?! We're two weeks closer to the end of winter since we last gathered 'round the Kids' Table. It's not that I (Vicki) don't enjoy this looonnng season; it's that I enjoy the shorter ones -- like blink-and-it's-gone spring -- so much more. But I'm getting through the dark and cold and keeping busy with a little help from my friends and colleagues: Here at washingtonpost.com, Dixie Barlow and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth, recommend "sticking together" this weekend. And from The Post, Nicole Arthur sends word about the D.C. debut of the New Orleans-based Imagination Movers on Monday. For sure I will make my way to the zoo to see those adorable cheetah babies before they're -- oh, no -- teenagers. (It's not that I don't enjoy the teen years, it's just that the younger ones are much more fun, don't you think?)

What are you thinking about this afternoon? If it's family plans, you've come to the right place. Your table mates Jen, Maura, Anne, David, Stacey and Alexa are ready when you are.


Washington, D.C.: So glad to have found you guys!! I have 1 1/2-year-old boy-girl twins, who are now old enough to enjoy classes and activities. But I've found many places require one caregiver to accompany each child. Since I do not have a nanny, that really isn't an option for me. What classes in the area (Northwest DC, Chevy Chase and Bethesda preferably) allow only one caregiver for two children the same age?? I assume swim class isn't an option, but there must be a few places and activities -- like music, art, movement/dance, natural science ...

Thanks! Maria Northwest DC

Stacey: Welcome, Maria. It sounds like you have your hands full. And yes, a swim class is definitely out. But you can try a music class. MusiKids doesn't look like it has a one-adult-to-one-child ratio and I've heard good things about them from other parents. For less-expensive options, try Montgomery County Recreation. They have a lot of different kinds of classes (music, funfit and art to name a few) and they've just assured me over the phone that they do allow one adult with twins.


Del Ray: Hi - My sis, her husband and their three girls (6, 4 and 2 months) are coming to town April 16-24. They're all really great and love to do all types of things. We'll probably hit the Baltimore Aquarium and the Mall museums, too. Is it too early to know what's happening with theater, shows, events, et al. that could be fun for all. Thanks for the advice!

Jen: Those dates are tough. For some reason, I'm having a hard time finding children's theater in that window. The productions I might normally recommend ("Corduroy" at the Kennedy Center and "Petite Rouge" at Imagination Stage) are in early April and end before your family arrives. I would think a trip to the zoo to see the cheetah cubs is certainly in order. As the date draws closer, I'd also check the TICKETplace listings to see if there are cheap tickets to any plays. It might be nice to treat sis and her husband to a night at the theater while you watch the girls -- assuming you're okay with that, of course.


Springfield, Va.: Can you please help compile a list of "Kids Friendly" restaurants in the Washington area ?

I'm tired of eating pizza at Chuck E Cheese. And when I go to regular restaurants (with my two little boys) where they serve real food, I get the looks from people!

Alexa: We're in the midst of updating that list now. But in the meantime, have a look at this for ideas.


Rockville, Md.: Hello!
Do you know of any new and/or interesting Imax movies playing in the area that would be of interest to elementary schoolers?

Jen: "Fighter Pilot" is one of the newer Imax movies around. And it's showing at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which gives you an excuse to see it if you haven't already. If you have children who are into airplanes (and don't have excessively weak stomachs), this might be a perfect option.


Fairfax, Va.: I have a question re Port Discovery in Baltimore. I was looking for feedback on it, your thoughts, is it a good place for kids 2 1/2-years-old, etc. ?

Stacey: I keep meaning to go there, but haven't quite made it. I have heard that this is a good hands-on place for little ones, particularly since D.C.'s Children's Museum closed. From their Web site, it looks like there are some good options for your 2 1/2-year-old, including an interactive story time with songs, a diner to "cook" food and a hands-on gas station. Anyone else out there have some real-life experiences at Port Discovery?


Silver Spring, Maryland: Any thoughts on the family day at Laurel race track? My grandmother use to take me to the track as a kid. I loved it. I thought the family day might be fun for my kids.

David: Ah, Laurel family day. Being a horse racing fan, I've actually been there a couple of times since it's one of the better quality racing days of the year. As for the kids activities, it was never anything too special -- face painting, some games, music, maybe pony rides. But there were usually lots of kids running around, and it's always fun for them to watch the horses come down the stretch on the track.


Burtonsville, Md.: Hi. I am a single father of a 4-year-old boy. I only get to spend time with him every other weekend. When we are together, I would like to see him interact with other kids his age. Since he is not always with me, I don't have the benefit of getting to know his school friends all that well. What can I do to find places to expand his social circle when he is with me?

Anne: A visit to a park or playground nearby would probably put you in the mix of other children who live nearby. Can his teacher suggest names of his pals so you can arrange get-togethers with them? Perhaps readers could suggest groups for dads, another source of kids his age. I'm sure he's glad to spend time alone with you too.


Washington, D.C.: I hear the Disney on Ice show is starting tonight. Anyone know much about the show, the characters, appropriate age groups?

Jen: Here's our info about Disney on Ice. The characters featured include ones from "The Little Mermaid," "Lilo and Stitch" and "Peter Pan." I think it's appropriate for most age groups, unless your kids get freaked out by oversized cartoon characters skating around the MCI Center.


Easton, Md.: Please share a possible one-day Smithsonian plan for a 4-year-old girl. What are the must-sees for a preschool visitor?

Maura: I always think Natural History is a great place to start. We say it time and time again, but the Mammal Hall is a real winner. While the Discovery Room gets a little crowded, the kids love the interactivity. From there, I'd check out either Air and Space or American History. Do some parents out there have favorite Smithsonian spots to share?


Arlington, Va.: I actually don't have a question this time around but a suggestion.

On the 19th, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the National Building Museum will be home to a free family day, in honor of National Engineers Week, called ZOOM into Engineering. It's geared toward 5- to 13-year-olds, but adults enjoy it just as much as kids do. Kids can try on real spacesuits (with help from real astronauts); the cast of "ZOOM" will be there; they have robot wars; and there are tons of hands-on engineering activities for the kiddies. It can be very crowded at points during the day so be warned -- it's a popular event. (If it's too crowded when you arrive, go wander around Chinatown for a half-hour then come back!) The Web site links are http://www.eweek.org and http://www.nbm.org

I don't work for either National Engineers Week or NBM so this is not just a gratuitous plug -- I've actually gone to these events for years and they're great entertainment as well as educational. (Plus, it's indoors which is so important for us moms looking for things to do in February!)

Maura: Thanks for the reminder. The Building Museum regularly holds great events for families, including this weekend's Engineering Family Festival.

Another family day to note: Next weekend, Feb. 26, the Octagon holds an "Invention Exploration and Grab Bag Inventing" day from 1 to 4 p.m. Find more details here.


Rockville, Md.: Re: Family-friendly restaurants. Add Austin Grill to your list. The one in Bethesda allows strollers and the staff is always marvelous with my 2-year-old. While they don't have a kids menu, per se, they make it easy to adapt adult fare for kiddie tastes; for example, a plain grilled chicken breast and veggies.
Oh, yes, and plain nachos for noshing.....

Alexa: Indeed. The Austin Grills are very nice. And brightly decorated too.


Olney, Md.: Hello,
Moving soon to Olney and I am wondering what good toddler activities there might be locally. Thanks.

Stacey: Try the Olney branch of the library for preschool story times. Olney Manor Recreational Park has a playground with curly and tunnel slides. And you can schedule swim lessons at the Olney Swim Center. If you drive a short ways down Georgia, you'll hit Brookside Gardens and Wheaton Regional Park, both of which are great play spaces for active toddlers.


Washington, DC: I have a real challenge for you. My 6-year-old son's school is closed this Friday and Monday (2/18, 2/21) and my husband is leaving town on a business trip. I am, therefore, on my own to provide activities for the long weekend. My son LOVES sports of any kind, so I was wondering if you have any suggestions for indoor games or tournaments going on around D.C. (It's supposed to be pretty cold this weekend.) I've already checked on the Wizards, Hoyas and Terrapins (yeah, like you could get tickets anyway), and they're not in town. We live on Capitol Hill, so he's been to all of the museums a million times. I'd really like to do something different and exciting. I saw the Revolutionary War re-enactment in Alexandria and the George Washington parade, but my son's not really the parade type. (He wouldn't mind being IN the parade, but doesn't really want to stand by and watch it.) Also, we're members of Results Gym, so he's on the verge of getting bored with the wall climbing. HELP! (Thanks!)

David: Here's an idea for each day, Saturday through Monday. Hopefully at least one of them will sound appealing. I know you've done the museums a million times, but the National Building Museum is having its Engineering Family Festival on Saturday. You'll be able to build skyscrapers made of Legos, watch student-designed robots take part in competitions, try on a spacesuit and more. On Sunday, Colvin Run Mill is having its Maple Syrup Boil-Down, where you'll get to collect sap from trees, see how it gets turned into syrup and then sample it for yourself. And Monday in Bethesda is Discover Strathmore at the Music Center, with lots of music, hands-on workshops, a children's treasure hunt and more. Plenty of options, all pretty different and exciting.


Odenton, Md.: Any ideas for a 1st birthday party? Our townhouse is too small to host everyone (15 total with three other kids ages 1-4). Everyone is coming from out of town except for us. Birthday is in May. Please help.


Anne: Are you looking for a restaurant to host you all? My impression is that the highlight of 1st birthday parties is allowing the birthday child to make an enormous mess with icing. Perhaps readers could suggest a nearby restaurant that is so generous? I'm thinking the cost and predictable mayhem would be easier to handle if you have a wipe-off tablecloth or a picnic table. If you have nice weather in May, I'd look into reserving a picnic pavilion at a nearby park. And there would be room for the other little kids to burn off energy.


Centreville, Va.: I also have twins and ran into the same one-adult-per-child problem. Try My Gym (my-gym.com). They are twin-friendly (even offering a twin discount)!

Stacey: Thanks, Centreville. Also, the Funfit folks called me back and confirmed that they also welcome one parent with twins. They have a program called Family Funfit for 1- to 3-year-olds or you can schedule your kids for any other age-appropriate class that you like. Plus, I've heard good things about Funfit from several parents.


Southwest DC: Good Afternoon. I saw an advertisement in the sports section of The Post this morning for a family day on Sunday at the Laurel Race track. My 5-year-old daughter really loves horses, so this would be something she would be interested in. However, is this really a kid-friendly place?

David: I understand your concerns, and on a normal day I would agree. I've been to Laurel plenty of times on the random Wednesday or Thursday afternoon (it was during college, I had morning classes), and that probably isn't the best environment for kids. But on the weekends, and especially this weekend, there should be plenty of families. There will still be a good number of "regulars" who will be shouting at the rows of TVs showing simulcast races, but I wouldn't let that deter you.


Virginia: I know this is going to sound kind of mean and will probably offend, but the writer whose kids get the "looks" from other diners might need to work on training the kids. "Kids will be kids" does not fly in restaurants. Practice at home teaching the children to use their quiet voices at dinner, place the napkin on the lap, no arguing, jumping, etc., and your family will be welcome at any restaurant. If you can, check out the restaurants in advance and see if there are families with kids there. Eat out during the week if possible and not on Friday or Saturday night when the romantic couples are out (besides, it's a lot easier to get reservations). That said, in the meantime you might try lunchtime at restaurants in upscale suburban locations where there are lots of families with money -- and children restaurants there seem to be prepared to cope. Lastly, there isn't a rule that says you are a bad parent if you don't always bring along the kids -- what is a fine dining experience to you could be a total bore for them with food they don't want to eat.
This is not offered by a crabby childless diner but an experienced mom and restaurant diner.

Alexa: Thank you for your thoughts. I tend to agree. Lunchtimes are always better; and if it must be dinner, then it ought to be an early one. The restaurants are emptier and the kids less tired and loud.


Southwest: Hi guys - loooove your chats and have gotten many great ideas from you! Just wanted to respond to the question about "Disney on Ice" - my husband took our almost-4-year-old to the Baltimore version and it was a huge hit. The "large" skating characters were not too scary; the show was not too long. But it's not cheap!! Thanks.

Jen: Glad we've helped you. Now you've helped us. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I have a 4-year-old who is really expressing an interest in music, instruments and singing. We've taken the "music together" classes through the county in the past and he enjoyed those when he was 2 and 3 --- but seems a little old for those now. Do you have any other suggestions for classes that may be fun for a musical 4-year-old?

Jen: You may want to check out this free festival at the new Music Center at Strathmore on Monday. Sounds like a fun event; plus, if you ask around, I'll bet plenty of people there would be happy to provide resources or suggestions re: classes for your son.


Alexandria, Va.: I'd like to take my two boys (6 years and 20 months) to a museum that is kid-friendly (with kid activities) that also has a nice place to have lunch. Make a day event of it. Thanks,

Stacey: Try the National Air and Space Museum. It has a couple of terrific hands-on exhibits for your 6-year-old and large airplanes and rockets for your 20-month-old to run around. There's also a large cafeteria in that museum. And if the boys get restless, you can spend part of your day letting them run out some energy on the Mall.


Alexandria, Va.: What's going on this weekend (in VA/MD/DC) that is free and where I can take my 7-year-old niece? I never know what to do with her, especially because anything too active is no good (my retired parents will be with us, too). They have all seen all the memorials. Anything good at museums? Thanks!

Anne: Since it's Presidents Day weekend, it's a perfect time to show your niece and parents some presidential history exhibits and sites. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is on display for only four days. And the FDR Memorial (one some tourists have missed) requires minimal walking, if you can park nearby. Coming down the street right near you on Monday is George Washington's birthday parade. If you find/bring a seat for your parents, they should enjoy that too. Also in Alexandria, a non-presidential exhibit geared for your niece melding literature and children's artwork.


Bethesda, Md.: While you're compiling your list of kid-friendly eateries, can you also put together a list of play spaces for toddlers?

There used to a GREAT and inexpensive play center at White Flint Mall, but it abruptly shut down with no notice. What happened there? Did they move somewhere else?

There is Little Gym in Potomac, which is great, and FunFit in Rockville, which is a bit small, but will keep a young toddler active for about an hour.

Stacey: Welcome, Bethesda. Yes, KidZone in White Flint closed abruptly last winter, I believe. And yes, a list of play spaces for toddlers would be wonderful, wouldn't it? How 'bout we start one here? Anyone out there who wants to send suggestions, go for it. In the meantime, here are some to add to your two:

1. Barnes and Noble's train table in Bethesda

2. Silver Stars has an open gym from 12-1 most days for $5. They're in Silver Spring and Wheaton.

3. Fairland Sports Complex has an open gym.


Ashburn, Va.: I'd like to give my wife a mini-vacation from the house. But she hates leaving the kids behind. Any overnight getaway suggestions within driving distance that are "kid-friendly"?

David: Hi Ashburn, you'll want to check out our most recent chat, where this subject was discussed. Hopefully you'll be able to find something in there that works for you.


The Kids' Table: Stacey had a good idea -- start a list during the discussion. Unfortunately we'll have to start that good idea next time. Thanks for joining us at the Kids' Table, bringing along your great questions, answers and ideas. It's gourmet potluck each and every time we get together. Here I was thinking cheetah cubs, but the horses are now pulling me to Laurel. Sounds like a family vote will have to decide -- or the weather. Spring arrives next month, right?

Next time we meet -- Wednesday, March 2 -- bring along a friend. There's always plenty of room at the Kids' Table. Talk to you then.


Washington, D.C: As the adult child of parents who took her everywhere with them when she was little -- cocktail parties, Thai restaurants, business dinners, etc. -- I want to point out that if you want to end up with interesting, well-behaved adult children, it probably makes sense to start treating them like interesting, well-behaved, young people as early as possible. I know my parents would not have tolerated fits, screaming or other misbehavior -- but I didn't behave like that because they treated me like an adult and I knew I was expected, in turn, to act like an adult. I'm sure we raised some eyebrows, but I'm good friends with many of my parents' friends who first met me at cocktail parties or business dinners. Now, as an actual adult, I am an adventurous eater and a pretty good networker/mingler, which comes, I'm pretty sure, from watching my parents do it from a very young age. I know there are some things that are off-limits for kids (clearly, they left me at home for romantic dinners out now and then!), but be careful to assume that restaurants with "kid food" are always better places for kids.

Vicki: Couldn't resist adding one last word. Bye now.


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