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Correction to This Article
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the "Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition" exhibit was free, with a suggested $5 donation. The $5 entrance fee is mandatory.
Camp's out: Kid-friendly activities and happy hours in the Washington area

By Justin Rude and Jessica McFadden
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 30, 2010;

Summer. Just the mention of it elicits fond memories of long days spent with friends dashing through sprinklers and catching fireflies. But let's face it: Among parents, summer -- particularly those last weeks after camp is over and school hasn't begun -- also means a hazy, crazy dash between play dates and babysitters. Here we offer a week's worth of do-it-yourself day-camp ideas, topped off by special family-friendly happy hours (brought to us by Post staff writer Justin Rude and his rambunctious 18-month-old son, James) that just might remind you that you, too, can enjoy a little taste of summer.

MONDAY

Library of Congress Young Readers Center and Summer Story Times

Bring your little bookworms to the new Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress. With two free story times every Monday through Friday until Sept. 10, the center is the go-to destination for families looking for a little imagination encouragement between dips in the neighborhood pool. Here, librarians read a picture book every morning to children age 5 and older, and each afternoon, they explore passages from novels, nonfiction tomes and poetry to promote noses-in-books among older children, too.

If a nap prevents a family from making one of the story times, the center is an anytime destination. "The three rooms in the center include 1,100 titles, ranging from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' to 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' in Arabic, Hebrew and Braille. The books are all available for family browsing during their visit -- it's not a lending library, it's not a museum -- it's a place especially for children to explore," says Jane Gilchrist, director of the center.

Where: Library of Congress, ground floor, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE http://www.read.gov/yrc.

When: Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

TUESDAY

Newseum Family Fun Deal

If you haven't experienced the Newseum with your children, do it now: The Newseum Family Fun Deal means that through Labor Day, the admission price for kids up to age 18 is waived for as many as 10 kids with each paying adult. (That's a $12.95 savings per big kid; age 6 and younger are always free).

Like all Newseum tickets, Family Fun Deal passes are good for two consecutive days, so if your family laments that they missed the Elvis exhibit, a showing in the 4-D theater or hosting their own mock White House news conference, head back the next day.

Where: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. http://www.newseum.org.

When: Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $19.95, seniors $17.75; through Labor Day, kids up to age 18 are free.

Hank's Oyster Bar

The Hank's family evening is slightly different from other family-friendly happy hours in that it's slightly more of a dinner deal than a bar special. At the Old Town Alexandria location on Tuesday evenings, kids 10 and younger eat free from the kids' menu with the purchase of an adult meal. The children's selections include a drink and a dessert, and feature fish sticks, mac and cheese, and chicken fingers.

Where Hank's excels is in how well the staff handles the little ones. Strapped into a highchair, my little James is 23 pounds of easily bored destructive power with a surprising reach. Anticipating this, our hostess cleared an 18-inch semicircle of plates, silverware and napkins around James's highchair -- something I often have to do myself. Our servers never set a glass or a dish in the danger zone.

James banged the table, tried to get the attention of a girl on the other side of the room and launched his spoon across the table. And yet I found myself able to relax, laugh at his various provocations and enjoy my beer and lobster roll, while my companions noshed on crab cakes, oysters and some surprisingly mean collard greens. More than half the diners in the restaurant were accompanied by children, creating a toddle and let toddle environment that was refreshing to say the least.

Where: 1026 King St., Alexandria

When: Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Watch out for: Hanks is the priciest of these happy hours.

James's take: Likes the chicken fingers, loves the fries. Also a big fan of sorting the crayons that come with the kids' menu. He hasn't grasped that he can use them to deface things, and I'm in no rush to change that.

(Hank's owners have recently introduced the promotion at another of their establishments, CommonWealth, a British-inspired gastropub, where the same deal will run on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m. CommonWealth, 1400 Irving St. NW. 202-265-1400. http://www.commonwealthgastropub.com.)

WEDNESDAY

"Telling Stories: Normal Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg"

It's tempting to skip the District's art museums with children and stick to the National Museum of Natural History.

But the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Rockwell exhibit is an exception. With realistic depictions of children at the barber shop or wavering at the high dive, here are works of art that kids can understand and enjoy.

"Parents can ask their children to describe what they think is the story behind the characters in the pictures," says mother of three and Teach Mama blogger Amy Mascott, 34, of Brookeville. "They're perfect storytelling starting points or even summer writing prompts."

Older children and teens will get a kick out of re-creating the paintings or staging their own Rockwellian scenarios with the props and suggested hands-on activities in the Being Rockwell cart in the Kogod Courtyard. Teens can check the cart's availability by following @beingRockwell on Twitter and then upload digital photos to the Being Norman Rockwell photo pool on Flickr.

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and G streets NW. http://www.americanart.si.edu.

When: Daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Wonderland Ballroom

Wonderland is the old warhorse of baby-friendly happy hours. The happy hours started just after the bar opened in 2004 and have been going strong since. One of the charming elements of the Wonderland happy hour is the sharp contrast between the regular bar and the happy hour. Downstairs barflies mingle with bike messengers and the bohemian fashionable, while upstairs, in a childproof room, a dozen parents mingle and share a drink while their charges romp about.

It's a basic formula at Wonderland, but it works: good beer (important since parents obviously don't come to overimbibe), simple, kid-friendly fare (think quesadillas, cheese fries, salads and chili) and a danceable, funky soundtrack.

What really makes the baby happy hour at Wonderland such a success is how neighborhoody the whole thing feels. At a recent happy hour I discussed the local farmers market, schooling options and how excited people were for the opening of the bar Meridian Pint.

Where: 1101 Kenyon St. NW. http://www.thewonderlandballroom.com.

When: Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m.

Watch out for: During the summer the happy hour often moves to the patio, which creates a different dynamic. Suddenly the little ones are intermingling with the regulars. This isn't always welcomed, so one has to be more vigilant.

James's take: Big fan of the cheese fries. Likes the soundtrack (yay, James Brown). On the patio he was more interested in the post-grads sitting next to us and their tattooed arms than in the other kids. Luckily, they seemed charmed.

THURSDAY

College Park Aviation Museum

Fly a simulator of the Wright Flyer. Dress up in mini bomber jackets and goggles and climb into retired planes, or drive aviation-themed tricycles on a shaded patio. Create airplane and space shuttle crafts. And on your way out, receive a goodie bag packed with small toys. The College Park Aviation Museum is a definite ace in the hole for a parent in summer.

"It's not generally crowded; it's relaxed and geared towards kids," says Jean Winegardner, 37, of Wheaton and author of AutMont.com, a Web site that lists autism events and resources in Montgomery County. Winegardner is the mother of three sons, ages 5, 7 and 8. Seven-year-old Jack is autistic.

Winegardner recommends the museum for children who experience many things through touch, because of an abundance of hands-on, do-it-yourself activities.

The museum also offers story times for kids ages 3 to 5 on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, as well as activities for children age 6 and older every Friday from 2 to 4:30 p.m.

Where: 1985 Cpl. Frank Scott Dr., College Park. http://www.collegeparkhttp://http://aviationhttp://http://museum.com.

When: Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $4, $3 seniors, $2 kids (age 2 and younger are free).

Westover Market Beer Garden

If you're not looking for the Westover Market beer garden, it's easy to miss. Tucked into the side of a family-owned grocery and deli in the Westover section of Arlington, the fenced-in area is tranquil, tree-shaded and comfortable. That is, except on Fridays when the weekly live music is met with a kid-filled crowd ready start the weekend. Unlike the other events, the Friday happy hour at the Westover Market beer garden is not a kids' happy hour by design. Instead, it has grown into one, as local parents have embraced the family-friendly vibe. The beer garden attracts a jovial group, and on the last Friday in June there was nary an unfriendly look, even from the non-parents in the crowd.

Pizza, sandwiches, quesadillas and even bulgogi are some of the treats available from the deli, which also includes a kids' menu featuring such items as mini pizzas, sloppy Joe sliders and french fries. On the patio a bar features six rotating draft lines, which is in addition to the imports and microbrews from the market's incredible beer selection. (Kids or no-kids, any serious beer lover needs to check this place out.)

On the first Friday and second Saturday of the month, the market holds specialty beer and wine tastings from 4 to 8 p.m. For those events, Jay Jenks, the man behind the market's deli and a former competition barbecuer, fires up the smoker to bring slow-smoked chicken and pork to the festivities.

Where: 5863 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington. http://www.westovermarket.com.

When: The beer garden is open daily, but there is live music from 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with Friday being an especially family-friendly crowd.

Watch out for: The Westover Market beer garden is a popular location, and it can become quite crowded. Seating is in high demand, but the kids seem to end up dancing, so it usually works out.

James's take: Between the guitarist playing Dave Matthews Band covers, a small parade of local dogs and a lot of parked mail trucks (we're really into trucks at the moment), James had so much to watch that he never got around to eating.

FRIDAY

"Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition"

This is the exhibit for the kid who whines "Not another museum, Mom!" Shhhh. The little darling need never know that this excursion to the National Building Museum is all about architecture, physics, mathematics and symmetry.

Instead, just walk around the museum's second-floor gallery that has been transformed into a travel adventure of some of the world's most amazing structures -- all created from the ubiquitously underfoot interlocking bricks known as Lego.

Fifteen works created by architect and Lego master Adam Reed Tucker are on display, including St. Louis's Gateway Arch, the Empire State Building and the Dubai's Burj Khalifa. The model of the world's tallest building is 17 1/2 feet tall and uses more than 450,000 bricks. It took 340 hours to build.

The other lesson your child just might pick up in looking at Tucker's amazing work: patience.

Where: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. http://www.nbm.org.

When: Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $5, children 3 and younger free.

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The Reef

Of all the happy hours, this one surprised me, and delighted James, the most. It should have been obvious: fish tanks, colorful lights, a big open dance floor -- all things kids love. But my own (now distant) memories of boozy late nights spent listening to hip-hop, just couldn't mesh with the concept of bright, energetic fun. But here we were: The main floor of the Reef cleans up remarkably well, the kitchen puts out kid-friendly food and the parents gather to chat and commiserate in numbers.

I don't know if it's the fact that it's the start of the weekend, if it's the fish tanks mesmerizing the kids or if it's "Friday I'm in Love" playing over the dance floor, but there is something wonderful about the Reef's sandlot happy hour. Kids are twirling on the dance floor, climbing into other parents' laps or just chilling in the Baby Bjorn. At one point, James climbs into the booth with a family sitting next to us and joins them for a while. No one seems to mind.

Ultimately the warm fuzziness of the Reef's baby happy hour must be credited to the staff, from the bartender distributing kid-size plastic cups to a smiling server scooping up a little boy who had just taken a spill. Most remarkable of all was a burly food runner who, while running out trays of food and drinks, stopped to redirect kids from the bar-side and stroller parking area with a patience I could only marvel at. It came as no surprise when I was told that many of the staff members who work this happy hour have young children of their own.

Where: 2446 18th St. NW. http://www.thereefdc.com.

When: Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m.

Watch out for: There is no changing station in the men's room -- though having one in the women's room puts them ahead of most of these happy hours. Dancing kids who don't want to give up their cup lead to dance-floor spills. Carry an extra wipe to take care of your little one's party fouls.

James's take: Mac and cheese was a hit, and ginger pesto farfalle did okay, but really, in the presence of gigantic fish tanks , it was hard for anything else to compete. We were hearing "Ooh fissees!" until he went to bed.

McFadden is a freelance writer.

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