More groups and performers, but with less space to show off their talents, promise to make the 12th annual International Children's Festival different from past festivals, says Lynn Fitzhugh of the sponsoring Fairfax County Council of the Arts.

In spite of the lack of space -- or maybe because of it -- Michelle Valeri believes better organization sets this year's festival apart from previous ones. Valeri is one of nearly 1,500 performers, the largest number the festival has ever had.

The three-day festival, which starts Saturday, will be in the show-must-go-on atmosphere of burned-out Wolf Trap Farm Park. Replacing the destroyed Filene Center, where the festival previously was held, are improvised stages in ticket areas, on grassy knolls and in a circle in front of the old center, which park authorities refer to as "The Dimple."

There, "in the gladiator pit," as Fitzhugh called it, Boy Scouts will show how to make paper airplanes.

There will be more than the usual number of hands-on workshops for children, in everything from musical composition to silk screening to a computer that creates art.

No festival would be complete without face painting, and at this one, the Renwick Gallery will provide the painters, who have promised to perform to the accompaniment of steel-drum music typical of Trinidad, Fitzhugh said.

Music is Valeri's specialty. Together with Mike Stein, the U.S. Navy's official fiddler, she will run through seven "Western swing" songs she wrote for the opening of the Smithsonian Institution's dinosaur exhibit.

"Stella the Stegosaurus, she just loves to eat, and salad was her favorite food. But when she'd forget dinosaur etiquette, she'd play with her food, which was rude," sang Valeri.

"It's kind of like the drinking song or an eating song," explained Valeri, who teaches her music at special school programs in the District and Fairfax and Montgomery counties.

Eating will be featured at the festival at an "International Food Bazaar" designed for "international appetites," according to fair officials.

But the real international flavor of this largely local gathering will come from groups imported by five different embassies, including Finnish choirs, Canadian storytellers and "simply gorgeous folk dancers" from the Philippines, Fitzhugh said.

Even local Washingtonians tend to sound international. The Ollin Mexican Folk Ballett will perform regional Mexican dances, and Linda Gross will do African and black American tales, songs and rhymes.

American tales will be told by Arlington resident Debbi Smith. She uses instruments, such as the dulcimer, as she sings and tells her "dust bowl diary," described as the story of her grandmother's "struggle to survive and find beauty in life during the hard years of the Depression in the American Midwest."

Not all stories to be told at the festival are based on harsh reality; some are based on harsh unreality. Rae Owings, a Vienna resident who has worked with the Philadelphia Symphony for the last 20 years, will tell and draw one of these: Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."

Using a board that is "eight feet long and as tall as I can reach," Owings will chalk up a mild version of the classic, while the Rockville Jewish Community Center orchestra plays, with the wolf led off in a parade to the zoo and the duck "sneezed up" out of the bowels of death.

The 12th annual International Children's Festival will be held from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday at Wolf Trap Farm Park. Admission is $3.50 for children and senior citizens and $5 for adults. Children under 4 are admitted free. For more information, call 941-1527.