Ayanna Ellis, 9, stood behind the shop counter as she moved pieces of plastic sushi across a tray, part of a stopover in Japan. Earlier yesterday, she had drawn a cartoon and considered a quick trip to Mexico, just one floor down.
The Hyattsville youngster was making one last visit to the Capital Children's Museum in Northeast Washington, which she has been coming to since her days in a stroller. She and her mother, Linda, were among hundreds expected to stroll through the brightly painted hallways and experience the interactive exhibits this weekend for the museum's free "Community Days" farewell.
The museum, which has been entertaining families for 30 years, will close Aug. 22 and reopen in 2008 at L'Enfant Plaza in Southwest with a new name: the National Children's Museum. The new site will have 140,000 square feet of space. The museum's current complex on Third Street, once a Catholic convent and home for the poor and elderly, has been sold to a developer who plans to turn the space into retail stores and luxury condominiums.
Kathy Dwyer Southern, the museum's president and chief executive, said the new museum will have similar themes but that specific exhibits have not been determined.
Yesterday's visitors said they wanted to see the exhibits a final time before the museum closes because their children might be too old to appreciate it in four years.
Rob Connolly came from Springfield with his wife, Cindy, and their four sons, Billy, 8, Sean, 6, Michael, 4, and Allen, 2, because "2008 seemed a long way away."
Although there's no shortage of museums in the area, he said the interactive approach of the children's museum makes it a particularly good place for youngsters.
"It's hard for them to break things," he said. "It's important."
As Allen watched from his stroller, the three older boys bounced between adjoining rooms featuring colored light patterns and prisms.
"You mean the kind of prism people get trapped in?" Billy asked, before his father clarified the difference between a prism and a prison.
For some, the museum's imminent closing was the motivation to finally visit.
Anne and Rajiv Fernando of Silver Spring said they had long wanted to bring Nimesh, 5, and Anushka, 4. Sitting in the museum's Mexico exhibit, the boys drew decorations on sombreros made of construction paper.
Nearby, youngsters played around a tile fountain and ran up and down staircases leading to balconies on model facades of Mexican-style buildings. In the Sierra Madre room, others played in a sandbox made to look like a beach, with palm trees and an ocean painted on the wall. Across the room, toddlers scaled a small version of a South American pyramid.
Betty Page of Alexandria brought her children, Benjamin and Lindsey, for one last visit. She said the museum is perfect for children because it allows them to be involved in the exhibits rather than just look at them.
Benjamin, 5, an avid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, loves the Cityscapes room, where visitors can explore a model sewer -- where the Ninja Turtles are said to live -- or sit at the wheel of a Metro bus.
Museum staff plan to continue some activities with outreach programs at community festivals and at area schools.
In November, a museum-created exhibit, "Five Friends from Japan," depicting the lives and living spaces of five Japanese youths, will open at the National Building Museum.
Linda Coulombe, the Children's Museum's science manager, said the day, like the closing, was bittersweet. The new space will attract more visitors and allow staff to expand the museum's mission. But workers will miss familiar faces.
"For us, it's kind of sad," she said. "We just feel like some of our guests are part of our families."