Wearing a faded pink T-shirt and cutoffs, Renee Spears looked more like a camp counselor than a program director for a museum.
But her garb seemed entirely appropriate, considering that it was "Get Wet Day" at the Chesapeake Children's Museum in Annapolis.
Spears watched as a handful of children frolicked outside the museum, which is nestled in a woodsy, remote area off Silopanna Road. Youngsters played near sprinklers, shouting and laughing. Others congregated at another play station, where they could make their own "waves" by mixing water, vegetable oil and food coloring in a clear plastic bottle.
"You know, kids need this kind of thing, to be able to play with the sprinkler and yell and scream and go wild," said Spears, 46.
But the recent Get Wet Day was not all about play. The event also was about offering participants an opportunity to spend time learning at the museum.
They were able to view blue crabs, aquatic turtles and two Madagascar hissing cockroaches. The animal that drew the most attention was Rosita, a redtailed boa constrictor that Spears displayed, drawing wide-eyed excitement from her young audience.
In a corner, at an arts-and-crafts table, a mother and daughter were gluing together empty egg cartons, buttons and pearls.
"The key to it all is the parent-child connection," said Debbie Wood, 48, founder of the museum. "It may be that one is teaching the other and it goes both ways, but mostly, they're just enjoying each other's company."
Wood was inspired by the Capital Children's Museum in Washington when deciding on a direction for her museum. The Chesapeake Children's Museum has been operating for nearly 12 years, and its involvement with projects such as the city's Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival helped discount the myth that a museum is designed strictly for indoor activities.
Each room in the back of the museum is no bigger than a child's room, and each has a special theme. One has a dentist and doctor motif, featuring Stuffee, a nearly eight-foot tall, kid-friendly figure that zips open to reveal removable organs, such as a heart, a set of lungs and long, brown intestines.
Parents can sit in the dentist's chair while their children pretend to work on their teeth by viewing slides from the X-ray machine.
"It's just the imagination . . . and it's perfect for my son," said Ann Province, 38, a mother of two from Severna Park. "We don't have all of this stuff, and he really gets into playing doctor, so he can pretend to be just about anybody."
One young girl adorned with a gold crown and glittering shoes ran out of the Dress-Up Room, where a stereo and makeshift stage give children the opportunity to exhibit their theatrical flair. Boas, cowboy hats and tutus litter the room.
"I think it's very age appropriate," said Nancy Troese, 42, of Edgewater, watching her 2-year-old son, Victor, try on some fake armor. "It's not this huge place where they could wander too far, and it's nice because it's Chesapeake Bay oriented."
It's also easy on the parents. They can let their children roam around the museum and can strike up conversations with other parents.
"They don't have those relationships with other adults, because they don't have as many opportunities to," Wood said. "But they do it here."