Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great Kids Village in Silver Spring, Maryland


Looking to beat the heat, I took my son to Great Kids Village in Silver Spring. My wife had been to the Columbia, Maryland location and said that while expensive (15 dollars for the first child), the place had a great deal of rooms and activities for the kids (including a real and full sized fire truck). I was excited to try their new location because of so many wonderful looking pictures on their website. However, while the Columbia location is great (according to second hand reports), I was disappointed with most aspects of the Silver Spring location.
The location of Great Kids Village is not in the best of areas in Silver Spring, and when looking for the building, I found it by the address on the door instead of by a sign (There was no sign and the emptiness in the window made it look like an abandoned warehouse). Then we went in and in fact, it was not far off from an empty warehouse. I was disappointed to learn that it was one big room with a bunch of stage 2 children’s’ toys (which we could play with at the displays in Toys R Us for free). Apparently this is why it is five dollars cheaper at the Silver Spring location, but I was unimpressed nonetheless. I asked the lady where the toys from the website were and she said that those were in the Columbia location. The website should have delineated which activities or lack thereof was in each location. Additionally, I had called several times to see if the place was open and got only an answering machine. When I got into the place and asked the lady near the desk, she said that they don’t even have a phone at the location, which scared me for safety reasons.
Please note that all of their locations have closed down and they are looking to relocate. 
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland




Cabin John is a great hidden treasure. Its entrance is off of Tuckerman and one may think that it is just going to be a small little play area with a slide and swing set. However, when you drive into the parking lot, you see a huge variety of play equipment that is shaded by beautiful trees. The park can seem overwhelming if you go alone with your kids because each play area is different so you may spend a lot of time exploring. Not only will your child have fun, but you will get your exercise as well! If you are going with several children, you may need more than one set of eyes if your children are playing in different areas. That is the only difficulty with the park.
There is so much to play with, but it is spread out over a large area, so go with a few friends! The equipment ranges for different ability levels, however it is not handicap accessible. There are small stationary trains and climbing areas for wabbly toddlers and steep slides and a climbing wall for the more adventurous.
Another treat of the park is that it is surrounded by a ride on train that the children will love. It is just a short walk through a path to get to the train station so you can buy your ticket. The park has a public restroom and water fountain in the center of the park. One could easily spend several hours at the park, take a break for the train and then find one of the many picnic benches to enjoy lunch. The park also has baseball, soccer, and tennis courts/fields, an indoor ice skating rink, nature center, hiking, and camping grounds.
 Book Recommendations before going to a playground
Please Play Safe! Penguin’s Guide to Playground Safety(Margery Cuyler)
King of the Playground (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)
Manners on the playground (Carrie Finn) 
Website: http://www.montgomeryparks.org/facilities/regional_parks/cabinjohn/
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White Oak Duckpin Lanes in Silver Spring, Maryland




White Oak Duckpin Lanes is a fun little bowling alley that is very child friendly for kids of all ages. Unlike 10 pin bowling, the duckpins and duckpin balls are much smaller which make it easier for younger children to pick up and control. This alley has many lanes and the option for regular duckpin bowling or duckpin bowling with bumpers. It is a relatively inexpensive but fun day out with the children and the alley is open 7 days per week. Additionally, the alley also hosts birthday parties in a small party room, has an arcade, a restaurant, leagues for all ages, and cosmic bowling on Saturday nights.
Hours:
Monday-Thursday 9:00am-11:00pm
Friday 9:00am-12:00am
Saturday 9:00am-1:00am
[Cosmic Bowling starts at 10:30pm on Sat-1:00]
Sunday 10:00am-11:00pm
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, Maryland





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The Maryland Science Center, located in downtown Baltimore has many different types of exhibits spread through its expansive 3 level building. The entry level is home to Newton’s alley, Dinosaur mysteries, Terralink, Fossils, Beakers CafĂ©, and the Science store. Our son enjoyed thrashing through the dinosaur hall and then moving into Newton’s alley where he got to experiment with all sorts of physical science activities including touching a “cloud” and trying to pick his own weight up in a chair. The science store also had a huge selection of toys and games to play with.
When we went to the second floor, we got to experience areas such as Our place in space, Spacelink, Cells, Bodylink, Your body, and the Wonder warehouse. In the wonder warehouse we saw and partook in exhibits such as moving a flashlight in a dark room and seeing the light pattern videotaped and creating flying crafts and seeing if they would in fact take off. We also walked around and learned about which sort of things take place in the human body. The different sounds were fascinating and fun!
On the third level was a huge interactive kids room that is specifically geared towards children from birth-8 years old. This room was the most fun for my son as he got to play in the water area (squirting water and filling up tubs, sailing a boat down the current, and connecting water pipes to redirect water). He also had fun shooting messages through a tube over his head, and building with pipes. There was also a big boat in a loft area and a really cool video screen under the boat where you can lay down and navigate your way through the ocean on a tv screen. Also on this level were the Science arcade, a blue crab exhibit, and an energy efficient car room. In this room he got the chance to build a model car on interactive touch computer screens.
Each level really had wonderful and interactive exhibits for kids and adults to play with and learn from. Additionally, they also have changing events that can be found on their website. The museum also has an IMAX theater and frequently plays fascinating movies for an additional cost. I would say the best ages to take kids to this museum range from 3-14 years old. I saw just as many adults interacting with exhibits as the kids and we were thrilled that we got to go. This museum is also right on the harbor so it makes it easy to spend a day having fun walking around the city and seeing other activities as well.
Pricing:
Adults: $ 14.95
Children: $11.95
(teachers are free with pay stub or I.D.)
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Track in Gaithersburg, Maryland




Racing fans, START YOUR ENGINES!!!! Today we went to "The Track" in Gaithersburg to experience a large radio control and slot car racing track. What sold me on going was a racer that was practicing at a nearby field at the beginning of the summer. He said that he goes to "The Track" all the time and that most of the people are incredibly friendly. Looking back on this experience, we had such a wonderful time at this big racetrack and the kids were entertained for several hours.

We got there at about 12:40 (40 minutes after it opened) and started by looking through the store section of the building. There were many cars and car parts in all of the glass cases which my son really enjoyed. After that we walked through a studio/garage area where many different people were working on building and fixing their cars. We found it fascinating to see all of the people working on different elements of their cars and all of the pieces that went into these great machines. The people working on cars ranged in their knowledge and experience level and most were very friendly and/or open to being asked questions. However, I caution that the lady that answers the phone is not so friendly, but don't be dissuaded by her as most of the other people in the building were very nice.

One gentleman in particular (dubbed "The Trackmaster") was incredibly friendly and shared his knowledge with us about the hobby. He said that some of the people really get the idea that it is important to get the kids out to "The Track" because it is a hobby that is meant for them. He said that he hopes that within the next year they will start renting out cars to younger kids so that they can have a chance to race as well as making it open for birthday parties. I believe they also have a camp for racers. Anyone who either buys a car (they are pricey) or builds their own can come and use this track for a fee (15 dollars for the whole day), but watching is totally free and really enjoyable. While many of the guys race their cars in tournaments and are at a very competitive level, others were novices as well, having only just started but enjoying the hobby nonetheless.

Once the track was set up (usually around 1:30pm), we took a seat on the chairs outside of the track and watched as the racers took their places on the pedestal over the track and began racing. Our kids had a great time watching cars zip by, doing the jumps, and crashing into each other. In another part of the studio was a separate smaller track for little cars that we also got to look at. One man was racing a car on that track and told us that the cars were moving at 100 mph. This track is ok for kids to bring their own little cars and push them around on.

All in all we had such a wonderful experience. However, I caution that you should call first to see if they are expecting to be racing that day or you could end up just touring the place quickly. Also, even if they don't have races going on, they seemed pretty comfortable with letting us use the little cars that we brought onto the small track. However, children are not allowed to go on the bigger track (and are only allowed to watch) unless they are racing a car fit for the track. The directions on the website are clear, but the place is not well marked so keep your eyes peeled and expect to have to U-turn when you notice the addresses and then skip right past it. While this place is not geared toward children, I definitely recommend that everyone race down and check this place out as it was good for a rainy day for kids ages 3-12 to watch for a little while. I would say your child would probably have to be around 7 or 8 (minimum) to do their own racing.

Hours:
Sunday and Monday 12-6pm
Tuesday- Friday 12-9pm
Saturday: 10am-9pm (or later)
Phone: (301) 417-9630
Website: http://rctrack.com/index.html

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Noyes Library for Young Children, Kensington, MD













The Noyes Library is a charming one room library created to introduce the library experience to young children, ranging from babies to preschoolers. The library's books are divided into children friendly topics- such as "going to school," "sports and activities," "potty-training," etc. which help children and parents find books that best suite the child's interests and/or life stages. There are chairs and benches available for children to sit on as they read books, as well as hands-on toys available for free play. Children can enjoy playing with trains, cars, trucks and blocks on the train table, or playing with dolls and animal figures on their barn table. There are magnet boards with letters that children can use to acquaint themselves with the alphabet, and a table set aside for coloring.
     I particularly like bringing my kids to this library because of its intimate, child-focused environment and find that my children enjoy it more than other larger libraries. I have also found that watching my children play with the different toys provides me with great opportunity to introduce new books related to their play.
     The library is only opened Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays from 9 am- 5 pm.
http://www.librarything.com/venue/311/Noyes-Library-for-Young-Children-Montgomery-County-Public-Libraries-MD-
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Watkins Regional Park, Upper Marlsboro, MD


















Watkins Regional Park is a great place to go with children from ages 1.5 yr old and up. The park is located just 30 minutes outside of Silver Spring, Maryland, and features the "Old Maryland Farm," a small farm that consists of bunny rabbits, chickens and peacocks(that you can feed), ducks, sheep, llamas, cows and horses. They have pony rides available for $3/ride on certain days of the week, and hayrides for $1/person for groups of 15 or more. The farm is nicely maintained, beautifully gardened, and is a fantastic spot to take young children who are learning about animals and want to get close to them.
     Summer Features: Right next to the farm, the park offers 10-minute antique train rides ($1.75) that run around the farm and through the woods; miniature Golf($3.75/person); a carousel($1.75).
     Also near the farm, the park has a large fantastic playground that my young son can play at for hours and a nature center that has scheduled programs and events.
     One small suggestion: the farm is a 3 minute walk from the parking lot- down a winding path. If you have a toddler who is not the best walker yet, I suggest taking a stroller so that you don't end up carrying him. The farm itself is small enough that your toddler can probably do without one, but that path is where both my children and my friend's children had a difficult time.
     Between the farm and the playground, my children can easily stay for a good 3 hours. I usually bring lunch to eat at one of their pavilions.
Website: http://www.pgparks.com/Things_To_Do/Nature/Watkins_Regional_Park.htm
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Nasa Goddard Visitor Center in Greenbelt, MD











Is your child interested in rockets and outer space but you don't have time to make a big trip to the National Air and Space Museum? Then the visitor center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, is the perfect place for you. Intended for people of all ages, the visitor center provides a stimulating and educational 'planetary science' experience but in a smaller and more convenient location than the larger museums in DC.

The center has a variety of exhibits discussing Earth science, astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, engineering, communication, and technology development. Although most exhibits require reading, some exhibits have educational videos running with cartoon characters explaining space travel and air pressure. The most child-friendly part of the center is their Gemini space capsule model. My 2 year old son particularly enjoys climbing into the model, wearing a toy astronaut helmet and pretending to fly to the moon. The center also has a toy chest with space puzzles, toy rockets, and astronaut puppets for the children to enjoy.
Additionally, the center has an outdoor "Rocket Garden" where children can enjoy running around and touching the large rocket models and playing on the grassy lawn. There are also outdoor picnic tables available.
But I would have to say the coolest part of the center is their "Science on a Sphere." This attention-grabbing visualization system uses computers and video projectors to project informative movies on the outside of a suspended, 6-foot diameter, white sphere. Like the center, the shows are free. And they are constantly looped throughout the day.
When my family visits the center, we find that we are entertained for 2 hours- and admission is free so we have no problems going back often. The museum is best geared toward children 2+ and would be enjoyable by anyone who likes learning more about NASA.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Maryland Zoo in Baltimore










We took a trip to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore last summer. A small zoo covered in shade and a free tram to take you from the entrance/parking to the main area with the animals (why can't the National Zoo have one?). Though small, it offered a lot in the way of different types of exhibits and experiences. You can feed a giraffe, ride a camel ride (offered last summer - not sure about 2010), see cheetahs and monkeys through a wall of Plexiglass, experience a wonderful exhibit of life on the Chesapeake Bay, exploring the woods and caves, and more. They had lots of picnic tables and the bathrooms had a/c and were clean! As of June 30, 2010, they will also have a train running at the zoo.

Extra costs beyond the cost of admission tickets - tickets for the Jones Falls Zephyr train will be $2 for members and $3 for non-members. I didn't see on the website anything about the camel rides, but they were $5 per person last year. You did have to pay to feed the giraffes - I believe it was $2.50 per stem of leaves. Zoo is open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Parking is free! (Don't worry, parking lot is small and right next to the zoo, very easy walk, and no hills). http://www.marylandzoo.org/
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Leesburg Animal Park in Leesburg, Virginia



After going to Clarks Elioak Farm in Ellicott City and having such a good time interacting with the animals, we thought we would try Leesburg Animal Park. The website was incredibly well maintained and made it seem like quite a nice place. There were several nice things about this park and several things that we were unhappy with.
The park had a wider variety of animals to see (tortoise, camel, monkeys, etc.) and feed than in other places we went to which was nice. Also, there was a lot of land to roam around, a big pond, a playground area, and a moon bounce on the premises. Additionally, they also had a big sand box with some digging tools, a shaded area to rest, pony rides, and wagon rides. Of all of the things that we saw, we actually enjoyed seeing the monkeys swinging in their cage and feeding the different animals the most.
However, we found the price to be very expensive compared to other places with similar programs. At 10 dollars per adult and 8 dollars per child, we expected to see a wider variety of animals, get more feed for the money, and have a bit more interaction with the animals. Also, the pens that the animals were in were very small and crowded and for a little kid, it was hard to see much more than a mouth between wooden beams in many cases. We also did not enjoy the fact that for a normal sized cup of feed for the animals, they charged an additional 10 dollars. In addition to the already steep entry fee and the additional charge for the large bucket of feed, they also charged for the hay rides and pony rides.
In terms of the staff, they were very young, and other than in the box office and by the ponies, I did not see a single staff person on the premises. If you are planning a trip out to Leesburg in the near future and you have the extra money to spend, it is not a terrible place to go. However, there is definitely room for growth at this place. On the positive side, it is located 5 minutes from the Leesburg Premium Outlets which provides great shopping and a second activity in the area. If you go in the summer bring lots of water as it gets very hot. Also, they have a festival in the fall time called Pumpkinville which has hay mazes, hill slides, zip lines, and several other activities.
Website: http://www.leesburganimalpark.com/
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Hadley's Park and Potomac, Maryland




Hadley's Park is a wonderful playground that is great for children of all ages. There are numerous different climbing apparatuses to play on and the park was designed so that children with varying abilities can enjoy the equipment. One of the most wonderful features of the park is that almost every climbing structure has at least one ramp for wheel chair accessibility and that the entire playground is built on rubber mats for child safety.

Additionally, the playground has features such as a shaded gazebo, miniature climbing wall, and a large baseball field. The equipment is also well spaced out and many children bring bikes to ride on the rubber matting. We spent about 2 hours at the park playing on the equipment and watching a little league game that was taking place.

Book Recommendations before going to a playground
Please Play Safe! Penguin’s Guide to Playground Safety (Margery Cuyler)
Manners on the playground (Carrie Finn)
King of the Playground (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)


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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Port Discovery in Maryland






Port Discovery is ranked as one of the top children's museums in the country with good reason. The exhibits are quite wonderful. We went on a Sunday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised that the museum was not packed. There was plenty of room to roam around, and all of the floors were stroller accessible (elevator).

The three story climbing apparatus is centrally located at the middle of the museum and has climbing tunnels that let you out on each floor. This part of the museum was doable with our three year old as long as I followed behind. However children a few years older were able to make their way through the climbing maze quite well. The slides and tunnels were easy to navigate.

Our children also enjoyed cooking in the diner, shopping in the super market, and crossing the Nile in the Egypt room. One of the rooms that we spent the most time at was the water works room. The museum provides rain coats for children as they go in and there are many different water activities to experiment with. Some of the activities included shooting water guns at musical instruments to make a water band, a huge river with flowing water and all sorts of machines squirting water around and funneling it through to the bottom, and even an area with water pipes that you can move and connect to each other before the water pours out.

While it is a bit pricey ($12.95 per person ages 2-102), the museum is surely worth visiting every once in a while. Also, if you live near Baltimore and plan on going frequently, the family membership is quite affordable. The one complaint is that some of the things in the museum were broken. However, most of the museum was in great shape and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable about where programs were located. Additionally, the administration that runs the museum is quite caring and helpful too. The museum is constantly changing programs, so definitely call or check the website before going to see which exhibits are currently running. The museum is great for kids ages 3-10, with 5-8 being the most optimum ages.

Website: http://portdiscovery.org/#home
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