The Cloisters Children's Museum is celebrating its birthday this weekend, and it's doing things up real big. In fact, "big," or more accurately "giant," is a sort of theme running through the celebration today and tomorrow at the museum on Falls Road.
First of all, a couple of giants known as Mystic Paper Beasts have come into town for the weekend just to attend the party. Actually, these two storyteller-actors from Connecticut are average-size, but the giant masks and colorful, oversized costumes they wear make them appear larger than life to many little tykes.
Then there's the giant-size board game that's making its premiere during the two-day celebration. The "New Game on the Block" fills an entire room on the second floor of the museum. Kids themselves serve as pawns that move about on the giant squares that represent various locations in a typical community.
There also will be a giant birthday card with room enough for all the guests to sign; and rumor has it a giant from the Cloisters' past will be lurking about somewhere in the huge, medieval-castle-like building. (More on that later.)
It's a party that promises to appeal to kids of all ages, says Susie Breaux, public relations director, who suspects that becoming a teen-ager -- the museum is now 13 years old -- won't lessen the Cloisters' popularity with young children.
The newest exhibit, in fact, is geared to the kindergarten-to-3rd-grade group, she says. The giant board game is a sort of town in miniature. Children roll dice to determine the number of squares to advance and then literally walk to the appropriate point on the board. From there they must read instructions or follow directions for participating in ordinary activities at a bank, grocery store, doctor's office or in the home.
The game is the latest addition to the museum's "Ready, Set . . . Read" program designed to encourage kids to read and enjoy themselves at the same time. As the kids advance along the board, they may find themselves writing a check at a bank, operating a cash register at a store or dressing up in medical gear.
The "Ready, Set . . . Read" program was instituted at the Cloisters two years ago to "complement and supplement what kids are learning in school," says Rosemary Fetter, director of the museum, which is administered by the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture. In keeping with a goal to make Baltimore "the city that reads," museum staff began designing projects to emphasize reading as an everyday skill, "not just something you do at a desk in school," Fetter says.
The results appeared in several hands-on exhibits that have become fixtures at the museum of late and will be up and running for party-goers this weekend.
There's the pop-up book, for instance. Installed earlier this year, it is a three-dimensional storybook that children can climb into to read, draw, color, make music and otherwise exercise their imaginations.
And the highly popular Post Office will be open -- yes, even on Sunday. Literacy is again stressed as kids are taught to do
everything from addressing envelopes to weighing and stamping packages to dressing up as mail carriers to delivering letters and packages.
Dressing up in costumes apparently is an integral part of any Cloisters museum visit. And this weekend's birthday festivities will be no exception, says Fetter. When the Mystic Paper Beasts make their rounds they'll have with them an array of costumes to entice young party-goers.
"They'll roam through the building, gather a group of children together and tell stories related to the costumes they're wearing," she says. They'll also have costumes for the children to try on -- all related to a medieval theme -- like those of kings and queens and maybe even a unicorn.
The Cloisters Children's Museum birthday celebration runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Admission is $4 for adults and children, but one child will be admitted free with each paying adult. Call 823-2551 for more information.