If you're searching for an indoor play area for your children this winter, try the Chesapeake Children's Museum, nestled between Bruegger's Bagels and Be Beep Toys in the Festival at Riva shopping center in Annapolis.
The museum "is both a place and a reason for families to get together and enjoy each other," said its founder, Dr. Deborah Wood.
The museum's half-dozen exhibit rooms are dedicated to the proposition that children can learn best by doing, said Dr. Wood, a Cape St. Claire child development specialist.
"We want to provide a real, hands-on experience for kids," she said. "Children don't always learn best by just sitting still and listening."
And this museum provides plenty of opportunities for kids not to sit still. They can climb all over and drive a large tugboat model sitting in the lobby or create magnet-based sculptures and draw pictures with magnets and iron filings.
In another room decorated with colorful pinatas and puppets, they can try on Mexican clothes. There is a crafts room perfect for designing paper bag puppets or learning Mexican string art.
In the human body room, children can use real stethoscopes to hear their own heartbeats and comprehend the size of their small intestine by comparing it to a 20-foot hose.
In the play room, they dive into pillows shaped like building blocks and dance with plastic animals suspended from the ceiling. There are fish tanks, a picture gallery of Chesapeake Bay watermen, and little nooks and crannies just for kids to be kids.
Kenneth Winterschlade, a mere 16 months, was fascinated by his first encounter with fish, his mother, Carmen, reported. He also loved the wooden building blocks. "Mom builds. He destroys," his mother laughed.
The museum also offers a wide variety of enrichment activities. Kindermusic classes are given on a regular basis. Events include programs devoted to optics, storytelling, wetlands and concerts singer-author Jeff Holland and balladeers David and Ginger Hildebrand.
"Part of society's problem today is that there is not enough support for whole families to be together," Dr. Wood said. "We want to help families bond."
And the bonding can be fun, as well as nurturing.
Four-year-old Michael Davidson jumped out of a display rowboat with his life jacket one day last week, shouting, "Look! The big earthquake broke the ship."
His little sister Noa, 2, had another idea. "Let's go to Chuck E. Cheese's by boat," she said.
The Chesapeake Children's Museum is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is open to groups by appointment only Wednesdays. Admission is $3 per child. Call 266-0677 for group reservations and information about programs.