Brain Food at the Shopping Center

April 04, 1995

The shops of Festival at Riva in Annapolis run the gamut from a supermarket and boutiques to Weight Watchers and an impressive pet emporium. The innocuous Chesapeake Children's Museum is tucked in a storefront between Be Beep toys and Bruegger's bagel bakery.

Perhaps "museum" is something of a misnomer for this thought-provoking learning center for pre-school and early elementary children. There is little of antique or artistic value within the Chesapeake Children's Museum's several rooms of exhibits, but there is a wealth of teaching being served up.

In the entrance hall, scaled-down replicas of a tug and sailboat serve as introductions to the Chesapeake Bay and its traditional way of life. "Make up a song about working as a waterman," a sign exhorts. "Dress up as a waterman and go to work, steer the tug boat, crawl up and down 'the beach.' " Another room imparts information about the ecology of the bay and its wonders. An aquarium-like case bears a sign with this plea, "Visitors, please help fill our bay window with animals you can make."

The exhibit is surely a shoestring operation, but therein lies some of its charm. In an age of high-tech -- and high-priced -- diversions for children, the Chesapeake Children's Museum is refreshingly low-tech. It isn't the multi-million dollar kids' showplace now being planned with Walt Disney's help at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, or one of the commercial playroom/pizza joints omnipresent in suburban shopping centers. Yet it seems to work, thanks to 200 volunteers.

The museum has been in existence in one form or another for more than two years. Since September, its home has been a storefront at a shopping plaza in Parole with this proviso: If the space is rented, the museum must vacate within seven days. (The museum is open daily, but hours vary. Admission is $3. If you go, call ahead at 410-266-0677).

The museum is looking for a permanent home. It hoped to find it at Sandy Point State Park, but that idea has fallen through. "A mall would be wonderful," staff coordinator Karla Davis says of a future location.

The volunteers of the Chesapeake Children's Museum have a good thing going. May their dreams come true.

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