- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

There are ladybugs, flowers, bees and bats, all sharing one space.

That space is a costume box, and it is a hot property at Discovery Creek Children's Museum of Washington. Dressing up as the flora and fauna is just one of the ways children visiting the museum can get their hands on things found in nature.

Hands-on best describes most of the exhibits at Discovery Creek, which is in the Stable at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo. The museum, which is funded by its own nonprofit foundation and private donations, gives preschoolers a child's-eye view of nature. Discovery Creek also operates a one-room schoolhouse in the District where school groups can participate in nature programs.

"It really doesn't feel like you are in the city when you are here," says Talia Eisenklam, Discovery Creek's director of family programs. "We are close to the river and in the woods."

The 12-acre area surrounding the stable is an ideal place to spend a spring afternoon. The Children's Garden has a small pond where guides explain how streams feed into the pond and how the fish and frogs live side by side. Small visitors can go through a tunnel underneath an apple tree to see how roots grow. Also available is a rock-climbing wall and a big sand pit for exploration and play.

Families can walk the trails through the woods and around Glen Echo Park and explore the bamboo forest growing in front of the stable.

Inside the stable, the theme is "Urban Safari." Children through sight, sound and touch learn how animals adapt to live in the concrete, glass and steel of the city.

When children enter the exhibit, they see the city from an animal's-eye view. A basic city building, for instance, is home to crows on telephone wires and beehives under the eaves. A pipe big enough for children to crawl through is a "sewer," theoretical home to raccoons. A decorative water fountain in the "city park" is home to a box turtle.

The Urban Safari is also where the costume box is located.

"Look, I'm a ladybug," one preschooler beams. Another toddler is dressed as a bumblebee. The two climb into the treehouse, home to a pigeon that lives in a cage. Underneath the treehouse is a possum sleeping in his cage under the stairs.

The possum is among the most popular displays at Discovery Creek, says Hugh Squire, the museum's family program educator.

"Children are really just fascinated when they are able to touch him," he says.

On most weekends, the possum and other live animals are presented to small groups of children in special learning presentations, Ms. Eisenklam says.

Other special events include Science Saturdays, held on the third Saturday of each month. Visitors can try science experiments and learn about the power of nature. Upcoming themes include beekeeping (April 20), fish (May 18), hydrology (July 20) and marine biology (Aug. 17).

Another series is dedicated to creating urban wildlife sanctuaries. Families can learn how to create animal habitats (April 13), transform the yard into a child's fantasy (April 27) or build a water feature in the back yard (May 11).

This month and next month, Discovery Creek will start a weekday morning program for mothers and infants. "Babes in the Woods," which meets Thursdays at 9 a.m., is an opportunity for new moms to put their children in a front or back carrier and meet other moms for a hike in the woods, coffee and muffins.

"It is a program to get mothers and newborns out of the house and into the woods," Ms. Eisenklam says.

On April 21, Discovery Creek will waive entry fees for its free Earth Day celebration. Visitors can join museum staffers as they work on conservation projects in Minnehaha Creek and on the park's trails. There also will be live entertainment, environmentally friendly crafts, interactive storytelling and animal demonstrations.

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