- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

We used to go to museums for culture, art, science and history. In fact, when we left sunny Florida for muggy Washington, D.C., one of the big draws was culture.

But now we’re parents, and priorities have changed. Over the past few months, as our 16-month-old Little Viking’s energy level has increased by about a thousand times, we no longer go to the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building to learn about the genome project or the arts and crafts of Scotland.

We go there to run off some energy, which results in better naps and ultimately a more harmonious Little Viking.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Both exhibits looked great during the 2 minutes we devoted to them. Most of the time, however, our eyes were glued to the Little Viking, who happily explores the 80,000-square-foot exhibit space on foot.

Critics of the practice of taking children to museums might say exhibits are designed for an older audience. They might be right, but the Arts and Industries Building is not the kind of museum where hoity-toity people quietly whisper their approval or disapproval of artwork.

It’s a bustling place, where a coffee shop and a museum store are smack in the middle of four wings of exhibit space. There is nothing quiet or serene about this place.

Also, many of the exhibits have interactive features, including computers, which beep and talk and make more noise than any toddler ever could.

The National Air and Space Museum is much the same, but its exhibit space is twice as large. The Little Viking devotes a few moments to such grand pieces as the original Wright 1903 Flyer and the Apollo 11 command module. He looks, points and smiles. But then we’re off walking, or unsteadily jogging, toward some unknown destination, which could be anything from the gift shop to an escalator.

The National Museum of Natural History is another good one for young children. Again, it’s not a noiseless place, and there is plenty of space to walk around and practice easy words such as “bird” and “bug” while looking at the actual animal. We also practice “chirp” and “buzz” sounds because these exhibit animals aren’t very animated.

The only downside with Natural History if you’re there to get in some mileage — as we are — is that it’s so crowded. In fact, it’s one of the world’s most popular museums, hosting about 9 million visitors a year.

While these museums are fantastic and we hope to continue the tradition of visiting them frequently as the Little Viking gets older and actually can start to retain some of the great information they provide, we obviously can’t go to museums every day.

If the weather is bad, we sometimes take the Little Viking for walks in the grocery store during non-peak hours. He loves the colorful packaging and walks up and down the aisles over and over again.

Libraries and shopping malls are other options for walking or jogging in a contained, weatherproof place.

We have heard about movie theaters that allow babies. It’s a cute idea, but we can’t see how that would work with a wound-up toddler.

Inside our small house, it’s almost impossible for the little guy to wear himself out adequately, even if he climbs on everything, including his highchair, the dining room table and the stairs (under supervision, of course).

Most days, when it’s not raining the way it did thanks to Hurricane Isabel, we take the Little Viking to a nearby park and its playground, which is a pleasant activity for all of us, including Loke, our 90-pound dog.

We can spend up to two hours in the park without the Little Viking getting tired or bored. There are lawns, slides and climbers for play and, of course, other children for interaction.

It may sound as if these outings are all fun and games, which they are for the most part, but they also are exhausting. We used to think we were physically fit parents — running, hiking and biking regularly — but keeping up with the Little Viking has caused us to re-evaluate. We’re barely semifit.

Nevertheless, we do feel good about instilling the “healthy mind in a healthy body” concept at this early stage. The more immediate payoff for all this activity is the ultimate goal of any parent: a tired and content child who takes his naps and wakes up happy.

Gabriella Boston and her husband welcomed their “Little Viking” in May 2002. Send e-mail to gboston@washingtontimes.com.

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