- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Budding astronauts, emerging beauty experts and toddlers who just like to rocket from toy to toy will enjoy a visit to Explore and Moore Children’s Discovery Museum in Woodbridge, Va.

Explore and Moore is a low-key way to pass a rainy day. OK, it’s not the Smithsonian — “museum” is a lofty word for this warren of rooms in an office park. However, the children playing there on a recent morning were having more fun with the dress-up clothes and electronic parts than they would have had viewing the Hope diamond.

Explore and Moore, which opened in 2001, is a place where youngsters are encouraged to touch and climb and test things. The museum fills the void — on a smaller scale — left when Rockville’s Imagine That closed a few years ago.

In the first room are a big sandbox and a dinosaur-dig pit, where archaeology enthusiasts can get down to business. Between the two is a junior-size climbing wall for preschoolers through about age 9.

Next door is the place for drama queens (and kings, too). The room holds dozens of costumes and hats to transform youngsters into police officers, fairy princesses and the like. The room also has a large rack of hand puppets, a cute puppet theater stage and chairs arranged theater-style so children can entertain their parents with on-the-spot productions.

On a recent morning, Krista Kimble and Sheryl Thorpe, both of Haymarket, Va., stopped by with four children, ranging from an infant to an 11-year-old.

“I am a teacher,” Mrs. Kimble said. “I love the whole imagination play thing. The kids really loved the costumes.”

More chances to be imaginative are found on the other side of the building, too. That’s where visitors will find the combination beauty shop and ballet studio. The shop is outfitted with cast-off salon chairs and other accouterments. Children can pretend to wash and blow dry, cut, style and manicure here. When they are finished, they can don tutus and step up to the barre to prepare for a pretend performance.

The medical center is also a popular spot. The room is outfitted with an exam chair, X-rays, scales, crutches, stethoscopes and other real medical instruments. On a recent morning, a group of preschoolers were giving their baby sitter a thorough checkup.

Science is given its due here as well. There is a space command center, where visitors can step inside a mock-up module to press buttons and plan a mission. The darkened room is lit by black lights, so children get a kick out of seeing teeth and white socks glow.

A magnet table lets young scientists rearrange metal objects. Older children love the table with discarded electronics. Here, they can put on goggles and gloves and are encouraged to dismantle VCR parts or reconnect the parts as whatever they can envision.

The museum has a zoetrope machine where children can watch as their own drawings are turned into cartoons. The museum staff hands out blank cartoon-panel strips of paper. Children head to the supply of crayons to sketch a series of drawings. Thread it trough the cylinder and spin — and the drawing comes to life as a silent movie. Recent highlights included SpongeBob doing a dance and a stick of cartoon dynamite blowing up.

For the youngest visitors, a toddler room features small climbing toys and blocks. They will enjoy the bubble corner, where they can dip their little hands in the water or blow bubbles at several stations.

The museum is an excellent space for parents, who in other venues often spend the time chasing children from room to room. It is small and safe enough to keep an eye on several children at once without working up a sweat.

There also is a centrally located party room where grown-ups can take a load off if they just can’t go through that mock dental exam one more time.

When you go:

Location: Explore and Moore Children’s Discovery Museum is located at 12904 Occoquan Road, Woodbridge, Va.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 95 south to Exit 160 (Route 123 north). Make a left onto Old Bridge Road, then a right onto Occoquan Road. The museum is in the first office-park driveway on the right.

Hours: The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Parking: Free parking is available in the parking lot.

Admission: $5 per person; children younger than 2 are admitted free.

Notes:

• Explore and Moore is an eclectic, hands-on discovery space located in an office park. A wide range of activities will keep toddlers through grade-schoolers busy for a few hours. Most of the areas — including a dress-up room, a space room and a mock beauty shop — encourage imaginative play.

• Group rates and birthday party packages are available.

• A party room where visitors can eat and drink is available, although they must bring their own snacks.

More information: 703/492-2222 or www.exploreandmoore.com.

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