- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

Little Sprouts Playtime Center is the best rec room in town. It’s a space that is open to the public but reminds visitors of going to a friend’s house — a friend with lots of space who doesn’t mind if you make a mess or take out every one of the ride-on toys, the Play-Doh and the blocks.

That is the vision Aletia Aazami had when she opened Little Sprouts in Gaithersburg two years ago. Ms. Aazami, the mother of two preschoolers, wanted to provide a place to play when it was too hot or cold to go to the playground.

“Having my own kids, I knew that during the winter and when it is really hot in the summer, there are limited places to take young children,” she says. “You can go stir crazy in the house.”

Little Sprouts keeps it casual. It is strictly drop-in — no need to register or commit upfront to an entire session. There is open play — when youngsters are free to roam from toy to toy as they please — as well as music, art and cooking classes. Fees generally are $10 per family, which keeps the price accessible enough for a whole minivan of preschoolers.

Discount package cards also are available.

Little Sprouts will appeal mainly to children younger than age 6 or so. The storefront center is kept immaculately clean, a selling point for moms who are trying to keep their children from catching every germ that gathers where there are groups of young children.

The place features the same type of items one would have in a home playroom — just more of them. It has plastic cars to drive and Little Tikes slides. It has a child-height train table and a Lego table. It has a reading nook, a couple of playhouses and a popular ball pit. There are blocks and a minitrampoline. There even are ready places for babies, such as Exersaucers.

Also important, there are plenty of places for moms, dads and other caregivers to sit down and relax while keeping their children in sight. Adults even are encouraged to bring in their own coffee (Starbucks is next door) and relax.

“It’s delightful here,” says Barbara Rubin of North Potomac. Mrs. Rubin frequently visits Little Sprouts with her grandson, Jeremy Zeloff, 3. “It is good for grandparents because it is a safe environment. It is easy to watch him here. I’m not worried about him getting hurt.”

Other visitors say they like Little Sprouts because it is one of the few places where they can take children who are different ages. Germantown’s Julie Kohler, who has a 3-year-old and an infant, says she started coming to Little Sprouts more often after Isabel was born five months ago.

“You can put a crawling baby on the floor here,” she says. “You can’t do that anywhere else.”

Belinda Russell of Rockville is in a similar situation. She brings Cailin, 1, and Ethan, 4, for the drop-in play.

“Not many classes will accept both of them,” she says of other playtime options.

In most cases, an adult must stay in the center with the children. For an additional charge, Little Sprouts offers a weekly Mom’s Morning Out program for children 2 and older. It also offers a Parent’s Night Out from 6 to 10 the first and third Fridays of the month.

Other special programs include birthday party rentals and tutoring help for children in grades one through six. Coming soon is a princess tearoom, which Ms. Aazami is predicting will be a hit with the little girls who visit Little Sprouts.

“We’re going to have glamorous tea parties,” she says.

When you go:

Location: Little Sprouts Playtime Center, 12243 Darnestown Road, Gaithersburg.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 270 and exit at Sam Eig Highway, turning left. Turn right on Great Seneca Highway and left onto Quince Orchard Road. Turn right onto Darnestown Road; Little Sprouts is in the Safeway Shopping Center.

Hours: Open play and program hours vary, but most programs are in the morning. Check the Little Sprouts Web site or call for information.

Admission: Cost is $10 per family. Classes such as music and movement are $15 per family (or a package of six classes for $80 or eight for $100). Parent’s Night Out and Mom’s Morning Out are $10 per hour and $16 per session, respectively.

Parking: Plenty of parking is available in the shopping center lot.

More information: 301/947-4356 or www.littlesproutsplay.com.

Notes: Little Sprouts Playtime Center is a storefront playroom that is a great diversion for parents with children younger than 6. The center has a selection of snacks for sale, and birthday party rentals are available.

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