- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

Tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Annapolis is the Chesapeake Children’s Museum — a place devoted to encouraging creative learning and play more than showcasing see-but-don’t-touch artifacts with reams of accompanying text.

“Learning is not about sitting down and hearing someone talk,” says Deborah Wood, executive director and founder of the museum, which has been in its current location for about five years. “Anyone can memorize and regurgitate. … What we try to encourage is creative problem-solving,” says Mrs. Wood, who holds a doctorate in human development. “This museum is created and modeled after how children learn.”

For example, in the “Centerstage” exhibit — one of the eight exhibits in the 3,000-square-foot museum — children and their caregivers are invited to play dress-up and put on plays and musical performances. But what happens if a desired outfit is missing or someone else is using it? Where does the young performer go from there?

“That’s where creative problem-solving comes in,” Mrs. Wood says. “If I want a certain hat for storytelling and it’s not there, what can I use instead to get the same idea and feeling across?”

Another important aspect of any children’s museum, says Mrs. Woods, is that it’s welcoming not only to children, but adults, too. Most exhibit spaces at the museum have chairs for adults, so they can be as comfortable as the children they’re accompanying.

“That’s our ultimate goal — that the exhibits invite the adult and child to work together; that they incorporate the different generations,” Mrs. Wood says.

While the museum, which gets up to 15,000 visitors a year, is open to children of all ages, Mrs. Wood says toddlers and preschoolers seem to be the most natural fit.

“They come in and they know exactly what to do,” she says. “A 7-year-old, on the other hand, might look around and think, ‘This is for babies.’ ”

Some exhibits though — such as the “Bay Window,” which features dozens of local animals, including turtles and snakes — go over well with all ages, she says. None of the exhibits has much in the way of information text, although some of the terrariums are accompanied by a few words about a specific animal.

The text that accompanies the painted turtle, Wishbone, for example, says that she will live about 20 years and that she likes to eat shrimp, plants and small fish.

Another exhibit, which has some informational text, is the NASA-sponsored exhibit “Everything Under the Sun,” which tells the story of our relationship with the sun throughout history. Included is information about the Aztec calendar, Stonehenge and this interesting tidbit: If you pretend the sun is a hollow ball, you can fill it with 1 million Earths.

Next to the sun exhibit is the “Watermen” exhibit, which features a landlocked fishing boat onto which children can climb and pretend they’re fishermen. They can dress in slickers and life vests if they wish.

“Around the World Colombia,” which is one room over, features a marketplace complete with plastic produce and baskets as well as plates and cups.

Mrs. Wood says the under-2 crowd likes this exhibit a lot.

“They learn about shapes and colors and how their hands work,” Mrs. Wood says. “They also work on socialization skills and parallel play.”

The “Express Yourself” area features glue, scissors, pencils, stickers, markers and other materials that invite children to make arts and crafts.

Mrs. Wood says that most visitors spend about two hours at the museum and that on nice days they also can enjoy the museum playground, picnic tables, wooden climb-on sculptures by Jacquin Smolens and the abutting 5-acre Spa Creek Conservancy, which has trails and wildlife, including rabbits, beavers and osprey.

“As parents, we think we have to buy the latest and greatest in educational experiences and tools,” Mrs. Wood, “but it’s the simple [and often cheap] things that children like.”

The Chesapeake Children’s Museum, which is expected to expand to include a woodworking shop, a kitchen and a sewing studio, charges $3 a person.

“The concept of a children’s museum is still new to people,” she says, “but we feel that we’re a success if people leave saying they’ve enjoyed time with their family.”


Location: The Chesapeake Children’s Museum is located at 25 Silopanna Road in Annapolis.

Directions: From the Beltway, take U.S. Route 50 east toward Annapolis. Take exit 22, Aris T. Allen Boulevard. Don’t exit onto Riva Road, but continue on Aris T. Allen Boulevard, which becomes Forest Drive. Make a slight left onto Hilltop Lane and another left onto Spa Road. Turn right onto Silopanna Road. The museum will be on the left.

Admission: $3 per person age 1 and older.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays, when the museum is reserved for groups of 10 or more.

Parking: Free parking available

Information: 410/990-1993 or www.theccm.org

Notes: The museum offers frequent family activities. May and June activities include the following:

• 10 a.m. to noon May 19, “How Does Your Garden Grow?” Free with admission. Open to children ages 1 and older.

• 10 a.m. to noon June 16, “Never Bring a Shark to School.” Free with admission. Open to children age 3 and older.

• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 24, “Summer Tea Party.” Free with admission. Open to children age 3 and older.

• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 27 and 30, “Bubble Festival.” Free with admission. Open to children age 3 and older.

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