Two volunteers carried a small, white dinghy into Room 106 at Odenton Elementary School, and soon three children clambered into it.
"I'm getting some fish for dinner," announced Noelle Modly, 4 1/2 , of Davidsonville, as she pulled on an anchor line and her brother, Zachary, 2, tried to set the boat rocking.
Nearby, their mother, Robyn Modly, helped set up exhibits for today's grand opening of the Chesapeake Children's Museum at the school.
The museum seeks to provide a place where children can play and learn with their parents, says its president, Deborah Wood. The museum has no permanent home yet, but until Aug. 6 it will operate out of five borrowed rooms at the school.
"I want to make a place where parents and children can do something together," said Ms. Wood, a childhood development specialist who counsels parents and offers parenting classes.
One room will be set up for babies up to age 2. Another is designed for older toddlers. There will be an art room, a computer lab, and a science lab. A different theme will be stressed each week, such as travel, dinosaurs and health.
Children can learn to cook. They can dabble in a water table filled with toys depicting sea life. They can play with a stethoscope and learn about what doctors do. They can paint and create sculptures.
"This is just the epitome of child development activities," said Ms. Modly, an educator who works with Ms. Wood. "It fosters creativity at every stage of a child's development."
Ms. Wood said she became excited about children's museums after visiting the Capital Children's Museum in Washington.
"This three-story building was full of things people could play with and not get in trouble with," she said. "A child can't misbehave in a children's museum."
Ms. Wood, 38, began her career as an early childhood educator, then earned a master's degree in elementary school counseling.
But after she saw how badly disturbed some children were by the age of 10, she said, she decided she could best help kids by teaching their parents better parenting skills before problems started.
The Chesapeake Children's Museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturdays.
General admission is $4 per person, "including awake babies," according to a museum fact sheet. Special workshops will cost an extra $2. A 12-visit pass will cost $36, and reduced rates are available for groups and family child-care providers with identification.
Programs will be given Saturday mornings and afternoons, featuring performers such as a Native American dancer, an Irish folk musician, and a group of gymnasts.
The museum has received a $1,000 grant from the Maryland Arts Council to help pay the performers. Ms. Wood has applied for other grants.
She said the museum will have to attract an average of 180 visitors a day to break even. That goal is reachable, she said, because more than 400 people already have signed up for the museum's mailing list. Eleven field trips from day-care centers have been scheduled, with an average of 40 children each. About 25 people volunteer for the museum.
Ms. Wood views this summer's Odenton residency as a five-week learning period.
"If we can prove there's enough community interest, then we can get corporate sponsorship," she said.
She said she hopes the museum can open year-round beginning this fall, in rented quarters in Annapolis.