The inside story on inside fun; Children: The young and the restless do not have to wait until spring to stretch out both mentally and physically


The weather outside may be frightful, and the kids inside aren't that much better. What's a parent to do?

Get thee to an indoor playground! When you are inside, it doesn't matter what Mother Nature is up to.

Of course, taking the kids to an indoor "playground" can also be an educational experience. Just don't tell the kids, or it might take away from their fun just a bit. The word playground is loosely used here.

What may really be a museum to big people can be a place that is loads of fun to the young set. Still, there are some places where indoor playgrounds are just what you are getting.

Rachel Adams, 4, scampers around a large sandbox while learning to negotiate share-time with other children. She is at the hands-on activity center called ExploraWorld in Columbia, which opened in July.

Her mom, Brenda Adams, says this is Rachel's third trip to ExploraWorld.

"This place is large enough that, although this is her third time here, there is still plenty for her to do. There are plenty of things she hadn't done before," Adams says. "It is a clean, safe environment, and all of the kids seem to get along with one another."

That is exactly the kind of thing Linda Black, one of the owners of ExploraWorld, loves to hear.

"When we did research and asked people what they wanted, we kept hearing, 'Make it big!' So we did," Black says. Explora-World is a spacious 24,000 square feet. The owners' goal was to combine a museum-like atmosphere with fun playrooms.

ExploraWorld consists of different themed "rooms" or areas divided by colorful low walls. The rooms include the Chesapeake Bay (where the sandboxes are), the Sports Arena (where there are air hockey and football-game machines and basketball hoops), the Computer Room and the Express Yourself Room (there is a dressing room where children change into costumes, then join others to view themselves on an overhead television screen).

"We get a lot of Spice Girls," Black says about the Express Yourself Room.

There's also a large red firetruck the children can climb around on. "That is the most popular one for both boys and girls," Black says, pointing to a few kids entertaining themselves on the truck.

The center area at Explora-World is a gazebo-like setting where parents can sit and keep an eye on their children as they scamper from area to area or settle in a particular one.

Kim Offutt's 4-year-old son, Scott, was also playing around in the sandbox.

"It's kind of nice that it is not so noisy in here like other places with all those machines clinging and clanging," Offutt says. "It's a different kind of noise. A nice noise."

Taking off

There are other indoor places to take kids, and one that may not immediately come to mind is Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which can be both fun and educational for little ones. You don't have to be arriving or leaving to take advantage of what the building has to offer. And what it has to offer for children is primarily the BWI Observation Gallery.

On a recent early morning, the Observation Gallery was nearly empty, and the place was just begging for little ones to come and enjoy themselves.

On the upper level of the Observation Gallery, there is a replica of the nose section of a Boeing 737-200 plane. There is also a Smithsonian Museum shop on that level, as well as an interesting picture gallery with all sorts of flight information, from how the weather influences takeoffs to air-traffic control.

Of course, there are panoramic views of planes landing and taking off.

On the lower level of the deck, there is also a very kid-friendly area with large, colorful objects youngsters can climb over and in.

After you have your fill of that and of watching planes land and take off, stroll over to the International Terminal. In the long corridor leading to the terminal, there is a gallery of tidbits about Maryland aviation history that should prove interesting to older kids and adults as well.

On the "Aviation and Space History" wall in the corridor are photos of the first African-American-owned and -operated airport in the United States, the Columbia Air Center. It opened in 1941 in the town of Croom in Prince George's County. The Air National Guard is also represented in a photograph. According to the text, in 1916, Maryland had one of the first, if not the earliest, Air National Guard units in the United States.

Another photo is of Henson Aviation. It is a Hagerstown-based commercial operation that began in 1931 and still services smaller cities in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

More to explore

There are any number of other indoor places to bring the children whether the weather is nice or not so nice, including the many Discovery Zones.

Of course, the biggest indoor place for children is the new Port Discovery Children's Museum. The $32 million museum opened in Baltimore last December. There's a three-story-high jungle gym in the middle of the museum and exhibits and educational experiences throughout the three levels. More than 2,500 paid visitors showed up on opening day.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Maryland Science Center, both at the Inner Harbor, also have a variety of hands-on exhibits geared to children.

Here's a guide to these and other places to take the kids:

Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Observation Deck, between Piers B and C

When: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Cost: Free (except for parking)

Call: 410-859-7111

Chesapeake Children's Museum, Festival at Riva Road shopping center, Riva Road and Forest Drive, Annapolis

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily except Wednesdays, when museum is open only to groups

Cost: $3 for ages 1 and up; $6 for classes

Call: 410-266-0677

ExploraWorld, off Route 175 and Dobbin Road, Columbia

When: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Cost: $6.95, children ages 2 and older; $3.95 for 1-year-olds; free for babies; $2 for adults

Call: 410-772-1540

Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., Baltimore, Inner Harbor

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $9.75; $8 seniors, military personnel and ages 13-18; $7 ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and under

Call: 410-685-5225

National Aquarium in Baltimore, Pier 3, 501 E. Pratt St., Inner Harbor

When: February hours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; March through June, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday

Cost: $14; $7.50 children ages 3-11; free for children under 3

Call: 410-576-3800

Port Discovery, 35 Market Place, Baltimore

When: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily

Cost: $10; $7.50 for kids; group rates also available. A two-person annual membership is $40; a four-person membership, $65. Call: 410-727-8120

Pub Date: 02/18/99

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