One day a few weeks ago, Sasha asked if we could visit some animals. It was one of those 100-degree days, so the obvious places — the Zoo and area farms — were out. I thought about where else we might see some wildlife sans sweltering conditions and decided to take her to a nature center. And I figured it would be a good opportunity to check out one we hadn’t been to yet, so we headed to the Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. (After that intro, you’re probably wondering why the feature photo is outdoors. I’ll get to that!)
The indoor part of the center isn’t very big, but there are at least 10 terrariums where you can get a close look at snakes, turtles, frogs and toads.
Wall of Wildlife
Eye to eye with a turtle
Just off the main room is a small area with an indoor pond. An outdoors scene on the wall wraps around it, fish swim in the waters, and turtles hang out on the rocks along the sides. There is also a Discovery Room where kids can find nature-related toys and games, books, and activities.
Bringing the outdoors in
Busy in the Discovery Room
That was about it…in the indoors part, anyway. We saw everything in less than an hour, so I told Sasha we could take the “scenic route” on the way out and see the outdoor sights, despite feeling like we were in swampland. After having a look at a rescued owl out back, we followed a path to a small pond, where we could see turtles, small fish, and lots of dragon flies buzzing around. We skipped a hike on a longer path that winds through the woods — something to save for another day.
Off to explore
Captivated by pond activity
Ironically, we probably spent more time outdoors than we did inside (so much for staying cool!), but I guess the real thing is always better.
Long Branch Nature Center is located at 625 S. Carlin Springs Road in Arlington. Hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 1-5pm, closed Monday. Admission is free. They also host birthday parties for children ages 4 and up — see the website for info.
The Birthday Party. It seems to be a perennial topic among parents of young kids — what kind of bash to throw, where to host it, how many guests to invite. In fact, I’ve written about the very subject before and also find it comes up often in conversations with friends as well on my neighborhood parents’ list serv.
As mentioned last week, my kids just celebrated their birthdays, so I’ve recently done some more research on party ideas and venues in the area. As noted in my last post about parties, hosting at home isn’t really an option for us (or one I want to deal with, anyway). So, I’ve come up with even more recommendations for ways to celebrate kids’ birthdays in the DC area.
If you’ve been to any of these places and have any feedback to add, please do so in the comments section. And, of course, if you have suggestions for other party venues, feel free to share those as well.
Pump It Up
This seems to be the new “it” venue for preschool-age and older birthday parties. Two large rooms filled with inflatable slides, bounce houses, climbing walls, and obstacle courses, is like a kid’s wildest dream come true. Loud pop music plays in the background while partygoers jump, slide, climb, and crawl like someone has deemed them mayors of Fun Town and given them a key to the city. We went to our first birthday party here a few months ago, and within five minutes Owen asked if he could have his party there, too. Without even thinking, I said, “Definitely.” Luckily, the package is pretty reasonable, especially considering I got a two-in-one deal since my kids celebrated together, their birthdays being just two weeks apart. The classic 90-minute party on a weekend is $295 for up to 25 guests ($10 each for every guest beyond that) and includes an hour of playtime (30 minutes in each room), then 30 minutes of pizza and cake in the party room. Two pizzas and a bottle of soda are also included, and you can pay extra for more. The best part is that it’s minimal work for parents. Book the party, then all you have to do is send invites, let the staff know how many pizzas you need, bring a cake and goody bags (or pay extra to have them provided), then show up and have a blast. The closest locations to DC are both in Maryland — Lanham and Elkridge. The Elkridge venue offers two-hour parties at a slightly higher rate, and both offer weekday parties at much lower rates if you can plan on a day off from school. For more information about Pump It Up and their birthday party packages, see the website.
Many local parks have nature centers that welcome children to celebrate their birthdays with a nod to the great outdoors. And with some of the park’s most intriguing residents. Naturalist-led hikes or scavenger hunts and nature-inspired crafts are part of the party fun, but it’s the other guests of honor (besides the b-day kid) that are usually the biggest hits. Frogs, turtles, bugs, snakes, and rabbits are among the creatures that might make an appearance during the birthday bash. And most times, party guests get a chance to hold, or at least touch, them as they learn about the animal and its habitat. Rates vary by venue, but party packages range from $150 – $200, offering the special programs and use of facilities for 2 – 3 hours. While they provide the entertainment, the food and other supplies is generally up to you. I looked into a nature center party for the kids awhile back, but there seemed to be a 3-year-old age minimum for most (Sasha is only 2). If you’re interested in a nature-themed party, check out these places: Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton Watkins Nature Center in Upper Marlboro Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville Gulf Branch Nature Center in Arlington Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington
Old Maryland Farm
When we went to a birthday party at this educational farm at Watkins Regional Park last spring, the kids thought that checking out and feeding all the animals and birds shortly after we arrived was awesome. Little did they know the
Party pony rider at Old Maryland Farm
highlights would keep coming as every party guest got to take a pony ride, followed by a tractor-pulled hayride through the woods of the park. They definitely have the fun part down at Old Maryland Farm. Besides the farm-style thrills, they offer a facility for celebrating that includes several tables and seating for guests. You bring the food, drinks, decorations, and other party supplies. Call 301.218.6770 for more information, including rates (around $150-200) and party times. UPDATE: Pony rides are no longer offered for parties at Old Maryland Farm, but hayrides and visits with the animals still make it a really fun way to celebrate.
White Oak Duck Pin Lanes
The small pins and balls of duck pin are perfect for little bowlers, and the party packages at White Oak in Silver Spring are pretty ideal, too. Along with one hour of bowling (with bumpers to help out beginner bowlers), you get shoe rental for all guests, one hour in a party room, and food and drinks for $13/party guest. There is also a non-food package available for $10/guest. There is an eight person minimum, and you are only allowed to bring cake and ice cream, no other food or drinks. Table decorations and pinatas are also permitted. Read more about the venue and their parties on the White Oak website.
Is your child the next Julia or Wolfgang? Or maybe they like to assume sous chef in your kitchen? If so, then this party is right up their galley. Tiny Chefs will literally help you cook up a birthday celebration for your kid. An instructor will come to your home and guide guests through an entire meal preparation, starting with chef hat decorating. You choose an entrée and dessert or appetizer from their menu, and they’ll bring all the supplies to prepare the meal with the kids. While the food cooks, the group will decorate their own placemats and have fun as they await their meal. The grand finale of the of the bash is getting to enjoy their efforts. Parties are tailored to kids in two age groups: 4-8 and 9-14. Pricing starts at $35/child with a minimum of eight children and a max of 15. For more information, visit the Tiny Chefs website.
Synetic Family Theatre
Young theatre buffs will love a party at Synetic Family Theatre. Three kinds of party packages are available: Package A includes a performance along with an autographed poster and birthday wishes from the actors (if you live nearby, you can do the cake at home). Cost is just the ticket prices, which are reduced to $10 for groups of 10 or more. Package B includes a performance then a celebration in the studio around the corner; you bring cake and refreshments. The rate is $100 plus cost of theatre tickets. Package C is a combo of Packages A & B, plus a 20-minute drama workshop and theatre games. Rates start at $160 plus the cost of theatre tickets. More details are available on the Synetic Family Theatre website.
Take the birthday kid out to the ball game! The Nationals don’t offer a set party package, but the local minor league team, Bowie Baysox, does. Two options are available: The Grand Slam Birthday Bash, which includes 10 tickets (additional tix are $22/each), space on the birthday deck, a one-hour food buffet, access to games at in the kids’ park, and special treats for the guest of honor. Cost is $239. The Bullpen Buddies Bash includes 10 tickets (additional tix are $10), game tickets for the kids’ park, and special treats for the birthday honoree. Cost is $159.
A couple of companies in the area offer rock climbing birthday parties. Kids ages 6 and up can reach new heights at Sportrock, which has locations in Alexandria and Sterling. They offer a package that includes 90 minutes of climbing time and 45 minutes in a party room to celebrate. A minimum of eight and a max of 20 can participate, and the cost is $25/guest. Earth Treks in Columbia and Rockville also hosts parties for kids of all ages and abilities. Rates start at $225 for up to 10 kids (parties can include up to 30, and rates adjust accordingly) and include a private climbing area plus two hours of climbing. A table and table cloth are provided to serve refreshments buffet style, but you bring the food and drinks. Kids receive a Certificate for Incredible Climbing and two Earth Treks stickers, and favor bags with more goodies are also available for purchase.
Trapeze School New York in Washington, DC
This one is a splurge, but it comes with big time — and big top – fun. As the name indicates, the flying trapeze is the main attraction, but party guests can enjoy even more circus-style fun — juggling, stilts, acrobatics, and more. Located in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood adjacent to the new Yards Park, the Trapeze School hosts parties for children ages 5 and up. Rates start at $550 for 10 guests. You supply the food and drinks; while the school does not offer catering, they do provide space to set up a celebration area. Like I said, it’s not cheap, but it does sound like a huge thrill. For more information, call the Trapeze School office at 410-459-6839.