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Kids Birthday Party Ideas in Howard County MD

Kids Birthday Party Ideas in Maryland.

SEE MY LIST OF 53+ IDEAS FOR KID’S BIRTHDAY PARTIES AROUND HOWARD COUNTY BELOW – UPDATED March 27, 2020.

Wondering what to do for a birthday party during quarantine? Consider an iparty. For example, Idea Lab has STEM iparties.

There are so many great location options for indoor and outdoor birthday parties for kids in Howard County. I have compiled a list of birthday party ideas–some of the party places are popular, but others more unusual, creative, and even a few unique ideas.

Please note that these are not paid listings–this is simply my own list of birthday party places. I have added the birthday venues here because I have used them for my own kids, been to a party there, or have it on authority from other parents.

There are few “negative” recommendations in the list below too–places that might be popular go-tos, but like the bouncy birthday parties mentioned above, they should be avoided.

Again, all of the recommendations are my own, and I am not paid by the venues listed.  This post does contain sponsored links to party favors Amazon.com. Hopefully you’ll find the party favor ideas helpful, but they aren’t related to why I chose each location.

(Please also see my post about what to give out as party favors and if you’re looking for some great gift ideas, see my post Gift Ideas for Brainy Kids!)

Since I live in Howard County Maryland, this list of indoor and outdoor places to have children’s birthday parties pertains specifically to this area, but many of the things in the list would apply to anywhere USA–you just have to look around for a similar venue in your area.

Let me know what you think of this party list–since this is one of the busiest posts on my blog, idea contributions are very welcomed!

I also have created a similar birthday place list for Anne Arundel County and party places for kids in Baltimore County as well.

List of places to have kids birthday parties:

  1. Nature Centers (Ages 2-10)
    Howard County Conservancy birthday parties are great

    Offers some great birthday party options that aren’t overdone.  Great for toddlers and older kids alike. Not many people have their parties at a nature center, but they’re really quite nice…and educational.In Howard County, we have two nature centers that offer parties:  Robinson Nature Center and Howard County Conservancy.
    There are lots of party options to enjoy. For example, a great fall birthday party idea would be a campfire party at the Howard County Conservancy.  A naturalist leads the kids through activities and making s’mores.Robinson Nature Center offers several different kinds of parties at different price points mostly for ages 2 and up.

    For instance they have a nature puppet theater party, a butterfly party, a nature hike party, or even a full-dome movie party in the planetarium which looks like it would be a blast!

    All of this means that these nature centers are a wonderful place for a 5th birthday party all the way up to maybe 10th or 11th birthday. Parties range in price from $325 to $400 at this writing and party rooms are available.

    ✳Nature Center Party Favor Ideas: Bamboo PlantsMiracle Grow Seed Pods, Tickle Plant SeedsBinoculars

  2. Farm Birthday Parties  (Ages 2-8)
    Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City is very popular. In the fall, you could consider an apple or berry harvest party at Larriland farm (Ages 2-12)–check the harvest calendar to see what is ripe.  Educational and fun–plus the pickings are the party favor. Clark’s Elioak Farm is definitely a great standby party venue for toddlers.

    Breezy Hill Farm (Ages 2-8) – Breezy Hill’s biggest draw is its alpaca herd, although they also have rabbits, goats, sheep and chickens. Take a tour of this working farm with your group.This will be especially fun for a toddler party, but certainly 8-year-olds and younger will have a great time…really this should be enjoyable for anyone. Alpacas are gentle, graceful animals and you may be able to get one to pose with your party group.
    Party Favor Ideas: Straw HatsTickle Plant Seeds, Succulent Plants

Need unusual gift ideas for the birthday boy or girl? See my list of educational present ideas for kids. (Opens in a new tab)

  1. Zip Lining and Tree Adventures (Ages 8 and older)
    Birthday Party Places in Maryland - Zip Line Party

    Sandy Spring Adventure Park and Terrapin Adventures. Outdoor adventure parties in the trees are very cool.  Kids must be at least 8 to be able to participate in a treetop party at Sandy Spring Adventure Park, but if you’re looking for a place that will keep older kids busy, this is for you.

    These are great parties for 13 year olds, even sweet sixteens…Sandy Spring Adventure Park is just outside Howard County, while Terrapin Adventures is in Savage, Md near Savage Mill.

    Kids will enjoy being challenged at both venues, however I think Sandy Spring Adventure Park has a more extensive course. Definitely recommended. Party packages at Sandy Spring Adventure Park may include party favors.
    Party Favor Ideas: Carabiners

  2. Craft and Painting Parties (Ages 4-13)
    Pottery painting birthday party

    Michael’s craft store parties (price depends on craft chosen) and Joann Fabrics Parties are relatively popular and their stores all seem to have some sort of party room.  There are also several pottery painting businesses around.The parties center on the kids creating and/or painting a piece of pottery. Another great option is the Columbia Art Center. They have preset parties that look like great fun in a nice atmosphere. They have a variety of available party themes (even Minecraft!) and parties can be on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.

    In Ellicott City, there is the Pottery Stop which is a combination coffee shop and ceramics studio–they have a small party room.If you are bringing a small group of kids (maybe 5 or less), you may be able to just “drop in” to the store and make your own party there.

    You are allowed to bring in outside food although they do offer a few snacks and a full coffee/hot chocolate menu. There is a Qdoba restaurant next door to the Pottery Stop, so you can get quesadillas or tacos there and bring them into the Pottery Stop.Unless you setup a birthday party package, there are no reservations, so you have to be careful to pick a day and time when they aren’t likely to be so busy that you won’t find a table for your party. You may want to call and ask what the most strategic times to set your party, but probably the safest time is right at opening time.For example, we had a party there the weekend before Valentine’s Day in the mid-afternoon and it was quite busy, we were lucky to get a table for 4. Still, the children had a really good time.

    The added bonus is that the item the kids paint is also the party favor. Note that it takes a week for them to fire the kids’ creations in the kiln, so plan to come back and pick up the items and then distribute them back to their owners.

    If you’re in Laurel or Maple Lawn, or in the Northern side of Montgomery County, you might find Burning Down the House in Fulton a more convenient place for a pottery party. I’ve driven past it enough on Scaggsville Road, but I have never been there.Yet another option is Pinot’s Pallet in Elliott City. This is a great place to hold a painting party for kids (or adults!).

    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tabletsPutty Balls

  1. Race Car Driving (Ages 5+)
    go-cart-birthday-party
    Autobahn Indoor Go Cart Speedway
      in Jessup Maryland. Looks like a blast with exclusive track time for your party.  Kids five and up will love this place.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Racers
  2. Indoor Pool Parties (Ages 2+)
    indoor pool birthday partiesKid’s First Swim School, Columbia Association, Lifetime Fitness, or Goldfish Swim School. About $250 for an hour of swimming and an hour of party room use.  There are also other venues that offer kid’s pool parties.

    If you’re a member of Lifetime Fitness, they also do a good job (see below) and offer a competitive package.  Kids love pools and especially if you have a winter birthday, an indoor pool party is a welcome reminder of summer fun.  Party favors might include swim goggles or water toys.  One tip would be to have one parent stay dry while the other gets in the pool with the kids–this way you have your bases covered.

    The Columbia Association has pool parties and I generally do NOT recommend parties there because of crowding at the Columbia Swim Center indoor pool. Although there are some fun aspects to the splashdown attraction, they do not control the number of kids, which can be no fun. I would only recommend this party for older kids on off hours.

    If you’re in Ellicott City, you may want to consider having your pool party at the Roger Carter Center. They offer reasonably priced party packages.

    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Water Toys, Goggles, Flip-Flop Keychains, Hawaiian Flower Leis, Hibiscus Flower Hair Clips

[Need an kid’s allowance and chore reward solution? Check out my review of FamZoo Debit Cards for Kids]

      1. Indoor Playground Party (Ages 2-7)
        Play Date Junction (Elkridge, Md) and Hyperkids (Snowden River Parkway in Columbia) Play Date Junction is part gym, part indoor playground, part learning kitchen. Hyperkids in Columbia is similar. These are both great places to host a birthday party for younger children.
      2. ballet BDPBallet and Dance Parties (Ages 2-10).
        This is a no-brainer for young girls, but boys can have fun at dance parties too.  Most of the time, the gyms will give you a choice as to the style of dance you’d like the kids to learn as part of the celebration so instead of ballet you might do a jazz or even hip hop birthday. For ballet parties, girls will enjoy dressing up like prima ballerinas. Pricing varies about $130 at Joyful Motion Dance Studio in Savage Mill. Also, check with Turning Point Dance Academy in Elkridge, Md.
        ✳Ballet Party Favor Ideas: Flashlights, Jump Ropes, Streamer Wands, Lucky Bamboo Plants
      3. Gymnastics Parties (Ages 2-8)
        Gymnastics BDP Places
        There are plenty of places to hold gymnastics parties.  One of the best experiences I’ve had was at My Gym in Columbia, MD.  The staff was attentive and the kids had a great time–unfortunately their prices are kind of high.
        You may also want to check out Top Flight Gymnastics on Redland Road in Ellicott City or KidsTime.Live in Laurel. These are great party locations for toddlers and younger kids.
        Locations: Columbia, Ellicott City, Laurel, other locations around Howard County
        ✳Gymnastics Party Favor Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces, Jump Ropes

            •  Build-A-Bear (Ages 2-7)
              build a bear annapolis mall
              This will cost you about $20/kid and they have a six kid minimum. Very good experience  with four and five year olds.  There is a build-a-bear location in Columbia Mall.  When we had our party there, we had birthday cake first in the food court.  We got to the mall early enough to reserve some tables for the party guests…and it worked out fine.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Bubbles, Squishies
            • Lifetime Fitness Parties (Ages 4+)
              They offer parties with a rock wall, swimming, basketball etc… – Cost is about $275 for 2 hours including pizza and drinks.  The fee covers 12 guests.  Additional kids are $20/each extra. (Prices can vary by gym location!)  Extra pizzas for adults are $10/each. Two party coordinators are included and they do a great job of making sure everything is going well…they even set up your decorations for you (you have to provide decorations, plates, napkins, party favor bags, etc). If you are a Lifetime Fitness member, I would recommend the parties there.  (Read my review of lifetime fitness). Here is the information sheet Lifetime Fitness gives you when you want to book a party. The parties here would be appropriate for kids as old as 10-12 years old, even older teenagers.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Glowstick eyeglasses, Sports Scope Games, EOS lip balm.
            • Idea Lab Parties (Ages: 4+)
              Birthday Party Place - STEM Ellicott City - Route 108
              Have a STEM-related birthday party in Columbia at the Idea Lab. This is so nerdy. Lots of possible party themes for kids to have a great time: Jedi training, video production, minecraft, slime, cooking/baking…and much more.

              This is the place to have a nerdfest of a party. Located off Red Branch Road/Route 108 (near Shadowland).
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Puzzle Cube Set

            • Bowling Parties (Ages 5+)
              birthday bowling party

              Duck pins are better for younger kids if there is a duck pin alley nearby.  Those are rare.  Around here I know there are duck pins in Silver Spring and Mt. Airy.

              You can always go for the larger pin bowling allies but I think it is less fun with the kids even with the lighter 6 pound balls and gutter bumpers the kids still have alot of trouble.I especially don’t recommend the Normandy bowling alley that’s off of Snowden River in Columbia.  Although it is a relatively nice alley, all the above problems apply, but then as part of the package they give the kids tokens for the game room.  That leads to huge frustration as there aren’t really any games young kids can even play! New: MainEvent in Columbia mall. The place looks like fun.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Rubberband Helicopters or Rocket Copters

            • Rock Climbing Age Range (6+)
              ClimbZone (301-317-1970) in Laurel or Earth Treks (Ages 5+)

              Indoor climbing wall birthday party - climb zone
              The bookcase climbing wall at
              Climbzone

              ClimbZone (301-317-1970)

              Compared to Earth Treks, the atmosphere at ClimbZone is less serious and more fun. They have done a fantastic job of making it less serious but making the climbing walls into interesting sculptures and objects, rather than the same old walls. For example, they have a wall that looks like Mount Rushmore and another one that’s a replica of a gigantic bookcase. Kids love it.

              All of their walls have auto-belay so you don’t have to worry about having someone paying attention and belaying the kids. This is a huge advantage, especially because kids 6 and up will likely be able to hook themselves in to any wall and start climbing! They also have some bouncy houses and slides for younger kids. There are party rooms available in this very new facility.

              Earth Treks (Columbia Location – 410-872-0060)

              Earth Trek’s rock climbing facility offers kids birthday parties — locations in Rockville, Columbia and Timonium.  Pricing as of this writing is $225 for 1-10 participants and $325 for 11-15 participants at the Columbia, MD location.  (Lifetime fitness also offers rock climbing parties but you have to be a member)  Earth Treks has a few “party rooms” that have their own climbing walls.  I’ve been to a party here for five year olds and it worked very well–the kids had a great time.  They provided four climbing instructors who put the harnesses on the kids and belayed them.  Very nice.

    Need unusual gift ideas for the birthday boy or girl? See my list of educational present ideas for kids. (Opens in a new tab)
              1. Roller Skating  (Ages 5+)
                roller skating party
                The Laurel Roller Rink (Laurel on Route 1 in Howard County – 301-725-8070) and the Supreme Sports Club Skating Arena (Columbia off Snowden River- 410-381-5355)  both offer great kids birthday parties.Laurel Skating rink offers parties that start at $110 for 11 skaters (additional skaters $11/each). This is a bargain and includes ice cream cups, plates, napkins and spoons. Plus skate rental for all of the party skaters, and a free pass to skate next time for the birthday girl or boy.  You can bring cake, but outside food isn’t permitted, so you may need to make arrangements for other food with the rink.
              2. Roller skating birthday party prices
                Laurel Roller Skating Center Birthday Party Prices as of March 2017

                Private parties are available as well, but at a much higher price point. A 2-hour session on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for up to 50 skaters/2 hours is $450+.

                Supreme Sports Club offers private skating parties for $600.  Regular parties held during a public session are more like $250 and include pizza and cake for 10 kids. They often have several parties going on at the same time and they don’t have a separate party room–they just spread the parties out over various areas of the roller skating rink.
                If you’ve got a girl between the ages of 10-13, they also offer a sleepover party. See below.
                Locations: Laurel, Columbia
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Fishnet Gloves, Personalized Thank You Stickers, Glow Sticks

              3. Indoor Obstacle Course (Ages 6+)
                Ninjabe Birthday party review

                NOT RECOMMENDED because of safety concerns. This is a relative newcomer in Columbia. Ninjabe recently opened. It provides an indoor warrior obstacle course (think “American Gladiator”), inflatable obstacle course, small climbing walls, and there’s even a mechanical bull. Kids seem to find this place to be quite a bit of fun.
                They provide a welcomed place for parents to watch (or ignore) the goings ons- the “parent zen room.” It’s a party that includes a cardio workout. Party rooms and party hosts are provided. I thought the place was pretty good overall, but I couldn’t escape the “birthday party factory” feel.I don’t recommend NinjaBe because kids get hurt there. I recently requested information from Howard County Fire and Rescue and was told that from 10/10/2018 – 10/11/2019, they were called there 13 times. That’s just the ambulance calls — injuries that were bad enough to require paramedics. I know 2 people who have been hurt here–one required surgery for a broken ankle.

                There are definitely many more people who make their way to the emergency room without an ambulance. Just something to keep in mind when you sign the waiver for your child here or invite other people’s children.
                Location: Columbia, Maryland
                ✳Party Favor IdeasLED Bumpy Ring, Mini LED carabiner Flashlights

              4. Ice Skating (Ages 5+)
                There are ice rinks around the county, but two in particular stand out.  The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, MD and the Columbia Association Ice Rink in Columbia MD both offer a birthday party package.
                Locations: Laurel, Columbia
                ✳Ice Skating Party Favor Ideas: Squirmels, Friendship Bracelets
              5. Laser Tag (Ages 5+)
                laser tag party
                Shadowland in Ellicott City (410-740-9100) and LaserXP in Laurel (410) 833-6611).   Laser tag parties are always a favorite with kids of any age. Shadowland in Ellicott City/Columbia is located on Red Branch Road just off Route 108. They have four party rooms and do a good job of making the party easy for parents. The parties consist of two laser tag games that take about 20 minutes each, and the rest of the time in the party room for a total of two hours. There’s also a very nice arcade at this location.

                At LaserXP, you can actually buyout the whole place for your birthday party–expensive option, but one that isn’t available at Shadowland. They will typically have another birthday party going on a the same time as yours, and you will probably end up battling the other party in a game of tag.
                Locations: Laurel, Ellicott City/Columbia
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Bumpy Ring, Mini LED carabiner Flashlights

              6. Lush Handmade Cosmetics Party  (Ages 7+)
                Who knew that Lush offered private parties? They look like loads of fun…lots of options including “Beauty School” and make a bath bomb. I am not actually sure what the minimum age would be, but I think probably seven year olds or older would enjoy this party.
                Location: The Mall in Columbia
              7. Indoor Miniature Golf (Ages 7+)
                minature golf
                Monster Mini Golf in Jessup.  Pretty loud and kind of scary for a young kid in there, so check it out and see if it is appropriate for your child first.
                Party Favor Ideas: Frisbees, For older kids: Drink Bags that Look Like IV bags
              8. Sports Center Parties (Ages 5+)
                There are a variety of venues where you could have an indoor or outdoor soccer, lacrosse or basketball party.  For example, in Jessup in Howard County, MD there is the Soccerdome which allows you to rent a field and let the kids play soccer for an hour and then has an area for pizza and cake.  There is also the Columbia Association SportsPark. If your boy or girl is a baseball fan, they may like to have a baseball party at Professional Baseball Training in Ellicott City, Extra Innings in Elkridge.
                Human Soccer Ball Birthday Party in Columbia, Md
                For soccer fans looking for something a little different, there’s “bubble ball” at the Soccer Stop in Columbia, Md. What could be more fun for a birthday? The kids get inside giant inflatable balls and roll around the soccer field.
                Party Favor Ideas: Bouncy Soccer Balls, Soccer Whistles, Soccer Stress Balls, Soccer Birthday Candles, Soccer Key Chains, Soccer Pinata
              9. Karate Birthday Parties (Ages 6+)
                Harraday’s Karate & Fitness offers martial arts instruction birthday parties in Columbia near Home Depot.
              10. Pirate Party  (Ages 7+)
                Pirate Birthday Party
                Take a trip on the Urban Pirate boat that sails from Baltimore.
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Gold Pirate CoinsPirate Eye Patches, Bandanas
              11. Tea Party (Ages 7+)
                Tea Parties at home are always fun, but for something more sophisticated, you could try Tea on the Tiber Victorian Tea Room in Ellicott City. (An interesting experience for a regular visit as well–try out  high tea one afternoon.)
                Locations: Historic Ellicott City
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Decorate Your Own Teacups
              12. Indoor Playground Party (Ages 2-7)
                You can book a party at the Play -n- Learn playground equipment show room in Columbia.  I have never been to a party there, but  it sounds really fun. Weekday parties are $219 for two hours of playtime on the indoor playground. Weekend parties are $269. You can also book a party after hours for $369 on weekends. If you don’t mind traveling, there is a great indoor playspace in Rockville called Badlands.
              13. trampoline party
                A SkyZone jump “room”–each child gets their own square of
                Trampoline.

                Trampoline Parties (Ages 5+)
                SkyZone  and Launch
                Indoor trampoline parks in Columbia MD.  This venue has some similarities to the overdone JumpZone inflatable parties, but this is a bit different since they have actual trampolines.

                SkyZone has created a very slick venue which looks engaging and fun.   Cost for a party on weekdays is $21/jumper. On weekends is $24/jumper.  There are packages starting at $240/party.

                They have party rooms for each birthday party.  Be sure and check the reviews as there seem to be a high proportion of unhappy customers.  So far I have been to two parties and I thought it was okay overall.  My main reservations are safety issues and the fact that in both cases I got the feeling that the party itself was kind of like a production line–by the way, I always got the same feeling at JumpZone! and Pump It Up.  They are setup so that each kid basically gets their own trampoline to make things a bit safer, but even so, someone was taken away in an ambulance during the first party I attended there.

                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Helicopters

              14. Escape Room Party at Breakout Games (Ages 10+)
                This is an unusual kind of birthday party. Your party must follow clues and solve mysteries to figure out how to “break out” of a specially designed room. Billed as a life-sized game of twists and turns, it’s sure to be a fun time!It’s possible to bring younger kids, but it may not be as enjoyable for them because they may not have the background knowledge needed to solve the puzzles. Contact Breakout Games to discuss possibilities for 9-year olds and younger.We tried the “Museum Heist” game with a group of 10-11 year olds.

                Solving the puzzles was definitely difficult and may even prove frustrating for some kids.Luckily, an employee watches over your progress and is able to give the group hints. Our group definitely needed more than a few, but even so we didn’t “break out.”
                You only get an hour, so when the time runs out, you’re done no matter how far you’ve progressed. I think if I took the same group back to play a second time (which I think they’d all be up for), they would do better on a different puzzle, now that they have the hang of the mindset needed to solve the riddles. BTW, an employee recommended we try “Kidnapping” next time we play as he felt that it is a solid game and may be more relatable for kids LOL.
                There is no party room, and there is a maximum of 8 guests–and one of those guests must be a responsible adult.If you decide to have a party there, keep in mind that other people can purchase tickets for the same game at the same time–so if you don’t want strangers, most likely adults, to join in your kid’s birthday party, you need to buy out the whole game.Ticket prices are about $28/each (There are no discounts for a large group, so a party of 8 will cost around $240 with taxes). You may be able to solve a puzzle to get a coupon code. By the way if you’re looking for food nearby, there is a Bertucci’s Pizza near the Columbia location.
                ✳Escape Room Party Favor IdeasMini Magnetic Board Games, Mini Rubics Cubes, Mini Teaser Puzzles, Snake Twist Cube Toy

              15. Airsoft Paintball (Ages 11+)
                Airsoft indoor paintball course is loads of fun.  Located in Rockville, it is a bit of a trek from Howard County, but might be worth the trip.  Rumor has it that there is also an airsoft location in Beltsville, but I can’t find any information about it.
                ✳Paintball Party Favor Ideas: Compasses, Paracord Bracelets
              16. Museum Parties outside of Howard County (Ages 5+)
                Okay, these museum birthday parties aren’t in Howard County but what cool places for a birthday celebration. The Maryland Science Center, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, The B&O Railroad MuseumCollege Park Aviation Museum–if your child loves airplanes, this is the place to go!

                college park aviation museum for birthday fun
              17. Movie Theater Birthdays (Ages 3+)
                Kids love going to the movies–especially 3D movies that really bring in all the senses.  Some area theaters have party packages and even party rooms.

                A very good example of a movie theater with a party room is the Arundel Mills Cinemark Egyptian theater.  You could even roll an Egyptian theme into the party if you wanted.  Even if you decide not to use the group rates or party rooms, you may need to contact the theater when planning so you’ll know what choices will be available on the date of your party.  The movie itself can also become the theme of your party (ie-Transformers or Disney Princesses).
                Party Favor Ideas: Kid’s Card Games, Mini Uno CardsPuffy Kush Balls

              18. Whole Foods Cooking Party (Ages 5+)
                Some Whole Foods stores such as the one in Annapolis have culinary centers  which can be rented out for kids birthday parties.  They provide a host who will help the kids through making a pizza and pretzels.  Unfortunately, the Columbia, MD Whole Foods is one of the stores that doesn’t have a culinary center, however they do have a private cafe space that can seat 12 kids plus their parents.  For a party there you can pre-order party foods and cake.  If you have an event there (or anywhere else), take advantage of the healthy options that are available at Whole Foods and also consider alternatives to the standard party favors/gift bags. Chocolate Dessert Class party (Ages ?) I am still getting some details on the possibility of having a party in either Savage Mill or Ellicott City at a place called “Sweet Cascades Chocolatier.” They offer classes for kids and they are about $35/each child. It would definitely be a “sweet” party, especially if your child is into cooking.
              19. American Girl Doll Party  (Ages 4-9)
                Okay, not in Maryland and possibly not even very convenient for most Marylanders, but in Tysons Corner Mall in Northern Virginia, they have an American Girl doll store and you can have a birthday party there.  I don’t have any suggestions on the logistics of getting classmates and friends to the party, but I have heard good things about parties there.
                Location: Tyson’s Corner, VA
              20. Main Event or Dave and Busters (Ages 4+)
                like a carnival
                These two places are really busy with lots of things for kids to do. Main Event is very new to Howard County, and has quickly become very popular. Dave and Busters is fun, the Arundel Mills location has bowling and lots of games.
                Locations: Columbia, Md or Hanover, Md
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Uno Mini Card GameFrisbees
          1. Six Flags America (Ages 8+)
            Not in Howard County, but close enough that it might make a great birthday party. Definitely on the pricier side of birthdays, but if the guest list is just two or three close friends, it probably would be a wash.
          2. Hot Pot Restaurants (Ages 13+)
            Possibly a bit expensive, but a great experience for a few friends to get together and cook/eat lunch. You might want to check it out ahead of time to make sure it would appeal to your teen.

            There are several options in Howard County, including Urban HotPot which just opened at Columbia Mall, and HotPot and Roll next to Lotte in Ellicott City. This location has a fun conveyor belt with various items you can add to your pot.

            Party Favor Ideas: Chinese Takeout Boxes, Sun Glasses

          3. Tire Playground Baltimore CountyRent a Pavilion at Centennial Park (Ages 2+) During the warmer months, there is always a great time to be had at Centennial Park.   The cost is about $150-180 dollars. Even cheaper: The tire park at the Hilton area of Patapsco State Park. This is a two acre playground made from recycled tires. Loads of fun and the nearby pavilions go relatively cheap (in Baltimore County).
            Party Favor Ideas: Sidewalk Chalk, Bubble Wands, Beach Balls
          4. Have a Lego Birthday Party (Ages 5-10)
            Bricks for Kids specializes in mobile lego parties in Howard County.  Seems like a very great idea if you’re having a home party or if you’re having a party at some other venue and need something to do (see below for party venue ideas).
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Lego Favors
          5. Fire Museum Towson Birthday Party IdeaFire Station Birthdays (Ages 3-7)
            Many people don’t even know that you can host a birthday party at some of the fire stations in Howard County.  You can learn how to make an inquiry about it here. I know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…and they get some fire safety tips too! My only caveat would be that an emergency could potentially cut the party short. As an alternative, there is a Fire Museum in Towson that provides a pretty good experience. A great gift to go with this birthday party would be a pair of walkie talkies. Here is one suggestion for a pretty good pair.
          6. AmuseToys ( In Pikesville (Baltimore County) (Ages 2-6)
            Parties in the lab are great fun.
          7. Music Birthday Parties (Ages 2-7)
            There are several music schools in the area that host birthday parties. A great option is Oleynka School of Music in Columbia. They work with several age groups. Parties include high-energy music activities and games including songs, dance, activities using instruments, hula hoops, balls, parachutes, followed by a one hour celebration in their Party Room.
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Maracas, Egg Shakers, Echo Microphones
          8. Drama and Comedy Workshop Parties (Ages 5+)
            There are some great opportunities around for drama and comedy related parties. Guest can take part in drama or comedy workshops at places like Drama Learning Center in Columbia or Improv Comedy in Baltimore.
          9. theater medieval times partyLive Theater Parties (Ages 3+) There is some great children’s theater in the area. Check with Toby’s Dinner Theater to see if they have appropriate shows.  You may also want to consider a party at Medieval Times in Arundel Mills.  If you can travel further, you will definitely like Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Any of the above will surely provide a memorable birthday! BTW, see my article on children’s theater in Maryland.
          10. iFly (Ages 3+)
            Okay, this isn’t nearby (in Whitemarsh), but it’s amazing! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor sky-diving would make for a wonderful birthday party. Your boy or girl will never forget this party!
            Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
          11. Bowie Baysox Baseball Party (Ages 6+)
            If your daughter or son loves baseball, they’ll love having a birthday party at Baysox Stadium. Another possibility is getting tickets to a Baysox, Nationals or Orioles game and making a party out of that (the Washington Nationals have a birthday party package, I am not sure that the Orioles do, but they do have group ticket rates and party suites)
          12. Fencing (Ages 8+) – The Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia on Rumsey Road has a great facility for unusual birthday parties. Guests learn the basics of fencing and can get a little practice in at the party.
          13. Supreme Sports Club Girls Only Sleepover (Ages 10-13)
            This party is for girls only and involves spending the night at the Columbia Association Supreme Sports Club. It seems to include alot of fun, but the cost is about $420 for members and $480 for non members. I can’t find a direct link to information about this party, but if you’re interested, just call.
          14. Table Tennis (Ages 9-14)
            This is would be a great party for older kids. You can rent the facility although there are restrictions on food and drink near the tables.
          15. Youth Teen Center
            Rent the Youth Teen Center for parties for teens at the Barn in Columbia.
          16. IKEA Ages: Teens 13+ – Yeah, that’s going to sound strange, but it works for older kids. Start with lunch in the cafe, then the kids can go through the store taking photos of themselves in the various demonstration areas. Photo contest anyone?I recently did this with my 13 year-old and 6 of her friends and they had a good time. Party favors were cactus plants on sale for less than $5. They also got $1 soft serve ice cream cones.
          17. Horse Back Riding
            Horse Back Riding Birthday Party
            Misty Manor Riding Stables can do trail ride birthday parties.
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Horse ears headbands

    Suggestions based on age:

    Party PlaceAge 1-4Age 5-7Age 8-9Age 9-10Age 11-13Age 14+
    Pool PartyYesYesYesYesYesYes
    FarmsYesYesNoNoNoNo
    Craft PartiesYesYesYesYesNoNo
    Pottery StopNoYesYesYesYesYes
    Autobahn RacingNoNoYesYesYesYes
    Baseball BirthdaysNoYesYesYesYesYes
    iFly3+YesYesYesYesYes
    Live TheaterYesYesYesYesYesYes
    Firehouse Parties3+YesNoNoNoNo
    Fencing PartiesNoNoYesYesYesYes
    Roller Skating PartiesNoNoYesYesYesYes

  1. Home Birthday Party Ideas

    If you have room at home (or a relative’s home or decide to rent a party room such as at the North Laurel Community Center, The Meeting Room in Clarksville, Occasions Banquet Hall in North Laurel, or Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City) there are lots of great ideas for home-hosted parties.  For example hiring a magician, having a princess tea party or having someone bring in farm animals, etc.

  2. ✳Tip: For any birthday party consider getting a photo booth. These can be great fun and provide lasting memories. Choose your provider carefully. I’ve had great luck with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth (410) 961-2983.

    Here are some entertainers that I have seen that do a good job with home parties. For more ideas, see my other post about birthday party themes:

              • Science Themed Parties- There are a few performers you can get. One great choice is Mad Science–they have several performers that can come to your child’s party. I’ve seen Damu perform, he’s was fantastic. Request him if he’s available. I have also seen several shows by Eric Energy.  Eric did a pretty good job with “science-tainment”–he gets the kid’s involved in several science experiments that they are sure to love…a great party favor to go with this would a 10-pack of safety goggles.
              • You might also try doing a science party yourself if you’re ambitious–see Bird’s Party blog’s Mad Scientist Party how-to. If you like animals, you could have Reptile Wonders/Nature Center On The Go bring all sorts of interesting animals to your home.  Reptile wonders has huge turtles, a Burmese python, bearded dragon and various skinks for your party guests to see and handle.
              • Magic show for a Maryland Birthday PartyD’s Magic – Great magic show complete with rabbit and balloon sculpture.  Very entertaining.
              • Another idea is to have a Lego robotics birthday party–the crew from The Great Adventure Lab will bring lego robots to your party and spend time teaching the kids how to program them.  Sounds like a great experience and an unusual party.
              • Have an art-themed party. A colleague and friend of mine bought canvases and paints for the party attendees. She put nails in her fence and attached the canvases so each child would have an easel.
              • Petting Zoo party – If it’s in the budget, get Leesburg Animal Park to bring their petting zoo to your home. Kids will get to learn about and pet llamas, turtles, chickens, snakes, goats, and more
              • Kids all love a face-painters. Try Pirate Girl.
              • hire a caricature artist for birthday partiesConsider a caricature artist. George Edwards charges around $200 for 3 hours of art.
              • For a special flair of sophistication, and to perhaps make your job as host a little bit easier, consider hiring on a little bit of light catering. For example, the Omelette Guys provide omelette and Belgian waffle stations as well as pasta stations.

Do you have any ideas to share?  Don’t be shy about letting me know.  Also, be sure and browse my blog for birthday gift ideas and take a look at my comments about party favors–please choose a healthy option, choose to do something different. Also, here is my list of birthday party places in Anne Arundel County.

Categories
Education kids activities

Children’s Theater and Dance Companies in Maryland

There are some amazing and unusual dance and kid’s theater companies in Maryland and Washington D.C. We have some excellent places for kids to see performing arts as well as great places for them to take classes. Below is my list of some of the dance and theater places that I am aware of:

Places for Kid’s To See Performing Arts in Maryland

  • Candlelight Kids – The Candlelight Concert Society of Maryland offers a series of dance and musical performances that kids of all ages will surely enjoy. This year they are at Howard County Community College.
  • Children’s Theater of Annapolis – Wonderful venue in Annapolis / Cape St. Claire. They offer professional productions as well as classes for kids.
  • Imagination Stage – This is an amazing venue in downtown Bethesda, Md. They have professional performances in their theaters that kids love.
  • Footworks – Check the Footworks schedule to see when and where they are performing in Md.
  • Shenyun Chinese Dance – A fixture in the Washington DC – Baltimore area. Beautiful professional Chinese dance performances.
  • The Maryland Renaissance Festival – This festival occurs every year in Crownsville, Maryland (Near Annapolis) from August to October. There are usually more than a few family friendly performances, as well as wandering minstrels and dancers.

Dance and Performing Arts Classes in Maryland

Annapolis Musical Theater – Offers musical theater classes and camps for kids at Maryland Hall for the Arts.

Chinese Dance – The Madison Chinese Dance Academy teaches authentic forms of traditional Chinese dance. Classes are in Montgomery County. They are based in Rockville, Maryland.

Theater Classes at Imagination Stage – Imagination stage offers great classes and camps in Bethesda, Maryland.

Theater Classes at Children’s Theater of Annapolis – Offering workshops, master classes, and behind the scenes looks at current productions.

Classes Closely Related to Children’s Theater

  • Kangaroo Kids – Precision jump rope team. Classes for kids and competitive team.
  • Fencing Classes – Classes and competitions in fencing.

Does your child have an upcoming birthday? See my list of party places in Howard County and a similar list of venues in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County. You may also be interested in my list of birthday gift ideas.

Categories
Education kids activities Recommendations Review

Before and After Care in Howard County

after care in howard county MD

We’re definitely going to need before and after care for our children this school year (2018-2019).

We’ve started looking into what the standard options are, and we’re a little worried.

As a former teacher,  I have seen what before and after care can be (a waste of children’s time, with some fun mixed in) and hope to find something better.

Idea Lab After School Program

Idea Lab is located in Ellicott City/Columbia on Route 108 near Red Branch Road. It specializes in STEM programs for kids, and it is one of the few places that will pick kids up from school and transport them. They pick up a schools that are within 5 miles (elementary and middle schools).

I’d note that you may not find it easy to navigate their website to determine the pickup options, but just give them a call — they definitely do offer this service.

They have some great options for STEM classes and activities after school. They offer classes in coding, 3D printing, cooking/baking, and more.

They also have great summer camps and school’s out camps.

It’s a great option to consider. Here is a sample of their offering for Spring 2020. Howard County Schools After Care Columbia Ellicott City Schedule

Martial Arts Centers After School Programs

Another possibility is a martial arts program at one of a few locations around Howard County. The deal is that for about $450 dollars/month, a member of the martial art’s schools staff picks up your child up after school (walking or typically with a van) your child may get a snack, and then they take martial arts classes and have some free time to do homework.

The local Howard County martial arts schools with after-school programs that I know of are:

  1. Wilde Lake Karate After Care $450/month
  2. World Champion Martial Arts Laurel, Md
  3. Hwarang Martial Arts $89/week after school only – Serves schools near 21045 zip code.
  4. Nam’s Kicks  Ellicott City, serves Illchester, Waterloo, Phelps Luck, Bonnie Branch, and Thunder Hill Elementary.
  5. Harraday’s Karate & Fitness Columbia, Md – Not sure which schools they serve with their after-school program.

In-School Before and After Care

The public schools in Howard County all have on-site before and after care. Some of the programs are run by Howard County Parks and Recreation, and some are primarily run by the Columbia Association. This means you won’t have a choice–it’s either one or the other.

At our local elementary for example, before and after care is run by Columbia Association. It turns out, however, that there are “special programs” that are added on by the Howard County Parks and Rec. For example, they have a 12-session before school chess club running this fall from Silver Knights Chess.

Checking out the Recreation and Parks after care page, it definitely looks as if they have some good programs, but recently, we  heard some parents complaining about this program one day while my girls were taking a ballet lesson–exactly what I am afraid of, basically frequent disorganization, and more of a babysitting service than anything else.  I hope that’s not what I will find.

The following elementary schools have before and after care provided by Recreation and Parks:

  • Bellows Spring Elem
  • Bollman Bridge Elem
  • Bushy Park Elem
  • Dayton Oaks Elem
  • Deep Run Elem
  • Ducketts Lane Elem
  • Elkridge Elem
  • Forest Ridge Elem
  • Fulton Elem
  • Gorman Crossing Elem
  • Hollifield Station Elem
  • Ilchester Elem
  • Laurel Woods Elem
  • Lisbon Elem
  • Manor Woods Elem
  • Pointers Run Elem
  • Rockburn Elem
  • St. John’s Lane Elem
  • Triadelphia Ridge Elem
  • Veterans Elem
  • Waverly Elem
  • West Friendship Elem

As mentioned many of the local schools have programs offered by Columbia Association. There is an application on the website. You may find that your school has a waiting list for the before and after care. You can call them on 410-715-3000 to check on the waiting list.  The following elementary schools have Columbia Association before and after care:

  • Atholton
  • Bryant Woods
  • Centennial
  • Clarksville
  • Clemens Crossing
  • Cradlerock
  • Guilford
  • Hammond
  • Jeffers Hill
  • Longfellow
  • Northfield
  • Phelps Luck
  • Running Brook
  • Stevens Forest
  • Swansfield
  • Talbott Springs
  • Thunder Hill
  • Waterloo
  • Worthington

The Columbia Association programs are convenient, but certainly aren’t what I’d call cheap-basically you’re going to pay $183/month for before care starting at 7am, and $260 for aftercare until 6pm or both for $493/month (These are 2018 prices, subject to change! Financial aid is available) for before and aftercare. (They also offer a full-day program for days when school is closed for $55/day. See my list of other options for schools out camps)

So for that kind of money, and for spending so much of your child’s time, you can only hope for well-run, worthwhile offerings.  The website states that the ratio of students to staff in this program are no more than 15 to 1. Also, worth mentioning is that they provide snacks (I hope they’re healthy snacks!)

So that’s one option, easy if you don’t get waitlisted, but what are the other options?

As mentioned earlier, some of the elementary schools also have special add-on aftercare programs that are available through Howard County Parks and Recreation or Columbia Association from local businesses. (ie-Chess, music lessons, yoga, sports, Girls on the Run, scouting–see my post about after school activities in Howard County!)   You have to check with your school or browse through the online catalog to see what’s available and the additional costs.

If your student is a middle schooler, there are also programs at some schools run by Howard County Parks and Recreation called Can-Teen ($299/month). Details about the program and the registration forms are here. It is available at the following schools:

  • Bonnie Branch
  • Elkridge Landing
  • Folly Quarter
  • Lime Kiln
  • Mayfield Woods
  • Thomas Viaduct

Does anyone have any additional suggestions?

What have you found about before and after care at schools in Howard county?  Also, check out this post if you’re looking for other worth-while activities to do with your kids in central Maryland and if you’re looking for gift ideas for your child, see my post about birthday and holiday gift ideas for smart kids. (Also see my birthday party ideas for kids in Howard County)

Categories
Nutrition Reviews Uncategorized

Juicespresso Juicer Review

The Juicespresso Juicer is an amazing device for juicing fans. If you’re considering purchasing one, read my review.

The Juicespresso cold press masticating machines are very efficient at getting the juice out of various fruits and vegetables. You’ll be pleased that it will potentially lower your produce bill when compared to your old high-speed juicer. This juicer is compact, so it doesn’t take up much counter space (you’ll want to keep it out all the time!) and it is dishwasher safe.

I was using a Jack LaLane juicer that I purchased from Costco a few years ago, and was surprised by some of the differences. The two biggest being how effective the Juicespresso was at extracting juices compared to the Jack LaLane juicer, and two, one of the Juicespresso’s biggest bragging points: It’s so quick and easy to clean, it makes juicing much more convenient and fun.

Juicespresso machines run quietly and do a solid job of “squishing” the liquids out of fruits and vegetables. You’ll have to precut any item that won’t fit through the chute, which isn’t very large. You’ll definitely find some bits of fruit and vegetables in your juice as well. I think of this more as a plus, but some may not like that.

The resulting juice can be used right away or kept in the refrigerator for up to two or three days. This means that you may be able to get away with making juice twice a week, rather that once or twice a day. This is a time saver compared to the Jack LaLane because the juice from that device seemed to start to break down very quickly, so it needed to be used immediately.

Juicespresso is constructed with BPA-free plastic and comes with a seven year warranty.

Alternatives to Juicespresso

If the price tag for the Juicespresso juicers is too steep for you, consider purchasing a refurbished Omega Juicer on Amazon (About $190). The refurbished models are typical very difficult to tell from new and they great warranties, etc. not to mention you’ll save big compared to new Omega or Juicespresso Juicers.

 

Categories
Reviews Save Money

Redfin Review in Maryland: Should You Use RedFin, Rather Than A Traditional Real Estate Agent?

Many home buyers and home sellers in Maryland are asking themselves whether or not they should use Redfin (RDFN)  to buy or sell their home.  They are worried about whether they’ll get the same service or somehow make less money, or do more work themselves if they use Redfin.

Redfin is great. It is NOT a do-it-yourself or for sale by owner (FSBO) service by any stretch–this is a myth that seems to be very common. You get the same service from qualified real estate agents,  or better from Redfin as you do from traditional agents, only cheaper and often more efficiently.

I have sold my home in Howard County Maryland and bought new homes using agents from various well-known agencies and there has been no real difference at all–at least not on the downside. On the other hand, there have been some very important enhancements that I did not get using other agencies. Read my review below to find out more about why I wholeheartedly recommend choosing Redfin.

The Pros of Redfin

According to RedFin

    • :
  • Homes sold with Redfin for more money than with traditional agents
  • Homes sold faster than with traditional agents, and 15% more homes sold within the first 90 days than with traditional agents
Those are just statistics, and your mileage may vary, but that’s really just the beginning of why Redfin is superior to agencies such as Long and Foster, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, and Remax.

Redfin Charges You Less To Buy or Sell a Home

If you’ve done some reading then you know that Redfin is only charging a 1% commission for selling your home in some parts of the USA, including Maryland. This is a huge savings compared to the 3% traditional agents charge. When you use Redfin to help you buy a home, they give you a rebate on part of their commission (Ours was over $2,500)–so you will save money both buying and selling with them. But really, that’s just the beginning of the benefits of using this company.

That sounds great, but it’s going to make you wonder: Why is Redfin charging less money than regular agents, and what really are the differences? They say they make the money up in volume, and I am pretty sure this is true. Honestly, the traditional agencies should be worried, and they are starting to be.

My listing agent (the agent that helps you sell your home) from Redfin, lifelong Marylander Brandon Hoffman, sold 54 houses in Howard County, MD last year. That is a high number. Most real estate agents are going to sell an average of 5-15 properties per year. Obviously some agents do sell more than 54, but Brandon said that this volume of home sales keeps an agent very busy. Redfin’s agents always work as a team, so I never felt like I couldn’t get answers when I needed them. One way our agent balanced this was by only selling homes. He didn’t ever take people out to show them properties to buy. We used a different set of agents from Redfin for that.

Redfin Has Salaried Agents

Typical real estate agents work on commission only. If you think about it, that means they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart–and studies of how real estate agents sell their own homes have proven this, including this one by Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (A fantastic, interesting book, BTW). Here is a quick summary in a video by the authors of the book–if you read the chapter in the book, you’ll get a much more in depth analysis about the incentives of commissioned real estate agents:

I know a few agents and they are definitely good people, but even so, their incentives and motivations may not always be in what you hired them to do for you.

Having an agent that is on salary is great–both when you are trying to buy a home or sell one. They really don’t care if you buy a house or not. In fact, Redfin agents get a bonus based on customer satisfaction surveys…so they want you to be happy and have a disincentive to be pushy. They are also encouraged to be honest, and I can tell you based on my experiences with the company that they definitely did share opinions on the homes we visited that I wouldn’t have expected from a typical agent.

Redfin Is In

Redfin gives you a few bonus items you may not have included with one of the usual suspect agencies. First off, they give you $250 towards fixing up your home to sell. This could include handymen to make repairs, landscapers, etc. You give them the receipt, they give you up to $250 back. It’s not that $250 is such a large amount, but it’s that they bother to put a bit more skin in the game. We used the money to have a handyman out to make some repairs for us. We sent them a receipt for the work, they mailed us a check. It was that simple.

Dollhouse View of your home that's included with Redfin's service

Like most agencies, Redfin will create a brochure for your home. Redfin did a full color double-sided brochure, it was very professional and definitely added to our home’s marketing. Redfin also provides a photographer and a 3-D tour of your home.

Most agencies will help you get a photographer. Redfin gets you two, included in their service: One to take traditional photographs, the other to make a 3-D tour and a digitally created “dollhouse” and floor plan view of your home. Both of these help your home standout.

The Machine of Redfin

The Redfin website and the Redfin mobile app for Android or iOS are very popular with home searchers–even those not using Redfin to buy or sell a home. When you do list your home with Redfin, they give you an advantage over other listings by putting your home listing above other non-redfin results. This gives your property exposure other competing homes don’t have. It really worked well for us.

The home I sold with Redfin is nothing spectacular, and was market-priced, but we had quite a bit of traffic to our home. We had about 50 tours in 4 days with 10 offers tendered. This is as much about the housing marketed in Howard County Maryland as it is about Redfin, but I am confident that being on Redfin’s website helped us make this happen. What you should know is that when you list with Redfin, they do also syndicate your home with the MLS system, so your property will wind up on Zillow, Trulia, Realestate.com, and the other common real estate websites.

After the Sale

Redfin’s agents have gone way above and beyond the call of duty for us, getting us timely information quickly and working with us late into the night (even on weekends) on the sale of our old home and purchase of our new home. They did an amazing job of taking care of us and made us feel comfortable through the entire home sale and purchasing process. Again, I must point out that since they are on salary and get bonuses based on customer satisfaction surveys, their motives were different than many agents. I never felt any pressure whatsoever to sell or buy a home from them. I am sure they’d rather not waste their time, but being on salary clearly would make a big difference for many agents.

Another perk for Redfin is that the whole process is tracked in their website’s “home dashboard” where you can login and see what’s due, and get access to upload sensitive documents and sign papers electronically.

Redfin's home sales dashboard
Redfin was excellent at providing recommendations for service providers after the contracts were written. They gave a very good recommendation for a home inspector for our new home–4U Home Inspection. Like Redfin, they handled appointment setup and payments online.  Redfin’s agent was with us the entire time our new home was being inspected and they were able to provide additional knowledgeable explanations for the inspectors findings.
Our Redfin agent supported us the whole way through in negotiating additional repairs with the sellers and helped us to move our settlement up to the fastest possible closing. I was reassured the entire time.

Buying a Home With Redfin

How to schedule a tour with RedfinWe both bought and sold a home through Redfin. As mentioned earlier, our experience in house shopping with Redfin was very positive. We really liked using the Redfin app and website to find and “favorite” homes.
When my wife and I both found a home we felt might meet our needs, we would schedule a tour with the click of a button. These tours are “on demand” and you’re able to request a tour for just one house or as many as you can fit into a day. Generally, you just need to give a few hours notice and a Redfin agent will meet you to show the home.
We had one “main” agent (Dan Borowy) who would be the preferred agent to show us a home, but in practice, we worked with about 7 different agents that were on his team as we visited various properties around Laurel, Clarksville, Elkridge, and Ellicott City. That was fine with us as we liked each one of them and each one had their own styles and insights that were helpful for us to take along with us. In the end, several of them were our “eyes” and helped us by sending us to properties they had seen recently to may have been right for us.
When we finally found a property we wanted, the agent who showed us the property worked with our primary agent to get our offer in. With such a competitive market, they knew time was of the essence. I can tell you that our agent was happy to work well into the night on a Saturday evening getting our contracts together and submitting it. We could not have been more happy with the experience.

Final Word

I had a really great home sale and home purchase experience working with the Howard County, Maryland Redfin Realty team. They were professional, honest and very responsive whenever I needed them. If you live in an area where Redfin is available, don’t hesitate–use their service. I know there will be plenty of non-Redfin agents who will take offense to this post, but I think it’s mainly because Redfin is successfully changing the real estate business model and they realize their is nothing they can do–although I do expect there will be Redfin competitors, I don’t think the old model has very much chance for survival in the coming years. Redfin is just too big of an improvement.

More from Eron: Looking for birthday present ideas for kids? Need ideas for kids birthday parties? Want to save money using Republic Wireless or Project Fi for your mobile phone service?

Categories
Featured Phone Bills Review Reviews Save Money Technology

Republic Wireless Review Part 1

Republic Wireless 2.0 Review Executive Summary – Updated March 12, 2016

My customer review covers the Republic Wireless Mobile Phone Service with the Moto X gen 2, Moto E gen 2 and Moto G phones.  This review is about the Republic Wireless 2.0 plan which isn’t available anymore. They have now launched a their 3.0 plan, so the information below is outdated.

For current information please see my review of Republic Wireless 3.0 and comparison to Google Project Fi.

 

Republic Wireless Review


“Stop wasting money on high-priced yearly contract phones.  Get reliable, smarter service cheaper.”

 Get 1 gig of 3G data + unlimited phone/text/ service for $25/month–and they refund you for whatever amount of data you do not use–average refund of $8/month. Since you typically use WiFi for data, there is a good chance you won’t need an entire gig. (There are other plans available for as low as $5/month – see part 2 for complete details)

• 30 Day No Hassle Money Back Guarantee. 
• NO CONTRACT – Month to month, cancel or change your plan at any time–in fact you can even change your plan right from your Republic Wireless phone.

• The  Republic Wireless Motorola Moto X (first and second generation) is a first rate Android Smartphone that delivers speed, features and reliability. (Two more phones are also available: Motorola Moto G for $99-a great price for a decent phone and the Moto E 2nd gen for just $129.)

• Transfer your existing phone number (Click here to check to make sure your number can be transferred to Republic Wireless.) – you can even transfer Google Voice numbers.

• No Hidden Fees – There are no roaming fees, etc.

• Republic Wireless has been in business for more than a year with thousands of customers.  A division of bandwidth.com, so this isn’t a scam or fly-by-night company.  They were just rated #2 in PC Magazine’s reader’s choice among all of the mobile carriers in the USA.

•  Republic Wireless will gives you credit on your bill for unused data from your data plan. This is a new feature that only applies to certain plans, but to be sure, this is very innovative.

Republic Wireless provides low cost mobile phone service based on the Moto G 3rd Gen and Moto E 2nd Gen Android Smartphones.  Voice, Data & Texting service is provided through the Sprint network when you are on the go (roaming is included), and via WiFi when you are at home, in the office or outside of the USA/Canada.

The Motorola Moto G 3nd gen is an excellent high-end 4G LTE phone–it is very well reviewed and has a respectable list of features–this is clearly one of the best phones on the market at this time.  You must purchase your phone upfront–but you will save money in the long run–and probably quite a bit.  If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try Republic Wireless, keep in mind that they offer a money back guarantee for a month, so that will give you a chance to try out the phone service.

The Motorola Moto G is a mid-range phone that has great features.  At $199, this is a great phone to get started saving money with Republic Wireless.   The Moto G is a very good phone at the relatively unheard of off-contract price of $199, it is a steal. It has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 or 16 gigs of memory but can be expanded with a 32gig SD card.  It’s camera is a auto-focus and shoots up to 13 megapixels.  The display is 5 inches and is available in black or white.

The Motorola Moto E 2nd gen also has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 gigs of memory.  Its camera is a tap-to-focus and shoots up to 5 megapixels.  The display is 4.5 inches and is available in black or white.

Consider joining Republic Wireless to save.  They have thousands of customers in the USA and their offering is rated very well by consumer magazines including PC Magazine who gave it a reader’s choice award.

 
See part 2 of my review for a full rundown of the Republic Wireless 2.0 service.

Republic Wireless Review Part 2

Categories
Education Recommendations

Educational Apps for Kindle Fire

Pettson's Inventions and other great educational apps for Kindle Fire

Looking for some great educational apps for your child’s Kindle Fire Tablet (or other Android device)? Here are a few of the ones that my kids enjoy now or in the not-too-distant past. All of these are available in the Amazon App Store for Android / Kindle App Store:

  1. Inventioneers – Filimundus-AB makes some great games that teach kids how to invent and think of creative solutions. Great physics engine. Great fun.
  2. Pettson’s Inventions 1  / Pettson’s Inventions 2 /Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe – Another great game from Filimundus-AB. This game requires you to solve puzzles by placing moving parts in the right places. The deluxe version allows you to compete against a clock or other people online.
  3. 5th Grade Learning Games – A great set of games for learning on the fifth grade level (other grades are available too!)
  4. ScratchJr.- Great introduction to programming for younger kids. Meant for kids ages 5 -7 but may be helpful for older kids too.
  5. Ancient Greece for Kids – Learning app that teaches kids about Ancient Greece.
  6. Duolingo – A free, fun and effective way to learn one of several languages Great for anyone of any age.
  7. Manic Math – Tetris, but with math. You have to be quick solving addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division problems.
  8. Stack the States – Learn about the geography of the USA including the location of the state, state capitals and the shape of each state.
  9. Stack the Countries – Makes learning about world geography fun!
  10. Word Shaker – Find as many words as possible in the jumble of letters before time is up!
  11. Box Island – This is a great “3D” app to help teach kids to code. 99 Cents gets you 10 levels. You may have trouble if you’re using Amazon Free Time when you want to purchase the other levels.
  12. Flight Simulators – There are many choices for flight simulators. The skills learned go beyond learning to fly.
  13. Hill Climb Race – This is a little bit more “fluffy” but there is educational value in the way that cars work and the physics engine that’s in use in this Android app definitely is something kids can learn from.
See more ideas for what to do when school is closed.

For younger kids, don’t forget these favorites:

  1. StarFall – This app makes learning to read fun. Was very helpful with my kids.
  2. Kid Weather – A fun introduction to meteorology.
And then there are these games…more for adults than kids, these are great educational games that pose a bit more challenge than those listed above, still some kids may find them just on the right level:
  1. Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game  – A great game, with some very challenging puzzles. Fun and interesting.
  2. Bacterium – Blurs the line between fun and learning with a bacteria simulator. You take care of a population of bacteria and get them to do your bidding.
  3. Crazy Machines – Golden Gears HD – Another Rube Goldberg-style game with a very good physics engine.
  4. SimplePlanes – This is a wonderful game where you have to build airplanes and see how they fly. Cool and very entertaining.
  5. SimpleRockets – Well if SimplePlanes wasn’t enough for you, they also have this gem.  Build and launch rockets.
  6. Gravity Sim 3D – This isn’t for everyone, but a very interesting space simulator.

See more ideas for what to do when school is closed.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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Categories
Education educational tv Featured tv shows for kids

Recommended Educational TV Shows for Kids

Looking for educational TV shows for your kids to watch on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime or YouTube?

[Also See My List of Other Ideas for Educational and Fun Things To Do While Schools Are Closed]

Below is a list of  some worthwhile educational shows for kids that I would recommend for parents looking to avoid all the terrible, worthless, and even damaging fluff that is on children’s TV these days. The kids shows in my list are selected because they are both educational and entertaining.

Netflix Shows for Kids / Educational Shows on Amazon Prime and Hulu

In the first part of this post, I will do my best to let you know which educational kids shows you can see  on Netflix Streaming, Netflix DVD,  HuluPlus,YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Amazon DVD.

Keep in mind that Amazon, Hulu and Netflix often stop carrying shows without much notice, so apologies if a link is broken or a show is no longer available.

In the second part, I tell you what you can find that’s worthwhile for children to watch for free on YouTube–mostly educational PBS shows that make the most sense for older kids. Certainly, there are a wide variety of YouTube kids’ shows, I am only naming the ones I am familiar with.

[Looking for ideas for things to do with your kids if schools are closed? See my list. By the way,  if you have gifted and talented kids, see my article about birthday presents and Christmas gift ideas for smart kids!]

These educational and kid’s science TV shows have various themes, so there should be something to catch any child’s attention. I feel I must add the caveat that too much TV is too much TV, no matter what the value of the material.

I am dividing the educational kids shows up by age group, but really I think all of them are appropriate for a younger kid who is willing to watch them–in other words, my experience has been that the ideal age for these shows really depends on the children who are watching them, so a show may be meant for four year olds or seven year olds, but that doesn’t mean a ten year old or a two year old can’t enjoy it.

I note one or two exceptions to this, where the language or topics might not be appropriate for younger kids (for example “The White Rabbit Project” on Netflix isn’t really appropriate for young kids due to language and violence.)

The educational and show quality rating scale is my own.  Again, alot depends on the child, where her/his interests lie, and what their capabilities are. I rate each show on a scale of 1-5 for educational value and overall quality.  (I don’t bother to list anything that’s below a 3.5):

Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime TV learning shows for younger toddlers:

  1. Little Einsteins
    (Amazon Prime) –  Introduces children to art, musical instruments and composition. Highly recommended for all kids, but kids who want to play an instrument will particularly enjoy this classic show from Disney Channel. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  2. Super Why
    (Amazon Prime) – Spelling and literacy for toddlers  (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  3. Wonder Pets
    (
    Amazon Prime– Teaches about animals and geography. Several years later my girls are still quoting this show! (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  4. Reading Rainbow
    (
    Amazon Prime– Old, but beloved reading series.
  5. Sesame Street
    (Online, Amazon Prime / Hulu) – Alot of segments are available online on the SeseameStreet.org website.  This is a great show for young kids.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  6. Leapfrog
    (Amazon Instant Video) Leapfrog has several educational shows that include math, reading and getting ready for preschool.  For example Math Adventure To The Moon teaches basic counting skills. Note that some of the one’s that are on DVD aren’t available on demand. If you’re looking for educational shows for kids about math, don’t miss this series! (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  7. Peep and the Big Wide World
    (Amazon Prime) – Basic science lessons for younger kids.  (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
  8. Zoo Clues
    (TubiTV) – Facts and information about animals for younger kids [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
  9. Charlie and the Numbers
    (Hulu) – Charlie learns numbers while he goes on adventures. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
  10. Peg + Cat
    (Amazon Prime) – Great show for learning numbers. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]

Birthday coming up for your advanced child? See my list of fun, educational gift ideas.


Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime Educational TV Shows for older toddlers and five  year olds:

  1. Martha Speaks
    (Amazon Prime)  –  Martha Speaks builds toddlers’ vocabulary.  About a dog who swallowed alphabet soup and started talking (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  2. Word Girl
    (Amazon Prime) – Builds vocabulary for young kids (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  3. WordWorld
    (Amazon Prime/Netflix DVD/Hulu) – PBS show that helps kids learn to read.  Very good and highly recommended to help kids understand how reading works. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
  4. Dinosaur Train
    (
    Amazon Prime) – Educational, teaches scientific method and quite a bit about dinosaurs (Animation). The show is fun and well done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  5. Sid the Science Kid
    (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime) Great science show for younger kids. There’s a Sid the Science Kid movie too! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  6. The Electric Company
    (Amazon Prime) A redo of the 1970s classic show. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  7. Zaboomafoo
    (Amazon Prime)- Teaches kids about animals and science in general.  Nicely done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  8. Zeek’s Animal World
    (Amazon Prime) – Fun show filled with animal facts. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
  9. Guess With Jess
    (YouTube) –  This show would be pretty good for younger kids, but for one problem–since the show is British, the accent makes it hard for some kids to understand.  Give it a try.  Jess is a cat who tries to help answer science questions.  (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  10. Little Pim Language Series
    (Hulu) – Your kids can learn Spanish, Korean, Italian, German, and even Chinese. Great Hulu kids’ show.
  11. Curious George
    (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime) –  This show is relatively well done. It isn’t entirely educational but always has some informational content and kids definitely enjoy it. The “monkey chatter” gets kind of annoying after a while for parents though. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  12. Look Around You
    (Hulu) – Explore nature with this animated series. [Educational/Quality Rating 3.5]
  13. Postcards From Buster(Amazon Prime)- This is a pretty good show for kid’s to learn about the world via Buster from the show Arthur.  Some episodes are on YouTube. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]

Birthday coming up for your advanced child? See my list of educational birthday gift ideas.

Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime TV Shows for six, seven, eight, and nine year olds:

    1. Jeff Corwin Experience
      (Amazon Prime) – Jeff finds fascinating creatures and habitats to teach about.  Good for all ages. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    2. Magic School Bus
        (NetflixNetflix DVD /Amazon Video) – Great science show from the 1990s.  Some of it is a little dated, but still very good.  Recently added to Netflix streaming. BTW, Netflix has created new episodes! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    3. Popular Mechanics For Kids
       (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime/Hulu) – Very good science show that covers a wide variety of science topics in news magazine format.  My four year old finds it entertaining and does learn from it. As far as educational tv shows, this is one of the best — especially in the realm of science. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    4. Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego
       (Netflix DVD/Amazon DVD) Not my favorite show in this list, but it does offer some social studies education and is an okay show in general–kind of a classic show. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3]
    5. Wild Kratts
      (Amazon Prime/Hulu) – PBS Kids show:  Science, animals, Kratt brothers…what could be more fun? (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
    6. Beakman’s World
      (Amazon DVD) – This show is full of scientific experiments and  facts, but my kids don’t like this show because it is full of weird fluff and strange characters that make it difficult to watch.  You be the judge. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
    7. Bill Nye The Science Guy (Netflix/Amazon) – Excellent, although somewhat older information about science presented in a fun, entertaining way.  My five and seven year-old love this show. Also on YouTube.[Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
    8. Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab (Netflix)
      This is a great animated science cartoon. My kid’s definitely like it! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    9. Myth Busters
      (Amazon DVD/Amazon Instant Video)- This is a fun, interesting show. It is entertaining and includes all aspects of science, engineering and math.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    10. Modern Marvels
      (Amazon) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5] This is a fantastic show that teaches about how innovations are made and outlines the stories of various amazing feats of engineering.
    11. How the States Got Their Shapes
      (Amazon Instant Video) This is a great lesson in American history presented in an entertaining way. Better for older kids, but my 8 year old really liked it.[Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    12. Liberty Kids
      (Amazon Instant Video) – Great show for kids about the American Revolutionary War.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    13. Biz Kid$
       (Amazon Instant Video) – This is a great show from the makers of Bill Nye the science guy–I wish all kids would watch this show. It teaches about entrepreneurship. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.5]
    14. Adina’s Deck
      (Amazon Instant Video) – This is aimed more towards middle schoolers, and is a great conversation starter about cyber-bullying, plagiarism and more. Unfortunately there are only a few episodes. It’s less that it’s educational and more that it’s just important for kids to see this!
    15. Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
      (Amazon Instant Video) – Great, fun tv series with science challenges…a little more fluff than I’d like to see, but my kids enjoy it for the entertainment value… and there are some very important learning aspects to the show. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.0]
    16. Awesome Adventures
       (Amazon Instant Video) – The show visits cities around the world and acquaints kids with local culture.
    17. Discover Science
      (Amazon Prime) – Loads of interesting science experiments. “Spectacular experiments to sharpen your sense of science”
    18. Annedroids
      (Amazon Prime) – This show is mildly educational, but I do like it for it’s “niceness.”

      Science Court
      (YouTube) This is an animated series that goes over science concepts. Pretty good quality, the Squigglevision animation is a bit annoying. [Educational Quality Rating 5]

    19. White Rabbit Project
      (Netflix) -This show is probably best for kids older than 12. The opening scene of the series involves guns and there is definitely some questionable language throughout the series.

      It’s a Netflix original with some of the cast from Myth Busters. They do experiments and test the boundaries of technology to prove, compare, and discuss the “top 6” of all sorts of things–from scams and robberies to g-force. Overall a fun and definitely a very informative show. [Educational Quality Rating: 4.5]

Educational Videos on YouTube for older kids (8 years old+)

SciGirls is a great educational television show for girls or boys on YouTube

Finding worthwhile shows for older elementary and middle school kids on Netflix isn’t easy. Recently, YouTube published YouTube Learn at Home, which is a fantastic list of great educational videos.

Luckily,  YouTube has lots of full episodes of shows that you can’t get on the other streaming services–for instance for older kids if you Google Bill Nye The Science Guy full episodes or SciGirls Full Episodes, you’ll find quite a few very worthwhile shows.

You tube also has some other fun things like “Its Okay To Be Smart“.  We watch YouTube shows while driving on our smartphone and on our television via our Roku box.
Show suggestions on YouTube:

      1.  Design Squad
        (More episodes on Amazon Prime)  -This is a great show to learn engineering and math from PBS. It is definitely a very worthwhile show for “makers” as the mindset of the show is to work out the best ways to build things including kayaks, peanut butter machines, and musical instruments. This is a mainly meant for older kids, but younger ones can still benefit from watching it.

        Season 1 is included with Amazon Prime (Recommended, but look for a sale!). Season 2 is available one episode at a time or by subscribing to the show. There are more than a few episodes on YouTube.

        [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]

      2. SciGirls
        (Amazon Prime) – Great science shows for girls (and boys).  Covers a wide range of science topics and presented in an interesting/straightforward way. My two girls really love this show, and it is full of educational material that gives them a leg-up in school. There have been many instances where my kids have background knowledge of a science topic at school because of watching this show. I highly recommend it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
      3. DragonFly TV
        There aren’t any full episodes on YouTube that I could find at the moment, but lots of interesting short segments from the show.  If you can find more of it, definitely worth watching. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
      4. It’s Okay To Be Smart
        (YouTube) – Lots of great science and general knowledge facts in this YouTube show, put together in an engaging way. My girls love watching episodes of this show in the morning with breakfast. Fun. Interesting. Science-friendly. Better for older kids.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
      5. Mr. Wizard’s World
        (YouTube/More episodes on Amazon Prime) – Circa 1985, Mr. Wizard is a bit old school, but still quite a bit to learn from his show.
        Engineering, Chemistry, Zoology, Geology and Physics are all topics covered on this show…they even do some actual math on the show! If your kids can get past the dated equipment and computers they will definitely like it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]

More Tips for Parents on TV, Reading, and Gifts

Have a kid with Autism? You must watch Autism Channel. Excellent programming for kids and parents of kids who are living with autism.

If you’re child hasn’t started to read yet, be sure and read my review of Hooked on Phonics.  Also, view my list of gifts for brainy kids (hint: In case you didn’t already know, all kids are brainy kids they just need their talents cultivated) and some birthday party ideas.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting my site. Please leave feedback with any comments or ideas for other shows.

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Featured kids activities maryland Recommendations

List of Fun Activities For Kids To Do Around Maryland

what to do in maryland for fun

Looking for worthwhile things to do with your kids in the Baltimore/DC Area?  I am too.  Here is a list of 27+ fun activity suggestions that I have compiled from experience with my own children.  Please feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment below.

1) Children’s museums: Visit the  National Children’s Museum in National Harbor or in Baltimore called Port Discovery.  Kids love both places.

Another great place to take kids and teens is the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.  There are some great exhibits including mummies, gems and minerals, loads of animal and plant exhibits and an insect zoo where you can watch them feed a tarantula, see a live butterfly exhibit and more.  One of the greatest things in the museum is also the best kept secret–Q?rius is the name of a special kids science zone in the basement of the museum.

They have lots of high quality microscopes and tons of specimens and activities.  I highly recommend this for all kids but especially kids and teens interested in basic science. Rumor has it that they will soon be getting a scanning electron microscope!  See  the Natural History Museum’s website for information. Your children may also love the children’s activity center at the American Indian Museum.

Also, the Smithsonian maintains a website with a calendar of things to do for kids at all of its museums.  Check it out here.

2) In the spring, summer and fall months you can go to Brookside Gardens and see a great butterfly exhibit called Wings of Fancy (goes from Spring until October)

3) The National Gallery of Art has free hour long story time/Looking at art classes for kids on Sundays.  Get there before 11 (when the museum opens to get into the first class–usually there’s great parking spots open right near the museum).

4) In May – November, there are two great picking farms we like to go to–Larriland Farm in Lisbon, MD, Weber’s Farm in Parkville, and Butler’s Orchard in Germantown.  We especially like Larriland, they grow all kinds of things you can pick and the kids really love it.  Larriland uses a farming method called integrated pest management which significantly reduces pesticide use.

This is not the cheapest way to get your produce in the summer and fall, but it’s definitely one of the most fun. (If you are looking for cheap ways to get produce, see my blog post 6 cheap places to get produce in Maryland.)

5) Baltimore Harbor is always a fun place to go.  The paddle boats are a little expensive, but our girls really love riding on them.  Two of the most popular museums in the area are the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

Hard Bargain - Visit farms in Maryland

6) Visit Hard Bargain Farm.  For some readers it might be  a little bit far, but they have some great programs for kids there.

7) Visit the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Beltsville.  Ride the tram through the forest….

8) For a quick day-trip to the beach visit North Beach, Maryland or Sandy Point State Park.

9) Patapsco State Park – Visit one of several areas in the park including the “tire park” which is near Catonsville in the Hilton area of the park.  Some great hiking and nice scenery.

10) Is it hot outside? Follow the Maryland ice cream trail.

11) Go watch hobbyists launch model rockets at NASA Goddard. Held one Sunday per month–a tradition since 1976. You will also have a great, nerdy time at the Goddard Sunday Experiment.

12) Go to Imagination Stage and see a play for kids.  This ten year old theater company produces high quality shows and presents them in a modern venue.

13) Take a trip to Great Falls and walk along the C & O canal tow path.  See the amazing falls at the overlook. Hike on the billy goat trails and visit the museum.  Take a ride on a canal barge.

14) Visit Clarks Elioak Farm in Ellicott City.  Learn about farming and see artifacts from the Enchanted Forest.  Check the website for hours.

15) Terrapin Adventures in Savage, MD or Adventure Park in Sandy Spring for some fun in the trees including zip lines and climbing.

16) The Maryland Renaissance Festival – On weekends and holidays from late August to Mid October, this is a great place to have some fun.  If you’ve never been to a Ren Faire before, expect lots of interesting spectacles — low-tech shows (Jousting, magic) and interesting food and drink.

17) The National Zoo or The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.  The National Zoo is free, there is an admission charge for the Baltimore Zoo (at this writing $17.50 for adults, $12.50 for children).  Both zoos are an excellent experience for all ages.

things to do in Annapolis MD

18) Visit historic Annapolis – This colonial capitol town is charming and storied.  Visit the shops, museums and restaurants by the water, take a boat ride, a walking tour of the Naval Academy and more.  There are quite a few things to do and see. If you get a chance, have a look at the Hammond Harwood, William Paca House and Charles Carroll house historic sites.

19) When you take a trip to Annapolis and go kayaking, paddle  or canoeing at Quiet Waters Park.  They even offer stand-up paddle boarding–give it a try! You may also want to try Capital SUP – You can do stand-up paddle boarding right in the Annapolis Harbor in Eastport.

20) Transportation Museums – In Baltimore, visit the B&O Railroad museum – Kids love trains.  This is a chance to explore the history of the railroads and see old steam engines in person. To continue the rail theme, visit the streetcar museum.

Also in Baltimore at the inner harbor are some historic ships  including the USS Constellation and sometimes a submarine for you to get on board and have a look at. In College Park, there is an aviation museum. Another great museum is the Maryland Fire Museum in Lutherville. They have an amazing collection of old fire apparatus and plenty of fun things for kids.

21) For a bit of history, visit Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Maryland.  This Georgian mansion is very interesting especially if you are interested in local history and architecture.

22) Also in Laurel, is the Dinosaur Park–an interesting place to learn about Maryland’s prehistoric history.  You can visit any day, but for the best experience, you want to go on Saturday’s when they have open houses (check the schedule!).  It isn’t far from the Montpelier Mansion so you can plan to visit both on the same day.

22.5) If you’re in the mood for archaeology and looking for fossils, here are two more great activities: Have a go at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC.  Great stuff! Also, there are several locations near Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant that have fossils that can be found. My best suggestion here is to visit Flag Pond beach–you may find sharks, whales and alligator teeth and shells that are millions of years old.

23) Hike at Brighton Dam – Brighton Dam is a reservoir used as a water supply for homes around Montgomery County. They have walking trails and you can do some fishing there. Also, there is a spectacular azalea garden with 22,000 azalea bushes. Best viewed around early May.

24) The Fire Museum – The Fire Museum is lots of fun for kids of all ages. Located in Lutherville, this museum has some great exhibits. It’s also a great place to have a birthday party!

25) Do your kids like climbing? There is a super-cool indoor climbing place for kids in Laurel, MD. Climbzone is unusual because it doesn’t have your typical climbing walls. Kids can climb all sorts of nets, book cases, a Mount Rushmore replica and more. Highly recommended.

26) The American Visionary Art Museum is a little different. Located in Federal Hill in Baltimore City, this place has some great stuff for kids to enjoy. Look for their annual activities such as their whimsical moving sculpture parade and their sock puppet activity.

27) Crystal Grottoes Caverns – Discovered in 1920, the Crystal Grottoes Cavern is a great place to take kids. There are plenty of interesting and amazing formations sure to fill kids of all ages with wonder.

For a weekly roundup of special events for kids in Maryland, Virginia and DC visit Kidfriendly DC.  In the Baltimore area, we have Cool Progeny, which also is great for finding things to do.

Categories
Education Engineering Parenting

Two Great Interactive STEM Exhibits at the Smithsonian

If you are a parent in central Maryland and you’re reading this, odds are you’ll share the refrain I hear so often “The Smithsonian museums are so close to us, yet we only go if guests are in town.” It’s really sad when parents say this, because their kids are missing out on so much great stuff.

I’d like to recommend two relatively new exhibits at the Smithsonian that are truly outstanding. They are especially good because they are interactive and unusual, not to mention fun. The exhibits in question are at the National Museum of American History and at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History.

Spark!Lab: Become an inventor at the National Museum of American History. This exhibit is great for young people to be creative while learning STEM concepts. There are several stations they have created that mostly coincide with the current theme. For example, when we visited, the theme was “things that roll”, so there were several stations dedicated to wheels, pulleys, etc. My kids had a great time inventing a skateboard that they made out of cardboard and then got to test on a miniature skateboard ramp. They also had to use pulleys and wheels to create something that would roll along a “high wire”.

[Looking for gift ideas for your child’s birthday? See my list of educational presents for kids of all ages!]


There was also a station where the kids have to invent a controller for a video game. This was our favorite. The kids are shown a video game and given a controller box along with some “parts”…they can plug things into to the controller box and learn to control the characters on the screen with their invention. There was a staff member at the station to help guide them as they worked through what worked and what didn’t. We spent about 25 minutes at this station and the kids loved every minute of it.

We can’t wait to go back when they change the theme to see what else they can learn there. The museum is open every day but Christmas day (December 25), but note that the exhibit isn’t open on Tuesdays and that this exhibit’s operating hours are 10am-4pm.

Q?rius (pronounced “curious”): This exhibit found in the basement of the Natural History Museum is fantastic for kids of all ages. They have powerful microscopes and thousands of samples for visitors to explore including, birds, fish, bones, insects, sand, rocks and more. To say it’s “cool” is an understatement. They also have quite a few preset activities and the kids can sign up to get a badge and an account to track their investigations.  Bring your kids and check it out for yourself. The exhibit hours vary quite a bit depending on day of the week and time of the year. You can see the hours here, but mainly note that the exhibit is closed on Mondays.

As a bonus, you’ll want to check out the WONDER exhibit at the Renwick art gallery, complete with wallpaper made up of thousands of insects arranged in interesting shapes.

Want to know more about what’s going on at the Smithsonians. They have a calendar of events that I find very helpful.