.Best Kids’ Stuff

Best Kids’ Stuff

Child’s Play

“The world is/not with us enough. / O taste and see.”

–from “O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Drug-Free Alternative to Ritalin

OK, no more poking fun at the recent ADD flurry. Kid Street Theatre, a nonprofit agency dedicated to teaching kids important life skills, is now in its 10th year. The after-school program serves youth at risk, kids without homes, and other disregarded children in our community through its innovatively therapeutic arts program. The program keeps growing through support from its volunteers and benefactors. Activities include painting, acting, singing, and other artistic endeavors, but Kid Street’s main focus is theater productions written, directed, and acted in solely by the kid participants.

54 West Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 707/525-9223. –E.L.

Best Way to Raise a Star-Struck Kid

Laser blasters. Moon bases. Alien abductions. Invaders from Mars. Images that pervade the media and creep into the pliable minds of young children, most of whom are amazed to discover that real-life astronauts are still struggling to learn how to manipulate a space wrench while constructing the International Space Station and not–and now this will come as a real shock to a lot of kids–fending off venomous green space bugs from the Andromeda galaxy. Let Ed Megill put things into perspective for those little tikes at the Santa Rosa Junior College planetarium–no previous knowledge of trigonometry needed; Ed will provide that at the show. Get in touch with the cosmos. Fill those little heads with wonder while seated in an almost totally darkened room as the facility’s super-projector (which looks a bit like, well, a venomous bug from outer space) replicate a starry night sky on the magnificent domed roof. Marvel at the breathtaking slides from the Hubble Space Telescope (worth every red cent–and there have been billions of them–that American taxpayers have pumped into that baby). And, yes, they’ll even learn to identify the neighboring Andromeda galaxy–just in case they want to keep a watchful eye out for those blasted space bugs. Open weekends only. No children under age 5.

SRJC, Lark Hall, Room 2001, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. For show times, call 707/527-4371. –G.C.

Best Place to Unveil Your Kid’s Invention

Has little Johnny reinvented the wheel or devised a better mode for Internet access? Then maybe he’s ready for the Marin County Fair’s “Invention Convention.” Sponsored by the Marin County Office of Education as part of the Logitech Inventor’s Lab, the Invention Convention is open to kids from kindergarten to high school. Each child is required to invent a unique product and create a booth to demonstrate that product to a panel of judges. Judges come from such prestigious companies as Sharper Image and Autodesk. In addition, a company from Ideas To Market (ITM) reviews the kid’s products and offers suggestions for improvements and marketing. More than 20 kids took part last year, with inventions ranging from the Compact Portable Bike Trailer to the Hands-Off Page Turner. The Invention Convention offers kids a great opportunity to use their imaginations and follow through with a marketing strategy. The event is held on the Marin County Fairgrounds in early July.

Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. 415/499-6400. –B.E.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Get in Touch with Nature

Armstrong Woods is famous for many things, those enormous groves of giant redwoods being the grandest of the state reserve’s many glories. Unfortunately, Mother Nature’s calm and magnificent grandeur is seldom as captivating to youngsters as it is to the stressed-out adult types you routinely see at the reserve, standing with their eyes closed, taking slow therapeutic breaths of cool, shadowy air. Fortunately, the park features a neat, interactive “display” that, even though it was not designed with children as its main focus, manages to appeal to kids’ most playful, hide-and-seekish inclinations. The Tactile Trail is a hands-on self-guided tour that meanders up and down through a quarter mile of forest. The cool part is that you can take the tour with your eyes closed. Created for the use of sight-impaired visitors, the trail ingeniously employs a length of smooth cable, suspended about waist high from a railing. By following the cable, you are taken through the trees up onto a porchlike platform where you can caress or embrace one especially large, moss-covered redwood and step in and out of dappled sunlight. At regular intervals are information stations, where you can read, in Braille and in print, about the surrounding flora and fauna, and even pick up a few historical tidbits–and yes, kids will get to open their eyes at these little “reading intervals,” which makes the whole experience a little less scary and a bit more educational. It is not unusual, at the end of the trail, to hear the excited voices of children saying, “Let’s do it again!” Fortunately, the trail ends where it begins, so repeat trips are easy.

Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville. 869-2958. –D.T.

Best Place to Skip Rocks

You need two things to skip rocks: flat rocks and a smooth bit of water on which to skip them. Well, rock skippers, take note. China Beach, at San Rafael’s China Camp State Historical Park, has both in abundance. The beach is strewn with hand-sized, geologic bits and pieces, and the water–a quiet cove off of San Pablo Bay–is the calmest aquatic expanse this side of my brother-in-law’s swimming pool. With a little practice, your kids will be throwing triple-skippers in no time. Also, the gentle shoreline is a great place for toddlers and young children, the tidal pools provide hours of discoveries, and the museum (telling the tale of the thousands of Chinese fishermen who once lived at this shrimpery) is a real eye-opener.

North San Pedro Road, San Rafael (off Hwy. 101, 5 1/2 miles from Marin Civic Center). 415/456-0766. –D.T.

Best Place for Impressionable Youths to Watch Overdressed Adults Pretend to Stab Each Other with Swords

En garde! On the first Saturday of every month, the Rafael Film Center presents a rip-roaring big-screen adventure. As part of its ongoing Family Classics series, the RFC screens the same kind of amazing old-time swashbucklers that our parents and grandparents used to go see every Saturday afternoon. Recent films have included Treasure Island, The Mark of Zorro, and Gene Kelly’s The Pirate. Take that, kiddies.

1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415/454-1222 . –D.T.

Best Place to Take the Kids Back in Time

Let’s do the Alley Oop, sauntering back to, oh, say, 3 million years ago. No laser tag. No malls. No Sharon Wright. No chichi wineries. And absolutely no suburban sprawl. Now imagine that this bygone era is rocked by a massive volcano, spewing hot ash and roiling gases all over the front lawn of your nifty caveman/cavewoman digs (OK, in real life there were no people around to witness this, but let’s just pretend). Ashes everywhere–ashes in your hair (and not a Paul Mitchell salon in sight), ashes in your food (roasted bison intestines or some other gloppy caveman/cavewoman delicacy), ashes in the kids’ pool. Yech. Now imagine that you get burned to a crisp (hey, I said it was hot stuff spewing from this volcano), and everything gets coated in a carpet of fine ash–trees, plants, the future home of the Mondavis, the whole nine yards. Now flash forward to modern times. You’re still a caveman (or at least author John Gray wants to think of your Neanderthal alter ego that way, thank you very much), and those 3 million-year-old trees that used to provide shelter from marauding saber-toothed cats are still there–only now they’re petrified, owing to a mineralization process that is too complicated to explain in a Best of the North Bay issue. And it costs you five bucks to go visit those trees. Welcome to the Petrified Forest, a state landmark on the Sonoma/Napa border. It’s a great place to give kids a sense of the scale of things–big things, old things. It also boasts a way-cool gift shop, where, for just a few bucks, you can purchase a 60 million-year-old fish fossil, guaranteed to amaze classmates at your kids’ show-and-tell for many years to come. And like all good petrified forests, the place is filthy with history: In 1870, the site was discovered by Petrified Charlie Evans (and we don’t want to know how he earned that nickname). That same year, it was visited by author Robert Louis Stevenson and immortalized in the book Silverado Squatters. A little more than 100 years after that, the first petrified log was power washed–stay awake, this is important. Check it out for yourself. Drive north or south (depending on the location of your modern-day caveman/cavewoman digs) on Hwy. 101. Take the River Road/Guerneville exit to Mark West Springs Road (wave to the Northern California Bohemian office as you drive past). Continue driving on Mark West Springs Road until it becomes Porter Creek Road. Continue driving on Porter Creek Road until it ends at Petrified Forest Road. Make a left turn onto Petrified Forest Road. You will see the entrance to the Petrified Forest 1/2 mile down the road on your left. It’s open every day except Christmas.

Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and juniors (ages 12 to 17), and $2 for children ages 11 and under. 707/942-6667. –G.C.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Let Your Kids Express Their Creative Self

OK, it might not be the ultimate best place (there are many dynamite kids’ arts programs in the North Bay), but it is outstanding. Studio Be’s Creation Conservatory offers a wide range of fabulous classes that allow young children and teens to just be themselves. Spring classes–which started this week and run through May–feature a bunch of old favorites (classes in storytelling, playwriting, and solo performance) and a slew of new favorites (classes in improv comedy, modern dance, tumbling, vocal improvisation, and creative expression–and we’re all for that). The program’s director is Michelle Pelletier (above, back row), whose teaching and direction credits include the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Summer classes begin June 18 and include the ever-popular Shake & Bake: Shakespeare in the Heat of the Summer, where kids can learn the fine art of throwing Shakespearean insults and a bit of handy stage fighting.

Studio Be, 206 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707/569-8206, ext. 2. –G.C.

Best Place to Not Get in Trouble

Don’t touch anything or you’ll regret it! How often do kids hear some uptight adult barking that threat? At the Bay Area Discovery Museum, children–up to age 10 or so–are actually encouraged to touch the exhibits. Required to touch the exhibits. Indeed, hands-on is the order of the day here. Create a self-portrait. Learn how to fingerprint someone. Use computers to fuse pictures of your family members–even those nervous nellies who are always yelling at you. Or just work on those gross motor skills, er, play. There is an ever-changing array of exhibits and activities at this unique North Bay resource, from art workshops and theater arts that help kids cope with bullies and intolerance to spring break activities camps and preschooler science labs. Reach out and touch it.

Bay Area Discovery Museum, Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. Admission is $7 for adults and children ages 2 and up. Children under 1 and members are free. Group rates are available to schools, day-care centers, and community organizations. 415/289-7266. –G.C.

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Staff Picks

From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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