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Arts & Crafts

Children's Creativity Museum

221 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94560

The Children's Creativity Museum is like a multimedia studio left open for the directors' kids to explore. From the Animation studio with clay critters, to the Music studio with a green screen, children and young adults can put their energy and talents to good use here. What you'll really have to worry about is that the children will get spoiled for any other museum. Since they're not only allowed, but encouraged, to touch all of the art....well, use your imagination. In fact, the Imagination Lab, the Movie Studio and the Do It Yourself studio are all very popular. The Mystery Box challenge changes frequently, and requires the kids to think their way around design problems. For a minor fee, you can even take a DVD home with you instead of worrying about capturing a video via iPhone, since the kids' activities, songs, and storytelling can be recorded. Also, the children are no longer restricted to an older age group (6-12). Since the facility got renovated, the younger children (3-5) can play on the train table and busy themselves with crafts, from painting to playing dress-up. (Warning - bring ear plugs for the music room because the drums are popular.) A few parents have said that the toddler toys are rather generic and a little grubby. However, the Early Birdies program is popular, especially with the members who get to go free. (It's $15 for non-members.) If the kids have any energy left, there's a great and free playground outside the museum with grass, a labyrinth, and a sandpit.

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Habitot Children's Museum

2065 Kittredge St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
United States

This is definitely a place to bring the young ones, whether they want to operate the spaceships and ambulances, don an apron and splash paint around, or splash around in the Waterworks zone. This water zone is even more important in this indoor facility than at others, because the facility is in a basement. One of the only repeated complaints from reviewers was that the museum is smaller than the party area, and occasionally gets hot and stuffy. Staying near the water zone can help alleviate this issue, while the indoor bathroom helps alleviate calls of nature. Other parents had high praise for the arts and crafts area, from the hands-on instructors to the quality of the materials available, though the kids may want to just hang out at the Train Tables all day. Also, if you've ever had a great time at a park or museum, only to have the kids fall apart when they realize they can't take home the toys, this won't happen here. Habitot members can access the lending library for books and toys, and you can get ideas for what will keep them entertained at home. While street and lot parking are relatively inexpensive and easy to access, the facility is very accessible by public transport in downtown Berkeley. Habitot can also be used as a drop-off center every fourth Friday for the monthly Parents' Night Out – the kids get pizza and play while parents get to remember life before diapers. It's a win for everyone.

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Junior Center Art and Science

558 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610

The Junior Center may be an under-appreciated Oakland gem. It's located just next to Lake Merrit's bird sanctuary, the still-popular Children's Fairyland, and the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, less than a mile away. It can be hard to find educational places that are open for free during the week, also offer science and art classes, and act as a drop-in center or camp during the summer. You and the kids can overlook the lake while looking at frogs and lizards, in the Animal Discovery sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays (free), or bring a picnic basket so that you can really explore the area around the lake. It's also fun to look around the room at the display of artwork and posters about the various animals, done by all of the kids who have explored their way through the Center. There are baskets of crayons and helpful staff who can show you how to draw, explain how the lizard can regrow its tail – and of course this will inspire your kids to add their artwork to the walls. Gary the tortoise is a real hands-on highlight. He's middle-aged, and a little slow, but his rescue story is inspiring – especially as he is now quite hale and healthy. It's also allowed to hold Tyler the bearded dragon, and the toads, but you might want to just admire the Madagascar hissing roaches from afar. On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, parents of preschoolers can come and help their 'Little Leapers' get ready for a learning environment, doing art and science and music classes in groups. The after-school and summer courses can be taken for a very affordable fee, whether your kids want to build a bookcase and a chicken coop for the backyard (Carpentry for Kids) or become the next Calvin and Hobbes creator (Cartooning for Teens) with a side interest in charm bracelets (Jewelry/Metal Arts for Teens). The Rockets and Robots class is also very popular.

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Mocha (Museum of Children's Arts)

1625 Clay St.
Oakland, CA 94612

While most child-centered learning centers, museums, and play spaces in San Francisco and Oakland have art classes, MOCHA focuses almost exclusively on art as a first-tier learning tool. Many kid-friendly places strive to incorporate art into other areas of education, such as science and environmental awareness. MOCHA's pupose has a bigger focus – using art to bond together community relationships and reduce city crime rates with more positive influences. The underlying seriousness doesn't keep kids or parents from enjoying themselves. Most of what's available is the Open Studio time, where parents and kids can drop in unnanounced on Friday and Saturday, pay their $7 each, and spend a few hours discovering their own creativity. Options may be a little limited for toddlers, though the glueing and stamping station can usually keep them occupied if the trucks and train tracks are in use. Four-year-olds and older kids will definitely benefit from the computers, Legos, coloring, and painting. Occasionally, the tasks change, so the kids can delve into something more complicated like making books, marbleizing paper, and the mechanics of printmaking. Parents who felt cramped in the old location will definitely want to take a look at the new building, which allows the staff to open up multiple art projects so that kids can take their pick of activities. The new location on Clay Street has also opened up possibilities for more museum displays, art parties, and summer camps, which can really help out parents. The summer camps mean that parents can drop off their children around 9 am, and have a day to get their own tasks done while the kids are busy expressing themselves and learning how to create beauty until 3:30 pm. For $65 per day, or $300 per week, this can be a sanity saver.

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Mrs. Grossman's

3810 Cypress Drive
Petaluma, CA 94954

This one-hour weekday tour comes at a low price, but the quality is good. If you and the kids enjoy indoor activities like scrapbooking, this may be your favorite tour. If you're more the science and machines type, watching the stickers get created, pressed, and perforated just may be your thing. If you're a history buff but didn't know any sticker history before you came, you will once the tour is over. If you and the kids love to collect antiques or anything that's no longer available, the tour shows rows of stickers on retirement. First, the kids get the multimedia experience with a five-minute video. Next, get to see the factory workers in action on the machines, from printing to die-cutting to perforation. Some reviewers have said that their favorite part comes when you get to wander around the production floor, because there are so many machines (dye machines, rollers, laser cutters) and elements to making a sticker (quality check points, pigments, storage). Each one of the six stations has a reason, especially the recycling area and the one-of-a-kind Laserweb. Since so many companies outsource their printing to other countries, it's fascinating to see the full process, start to finish, in a company begun in the United States that employs local residents. Whether or not this is explained on the tour, it's exciting from a business perspective that a graphic designer was able to launch a company in 1975 that now has 90 employees, and this is the only sticker company that offers tours – world-wide. Nor is this just a 'look but don't touch' tour. Not only are there sticker samples to take home, but you also get to put a sticker collage on a postcard at the end of the tour, in the same room where the video is shown. If you find that the samples aren't enough, there are more stickers on sale, some in a random Grab Bag box on discount for a few dollars. Also, paying for the tour pays off in the end, because you get a coupon to spend on – more stickers!

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Peekadoodle Kids Club

900 North Point St. F100
San Francisco, CA 94109

Peekadoodle is a mix between a childcare center, a playdate, and the Exploratorium. The location can't be beat, since it's near Fishermans' Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. The provided snacks reflects the area, from smoked salmon and capers to a full-out pizza party, and there's a model of the Golden Gate Bridge inside. The store fronts, dress-up areas, and slide are kept clean, along with the full-scale San Francisco cable car. Parents can even wait in comfort, on a suede bench. Since the owners are two moms who wanted to have an educational facility where their kids could have fun (and they could focus on personal development and/or work), there are actual classes to be had: art, cooking, Legos, self-defense, Music and Movement, etc. The Prep drop-off program normally lasts for 3 hours, though extended Prep is an option. The Academy is for toddlers aged 2 and ½ to 5 years old can be part-day or full day, and requires an application plus initial non-refundable fee ($75). They can also enroll in a week-long Kidscamp. The Clubhouse is for fun and horsing around. Class sizes are kept to a reasonable 12:2 ratio spread over 7 classrooms, and enrollment stops at 100 kids. Even the goodie bags reflect responsibility, since they include hand sanitizer. Personal responsibility for the adults must be exercised, as alcohol is allowed on-site. Parents may want to investigate discounts, especially if they want to sign up for Summer Kidscamp or date night drop-offs. Also, since many parents and mompreneurs may be the networking types, it's worth considering having a Peekadoodle-endorsed family photo shoot done by Niall David, or investigating the nearby Tutu School on Bay Street.

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Play Haven

254 Laguna Honda Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94116

With over 4,000 square feet of space Play Haven was designed by an early childhood education specialist to encourage children to explore their world through sensory stimulation and play activities. The facility includes a large, open play area filled with an art studio, sensory activities, imagination games, reading area, dramatic play areas and a rock climbing wall. The owners wanted to provide a center that would promote early childhood learning, creativity, social and emotional development and give children a chance to increase fine motor skills all in a drop-in setting. Cozy couches and seating arrangements are perfect for relaxing while your children play or to sit and read with your children. Instead of messing up your home with arts and crafts activities, visit Play Haven where clean-up is a snap. Parents can utilize the space to participate in fun activities with their little ones or enroll them in one of the center’s enrichment classes and head off to the parent’s lounge for some quite time for work or leisure. By the way, the parent lounge comes equipped with work stations and free Wi-Fi. A handy kitchen is stocked with all the things you need to enjoy this time away from home with your children including: bottle warmers, microwave, refrigerator and single service coffee and tea maker. Additionally there is a relaxing nursing room and peaceful outdoor patio. Play Haven opened its doors in early October. On October 9 it offered the first of what it anticipates will be many enrichment classes to follow. The first class was JAMaROO Kids, a parent and tot music and movement class for ages 3 and under. The place is clean and everything is new. Nearby neighborhood parking is free (see Tips for Visiting below).

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