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Classes/Workshops

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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Gymboree Play & Music

1501 Sloat Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94132

Foam tunnels. The 10 Little Bubbles Song. Slides and ladders. Building blocks. Puppets and parachutes. These are a few of Gymboree's kids' favorite things. Parents get to let their kids roam within grabbing distance, and talk to other adults. Kids aged 5 and under get to wear themselves out with all the toys and activities, and also learn some pre-school socialization skills along with the activities: song and dance, art and multimedia, sports and team-building. Age-appropriate classes greatly vary, since they're based on child development stages and include more as the kids grow. Most of the available classes are Play and Learn. Toddlers can build some early Sudoku solving abilities by going through patterns and sequences, or language development in a level 5 class. School skills add on some science and group cooperation concepts, which can be a real advantage when the kids are old enough to go to school. Art classes go beyond just finger painting and songs; there may be clay, there may be murals. Prepare to hang Gymboree art on the fridge, or display it on curio cabinets. There have been some negative reviews about parents not watching their children properly, which is outlined in the membership agreement under 'within a hug's reach'. There are available teachers, but parental involvement is necessary. At the same time, the kids will be intrigued by the mixture of consistency and variety, since classes and themes are changed every few weeks. Parents may be reassured that if they move across states or cities, there are many Gymborees to be accessed. This location is great, with a Lucky Supermarket and a Chipotle nearby. There shouldn't be any trouble with finding last-minute snacks or lunch if you've forgotten the goldfish crackers and dried apples. There's a current promotion on the Gymboree website for a first month's membership ($59) without a new members' fee, with a free class added on. Also, some parents have found Groupon deals that make the low cost even better. All in all, Gymboree is an affordable and clean place to go to get the young kids out of the rain, out of the house, and with other kids to work out their energy.

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Jewish Community Center

3200 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94118

Most people know that the Jewish Community Center has a great gym, but there are more things to do there than just work out. Sure, the facility is clean and there are locker rooms, but the kids also have a place here. However, you may want to check the website before taking a trip there, because there are many days and times when some things are open and some are closed. The fitness center is often open when the front desk is closed, but on many holidays (i.e. Passover and Rosh Hashanah) when everything shuts down at sunset (6 pm). For another example, the second-floor kids' playground is open seasonally on the weekends, between the start of April and the end of August. The library is open at certain hours on Wednesday and Thursday, but there's also a pushcart that can be accessed on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. However, the Community Center also offers a vast range of programs. The fitness center hosts Pilates and yoga and swim classes. You can even get a spa treatment or massage if the muscles cramp up. The Arts & Ideas theatre hosts concerts and lectures, so you might hear Grease showtunes and the Maccabeats one week, and see cooking shows on hummus and falafel the next week. If the Monday clay and wine classes don't grab you, maybe a photography or driver safety class will. That's just a list of what's geared toward the adults. Your kids can fill in off days by signing up for camps during school breaks, attending an award-winning swimming school, molding clay or sculpting ceramics in art class, dancing through gym class, or combining all of those things by joining the afterschool program. If your older kids really want to stretch themselves, there's always chess club or language arts or cooking classes. The mixture of sports and arts should be enough to keep any family occupied, and if there are any gaps – there's always the Urban Gardening classes.

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1 reviews

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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Junior Gym

811 S B St.
San Mateo, CA 94401

Since Junior Gym is a family-run business, they know how important it is to have a blend of structure and variety – from the equipment and activities, to the music played during gym time. There are basketballs to dunk in the nets, trampolines for doing the splits, a balance beam, and a zip line – and the gym is padded for extra safety. Equipment is frequently rearranged so that kids don't get bored doing the same thing all the time. There's also a coffee bar with steaming lattes, so that parents don't get bored and lose focus. Classes are structured based on the children's ages, so that they will be engaged but not overwhelmed. For 45 minutes, toddlers and three-year-olds can attend classes with their parents. That means they'll learn to sing songs, do parachutes, go through an obstacle course, play with bubbles, learn some basic gymnastics skills, and get a hand stamp. From ages 3 to 8, kids can join hour-long non-competitive gymnastics classes, ballet, or sports skills. This is where they can learn to follow a lesson plan with the instructor, and socialize with their peers in classes broken up by age groups. Since kids also need unstructured time, members can come to the twice-daily Open Gym sessions during the week. Parents have commented on the cleanliness of the facility. A professional cleaning service takes care of the equipment and surfaces with non-toxic, earth-friendly disinfectant, while the staff does daily cleaning and spot checks on the doorknobs and bucket of 'tasted' toys. A number of reviewers have said that the owners are very accomodating about missed classes that can be made up on the honor system, and there's a personal feel here that's lacking in some of the chain activity centers geared toward children.

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Lindsay Wildlife Experience

1931 1st Ave.
Walnut Creek, CA 94597

Kids can learn anything animal-related here: nesting patterns of birds, how to do animal surgery, the experience of flight. Being able to view an operating room that restores damaged animals is a training ground in itself, but the more technologically-minded may have more fun with the flight simulator that lets their imagination soar with electronic wings. If the kids have been begging for a pet but don't know what's involved in caring for a rabbit or guinea pig, don't miss the Petting Circle and the feeding demonstrations. Once they master those techniques, kids might also want to know what it would be like to spend every day with animals – they should stick around until after 3 pm for Meet an Animal Keeper. The live birds of prey hands-on station is one of the most intriguing, but the handlers do allow for a closer look at other animals during the day. The Hive Alive exhibit would be the exception, but it'll probably be as close as you can get to a group of working honeybees without getting stung. The beekeeper equipment willl also show the honey can get 'farmed' while minimizing the risk of damage. The best and newest exhibit that's non-live is The Burrow, complete with animal models and puppets that show the importance of tunnels, and separation for the living space and bathrooms in the animal kingdom. If the toddlers get restless, there are animal exhibits and puzzles in the playroom, or you can take them to nearby Larkey Park. Lindsay Wildlife does help a range of animals to be patched up and re-released, from bats to raccoons to squirrels. However, some of the animals that are rescued can't be released back into the wild, like the 25-year-old bald eagle, on-site raptors, and a gray fox. If normal visiting hours aren't enough, consider signing up the kids or the whole family for an affordable four-week class on Animal Homes or Bugs ($36 - $45), a three-day mini-camp on Animal Habitats or Caretaking ($60 - $85), or a two-hour workshop on raptors or reptiles or owls ($14 - $45). Just as the volunteers frequently show new animals to the kids, new class and workshop options get added every few months.

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3 reviews