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Art Studios

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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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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