Port Discovery Welcomes New Clifford Exhibit

Clifford the Big Red DogClifford the Big Red Dog and his friends from Birdwell Island are at Baltimore’s Port Discovery as part of a traveling exhibit. If your kids are fans of this lovable canine and his adventures, I highly recommend visiting this well-planned exhibit as a lot of activities are packed into a small space.

postcard from Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibitThe exhibit is set up with different “stations” to represent parts of the island. There is, of course, Clifford himself, with his tail converted to a small slide. He has a large dog dish with a conveyor belt and gigantic bones that need to be loaded onto the belt to feed him (have I ever mentioned how much the JavaKids LOVE conveyor belts?) There is a ferry to “take” you to the island, complete with life jackets. A town library full of books and cozy places to plop down and read. A “sandcastle” (hard resin) puzzle area at T-Bone’s beach. You can place your orders or become the cook at Samuel’s Fish and Chips Shack. Perform on stage with a variety of instruments while wearing dressed in costumes of the various Birdwell island dogs. Or — and this is what captivated the interest of my son whom I worried was too old for the Clifford section — deliver laminated mail to the various island residents from the Post Office to their individual mail boxes. There is even a writing station to write your own note to one of the characters. (I LOVE that — hooray for encouraging writing!)

So many children’s exhibits miss the mark, but this one really found a way to engage children with many different interests. JavaGirl blew past some things and then spent considerable time on other activities. There were opportunities for those who were more physical/active (the slide, sandcastle area, conveyor belt area), the musical/performing types, those who like pretend play, those who like to bring order to chaos, and those who simply like to hang out and read books. The fact that even JavaBoy, at that very touchy age of seven, could find a comfort zone made me realize just how well-planned this museum display was. It’s a shame that it will leave Port Discovery May 5.

However, don’t despair; if you are not already familiar with the children’s museum, there is plenty else to do — from a three-story high climbing structure (ropes, tunnels, slides), to a pretend grocery store, water works room, and a very cool exhibit about Egypt. Keeping busy is never a challenge! Since our last visit they have added an interactive section about nanotechnology, which JavaDad and I enjoyed immensely — unfortunately by the time we got to it, our resident scientist, JavaBoy was already exhausted, or else I think he would’ve been a little more receptive. JavaGirl found the “build a carbon atom tunnel” interesting but some of the grander real-life applications of nanotechnology wasn’t of interest to her yet.

Planning a visit?  Every third Friday of the month is Target $2 Family Fun Night where general admission is just $2 per person from 4 pm to 7 pm, if you want to save some money. See the Port Discovery web site for more information about hours and ticket prices, other discounts and special events. Prepare for your visit by letting your kids enjoy some of these online Clifford games at PBS Kids, color printables, learn about the production of the shows, or check out some of the Scholastic books written by Norman Bridwell from the library or buy them online or at your local bookstore.

Disclosures: Clifford the Big Red Dog is a trademark of Norman Bridwell. My family and I were invited guests to the opening of the Clifford exhibit of Port Discovery, writing about the exhibit was neither a requirement of attendance nor did it impact what I wrote – I always tell it like it is. I am an Amazon Affiliate and have linked to Amazon in this post.

The Puppet Company’s Nutcracker: Delightful Departure From the Original

Nutcracker puppet show

The famous sword fight between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King! Photo credit: Christopher Piper.

The Nutcracker with puppets? A purist at heart, I couldn’t quite fathom it. After all, the Nutcracker I grew up with was performed by the Miami Ballet Company, one of the few licensed to perform George Balanchine’s version of The Nutcracker™. 

But the JavaKids’ first exposure to a live version of this classic tale was yesterday at The Puppet Company in Glen Echo Park in Wheaton, MD and though it is very much a departure from the ballet performance I grew up with, it was absolutely appropriate for their ages and a great introduction. This was also our first visit to the puppet theater and we are already looking forward to attending another show.

Nutcracker Arabian magician

JavaGirl had many questions after the performance about how this puppet floated and how the magic tricks worked. Photo credit: Christopher Piper

The theater has mostly floor seating, though there are some plush banquettes on the sides and very back.  Children who are willing to sit apart from their parents may sit at the very front, close to the stage. For this particular show, some of the puppets were actually actors in costumes with gigantic puppet heads, while others were marionettes and a few were hand puppets.  Though the basic story remained the same (Clara receives a Nutcracker and a magical journey ensues), the scenes in the land of sugar plums are different, including characters from Mother Goose, a donkey from Spain carrying chocolate, a black-light Arabian magician on a flying carpet and more.

Nutcracker family

We had never seen "puppets" quite like these before. Photo credit: Christopher Piper

Since JavaGirl had specifically requested a Mouse King nutcracker for Christmas, she carried it with her to the show and it was wonderful to watch her expressions throughout the performance.  She cringed during the famous sword fight between the Nutcracker and Mouse King and was a bit afraid of Drosselmeyer.  Dancing flowers and flying fairies were quite delightful. Even seven-year-old JavaBoy found himself wrapped up in the 50-minutes of fantasy. JavaDad and I also enjoyed this new interpretation of a family favorite – we marveled at how expressive the gigantic heads could be even without moving features.

There is one more day of performances – Saturday, December 31 11:30 am and at 1 pm.  However, if you miss those, I highly recommend making a trip out to see a future show at The Puppet Company.  We’re already talking about trying to catch a performance of Peter and the Wolf!  Note that there are special Tiny Tots performances for younger kids as well as an American Sign Language version for the hearing impaired.  See The Puppet Company’s web site for ticket and performance information.

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Disclosure:  Though I am often offered complimentary tickets for performances at many venues, in this case, my family purchased our own tickets.  All photos provided by The Puppet Company and are credited to Christopher Piper.