The Original Playhouse or TOP as the acronym states, is a converted house that is lovingly decorated by owner and former teacher Ellen Przybocki. You can tell a lot of heart went into making this playhouse not only original, but a cozy, colorful and imaginative space for children up to age 8.
Little details abound with quotes from Einstein and Dr. Seuss to hand painted décor done by Ellen’s nieces and suggestions for family discussions in the different rooms. What a better way to learn about math by having a wall covered in different textures of shapes that are itching to be touched!
Upon arrival, children are asked to take off their shoes. There are cubbies for shoes (children need to keep their socks on) and hooks of all heights for coats. Admission is reasonable at $5 per adult and $10 per child, $5 for ages 2 and under and infants are free. If you live in the vicinity, I recommend a 5 or 10 visit pass which is especially handy during the winter months. TOP is ideal for 3 to 8 year olds, but I did see a lot of toddlers present.
There are various small rooms for children to explore: Art 101, Wonders of Water, Engineerium, Village Market and Home, Nature Nook and the Reader’s Theater.
The rooms are not just designed for creative play. Each room emphasizes a purpose and a way to educate children through hands-on experimentation. Just look on the wall in Art 101 room for ideas. There are drawers filled with tissue paper, alphabet stickers, paper plates, popsicle sticks; jars of colored pencils, googly eyes, colored string, dried macaroni and pipe cleaners and hampers overflowing with recyclable materials. If you dare to get messy, there’s a bowl of gak, but read the notice, it will stain clothing. A paint filled easel and sink are nearby to clean up messes.
Wonders of Water lets you explore with large sinks of water, rubber ducks, submarines and a giant, walk in bubble wand. Engineerium is a busy area with plenty of options to keep all ages entertained from a toddler workbench to a vat of dried rice, marble ramps, Legos and magnaformers. Dive into the trunk of wooden blocks and use the manual on illustrations to recreate the Eqyptian pyramids or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Any museum that has a farmers market or grocery store element as one of its components is a winner for my daughter. Currently highlighting Chinese New Year, the rotating exhibits in The Village Market and Home were nothing short of awesome.
Wooden and felt items such as mushrooms and bok choy were placed in baskets behind pictures of how food is transported and sold in China. Chinese scrolls, money and a tiny gong led you to the home portion of the exhibit. Bamboo lined walls, a petite bed, giant fan, Asian melamine bowls, teapots and other cookery were abundant in the family room. The number of Chinese elements in both rooms made the dramatic play area very authentic. My daughter made it a point to go back to the village home numerous times during our two hour visit.
The focal point of the Nature Nook is the wall mural depicting the farmland of Frederick County. The quiet nook is filled with stuffed animals, a vet cart and Apollo, a real gerbil. The Chinese New year element continues here with a bamboo corner reserved for the panda. Let your inner light shine in the Reader’s Theater.
The feel-good room can transform you into a clown, superhero or knight among other characters. Musical instruments, props, and a colorful backdrop make your child the star of the show. I also like that in most of the rooms, there is a spot for families to sit and engage with one another.
The only caveat are the hours, which may not be ideal for some families. The children’s museum is open Tuesday to Friday 8:30 am to 4 pm, and Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. They are closed Mondays and on Saturdays the facility is reserved exclusively for birthday parties. Party packages are reasonable and can be held any day of the week. We visited the museum on a Sunday and while the playhouse was open to the public, a birthday party was going on which meant the downstairs area was inaccessible. Not a big deal as we followed the book bindings leading upstairs.
Upon our departure, another party was starting to come in so be aware that some areas may be temporarily off limits. Other special events are Parents’ Night Out, spring break and summer camp.
While I don’t have a little one, there are two bathrooms; one on each floor. The upstairs one has a changing table complete with disposable changing pads and wipes. There are signs in the bathroom that say Laugh and a vintage Dick and Jane print which I appreciated and felt like I was in someone’s home.
While you may wonder if visiting TOP is worth the drive, let me tell you that it is! Even though it took an hour to get here from Alexandria, Virginia, my kiddo has already requested another visit to TOP. We stopped next door for brunch at Vintage Restaurant. My 7 year old thought it was neat to dine on an antique Singer sewing table while I appreciated the diverse kids menu. You can even make it a day trip and head to Adventure Park which is also located in the town of New Market.
Photos courtesy of Kathleen Molloy.