Best Places to Take Kids with Mobility or Sensory Issues
All children need to get out of the house, have places to go where they can burn some energy and see and try new things. But for those with special needs, access to such experiences can be challenging. Here are some terrific options.
To the Playground: Hadley’s Playground, in Potomac’s Falls Road Local Park, was designed to allow children of all abilities to play together. It features play structures with accessible ramps and swings, and a surface that supports the use of wheelchairs and walkers, as well as bikes, scooters and in-line skates. The park also includes accessible baseball and soccer fields, and accessible exercise equipment.
Falls Road Local Park, 12600 Falls Road, Potomac montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/falls-road-local-park/
To the Theater: The houselights remain dim and volumes are softened, especially for loud or startling sounds, during sensory-friendly performances at Imagination Stage, a local children’s performance center where American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation is offered during each show’s run and accessible seating is avail-able at each performance.
Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, 301-280-1660 imaginationstage.org
To the Puppet Show: Professional puppet playhouse The Puppet Co. offers sensory-friendly performances of its larger Mainstage shows. Modifications include softer sound cues and microphone volumes, audience lights kept on and back doors left open for easy breaks. The performers’ energy levels are also calmer, and effects like strobe lights or fog are cut. Tiny Tots shows have short run times—just 30 minutes—and have no dark rooms or loud noises. Many have gentle interactive opportunities, such as singing or movement. While the shows are meant for ages 2-4, older kids are welcome. The company also offers ASL- interpreted performances.
The Puppet Co., 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, 301-634-5380 thepuppetco.org
To the Air: Skydiving may seem like an unexpected activity for people with special needs, yet kids of all abilities can still enjoy the feeling of floating weightless in the state-of-the-art wind tunnel at iFly, the indoor skydiving facility in Gaithersburg. Instructors can make accommodations for many types of mobility limitations, sensory issues and developmental disabilities.
iFly, 9400 Gaither Road, Gaithersburg, 202-883-4359 iflyworld.com/Montgomery
To the Movies: Film screenings can be dark and loud, but at sensory-friendly showings, lights stay on and volume levels are moderated. With locations at Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda, the rio in Gaithersburg and Wheaton, AMC Theatres offer family films in sensory-friendly presentations the second and fourth Saturday of every month. And the Regal theater in Rockville offers such presentations in the first show of the day on select Tuesdays and Saturdays each month.
To the Gym: Designed as an inclusive, non-judgmental place for kids of all abilities to play in their own way, We Rock the Spectrum opened in September 2021. The play gym features equipment tailored to children with sensory issues, such as swings that spin and rock, a trampoline, a climb-ing wall and a bumpy slide. It offers daily open-gym playtimes and classes, such as a messy art class. Check Facebook or Instagram, or call for hours.
We Rock the Spectrum, 7601 Airpark Road, Suite E, Gaithersburg, 301-355-8486 werockthespectrumgaithersburg.com
Coolest High School Courses
Students in a new cultural studies class developed by teacher David Lopilato at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School explore projects beyond the walls of the school. They have conducted Zoom interviews with girls in Afghanistan about their school experiences, have produced podcasts about teen life, and are curating an interactive exhibit about the life of teenagers over the last 100 years that they hope to display at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. “It’s a class where your work matters. Everything we do has the potential to be published, or for others to see,” sophomore Jasmine Ferrell says of the English elective class. “It forces us to put out our best work.”
Learning the art of clowning at Washington Waldorf School isn’t all about wearing funny costumes and goofing off. Laurent Andre, who has taught the elective art class at the private Bethesda school for nearly 15 years, says students learn how to express themselves, interact with an audience and amplify what comes their way in an improvisational performance. “There is no script,” Andre says. That can be very scary at first, he adds, but students often leave the class more assertive, generous and sensitive: “When they finish, they are stronger.”
American History through Film
What could be better than a class in which you get to watch up to 10 movies? Learning some history along the way. In American His-tory Through Film, students analyze movies and think critically about how they relate to various time periods and societal trends, says Andrew Kozlowsky, a social studies teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. For instance, on his watch list this semester: Dr. Strangelove and a discussion of the Cold War, along with The Birth of a Nation and an analysis of Reconstruction.
Best Cooking Classes for Kids
Hiding in the back of Pike & Rose’s high-end kitchen store Sur La Table, you will find a large professional kitchen space used for cooking classes. Many of these classes have been thoughtfully designed to cater to kids: Duller knives are used, hot items are always handled with assistance, and step stools are offered for those who need extra height. Ingredients are measured out before students arrive. Dirty dishes are swiftly cleaned up by assistants—minimizing clutter and maximizing cooking time (most classes involve making three different items). Sur La Table programs two types of classes for kids during the school year: kids classes ( just for kids, geared for ages 7-15) and “family fun” classes (for kids and parents). During the summer, there are cooking camp sessions (split up by age groups). Be on the lookout for themed classes as well, which are often seasonal and based on upcoming holidays. Getting kids comfortable in the kitchen at an early age has so many benefits. As Brandi Orcutt-Velez, area manager, notes, these classes “prepare them for when they have to start cooking for themselves, whether that starts when they’re a tween, teen or in college. These are life lessons they can utilize their entire life.”
Sur La Table, 11874 Grand Park Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda, 301-230-1503 surlatable.com