Children and art museum blend beautifully thanks to planned programs

Two-year-old Max dips a paintbrush into blue watercolor and dabs the paint onto the frontside of a blank postcard. The little artist then blends in orange, purple and black.

When he finally set his brush down for good, my son had created a beautiful postcard ready to be mailed to his Uncle David, who lives in California.

The art project was part of a program called 1st Saturdays, at the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St. Held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month, it’s one of several activities at the recently renovated museum geared to engage families in the arts.

First Saturdays occur from September through May and are recommended for families with children ages 3-8. Activities include a hands-on craft, a live performance and free range of the museum’s exhibits, which include works by Renoir, Degas and Monet. The program is covered in the cost of admission.

My family of four visited on a Saturday in April, when the museum’s spotlighted artist was George Bellows, a Columbus native known for painting scenes of urban life and sporting events.

Bellows’ paintings inspired the postcard craft in an area called Derby Court, a cavernous space featuring a vibrant glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. We grabbed paints, stamps and stickers from a large assortment of supplies to create our postcards.

Afterward we headed to the auditorium to listen to a barbershop chorus belt out upbeat tunes, an American pastime also inspired by Bellows’ artwork.

Max and his 4-year-old sister, Rosie, liked the Wonder Room best, though. And it’s no wonder. The swankily decorated family space is filled with interactive displays that are intermingled with museum pieces, meant to serve as inspiration for guests to create their own works of art.

One station has kids assembling out-of-this-world animals out of wooden body parts with magnetic connectors. Another contains a wall full of common metal gadgets, such as silverware and door hinges, that can be affixed to a giant metal head to give it a face.

And yet another display honors American artist Alexander Calder, who created colorful mobiles inspired by the movement of the sun and the moon. Visitors are encouraged to construct mobiles by balancing bright shapes on metal bases.

The space provides plenty to do and makes a family visit to the museum worthwhile anytime.

A great day to bring older children is on Family Sundays, when activities are geared toward children ages 6 and up and admission is free. Coupled with free parking, located behind the museum, it’s a good deal.

The museum is open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; and 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. on Thursday. The museum is closed on Monday.

Admission is $12 for adults ($6 with an AAA membership) and free for children ages 5 and younger.

For more information, visit

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Urban park mixes massive playground with Mother Nature

My 2-year-old son is on a playground kick. He shouts, “Playground, playground,” whenever we pass one while driving. So recently I decided to take him to the playground of all playgrounds in the Columbus area – Millstone Creek Park in Westerville.

The $1.6 million play area, operated by Westerville Parks and Recreation, opened at 745 N. Spring Rd. in May 2010.

The sprawling complex has two personalities. One side contains a colorful, multi-dimensional playground built on a rubberized surface. The other side is inspired by nature and includes native plants and a mini swamp, with croaking frogs and curious turtles.

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Max and I started our adventure on the manmade side. Its main structure is a two-layered labyrinth of climbing devices and twisty slides. Built in are little skill games and musical instruments, such as big plastic whistles that toot when you push fat buttons. The structure’s underbelly is more geared toward toddlers and is partially shaded by the upper portion.

Max enjoyed banging a mallet on one of four xylophones. I was disappointed, though, to see that three of the instruments were missing their mallets, which wasn’t the case when our family visited on a warm day last November.

Other cool features, many of which are handicapped accessible, include a “Sway Fun” rocking boat and a funky gyroscope-like contraption for multiple kids to spin upon at once. There are even electronic games, including one that tests players to see how quickly they can press 40 lights.

The adjacent natural playground mixes native plants, such as bright black-eyed Susans, with felled trees and boulders for climbing. There’s also a sandy beach near a pebbly stream.

Max liked walking through a wire-framed tunnel with flowering shrubs growing around it. Then it was off to build a dam in a water trough fed by a hand pump.

The park is framed by a wooden fence, and just beyond the surrounding bike path is a grove of large cottonwood trees.

Near the bathrooms are drinking fountains and a basketball court.

Max and I got more than our fill of playing, then headed out for ice-cream cones at Graeter’s in historic uptown Westerville. State Street, the city’s main drag, is beautifully decorated with American flags and full baskets of purple and pink petunias hanging from lampposts.

Max, tuckered out, fell asleep on the way home, allowing other playgrounds to pass by like dreams.

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Bring bathing suit, towel to spray park in Powell

With so many innovative outdoor play areas cropping up around Columbus, it’s a good time to be a kid in the Capital City. Free, public recreation spaces, such as the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus and Millstone Creek Park in Westerville, also make it a great time to be a parent.

On a recent sweltering-hot day – the temps well into the 90s – my two young children and I checked out the Splash Pad at a community park called the Village Green in the Columbus suburb of Powell.

Opened in 2005, the mini spray park contains a half dozen colorful water features on a circular squishy rubber surface. There are gentle geysers for bathing your toes and dumping buckets for those who really want to get wet.

My favorite, though, is a spray tunnel with water jets spewing from all directions. I giddily ran through it with my 2- and 4-year-old at least 10 times to keep cool.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and stayed for three hours, leaving as the park grew crowded with parents bringing their children after work.

My children spent equal time at the water area and the adjacent playground. Their fun was punctuated by the occasional passing of a nearby train, exciting my son Max most.

We wore bathing suits, and I brought water bottles and towels for regular face wipings.

The water park is situated near the city’s municipal building at 47 Hall St. The new building resembles an old train depot and houses the Powell police department. It contains nice, clean bathrooms, a drinking fountain and a vending machine with cold energy drinks.

The attractively landscaped park, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., also includes a bike path and a stage for community concerts.

We left feeling exhausted. But for those desiring a sweeter ending, there is a nearby Jeni’s, Rita’s and Handel’s for ice cream in the surrounding quaint downtown.

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