I recently met a friend and her two children at the Playseum in Bethesda. We’d never been there before, but it was a really great discovery.

You enter through an unassuming doorway between two storefronts in downtown Bethesda, and go downstairs to find a warren-like selection of rooms and things to do. The atmosphere is clean and friendly, but also cosy and home-like. Many of the walls are lined with books, and there are comfy chairs for nursing mothers as well as chairs and tables to sit and eat at (you can bring your own food) and lots of corners to curl up in. Your under-eights can play supermarket or pizza restaurant, they can play old-fashioned house or fireman or builder or dress up as a princess or a ballerina. They can pet a bunny rabbit in the pet room and hear a story at eleven every day. There’s a small room with baby toys and a big craft room with all sorts of art supplies. They can decorate a cookie or a cupcake or make an ice-cream sundae (and eat it) or make lip balm or lotion or have their nails painted.

Girl in princess dress at play supermarket

The entry fee is $7 per person (siblings under 10 months are free), but your admission is good all day – you can even leave for lunch and come back again later. There are charges for other things, like cookie decorating or the cosmetics – for this, they operate a “bucks” system that gives your children some independence. (Right now, moms are free on Mondays and under-3’s are free on Wednesdays. Entry is $5 per person on Fridays. Be sure to check the website for these special offers and more.) You can even become a member, which could prove excellent value if you’re local to Bethesda.

Between us we had a 16-month-old, a five-year-old, and two seven-year-olds. Everyone enjoyed themselves for the first hour or more; the supermarket and the old-fashioned house were big hits. But the bigger kids had heard there was more – and so there is!

Playseum Upstairs is a separate area for 8-to-14-year-olds that is a positive oasis for the hassled parent. For $10 (or two for $14), you can drop your older child off here and let them enjoy board games, table-tennis, karaoke (with a drum kit), air hockey, the pillow-fight room (!!!), more crafting, baking, crossbow target practice, soap-making, and more. The staff will help them where they need it and leave them alone when they don’t, and again, there’s a “bucks” system here so that you can leave your children with a certain amount to spend and be confident that it won’t go astray.

As it was a slow morning, Upstairs welcomed our two seven-year-olds even though they were technically a little young, and they had an amazing time entertaining themselves in fine style. It’s a really great place for older kids to hang out and relax or find a new hobby, meet new friends, in a safe, supervised, but not proscriptive, environment. Again, the atmosphere is home-like rather than clinical, and the staff both upstairs and down were warm, helpful, and friendly. Upstairs is open on Friday afternoons and evenings, at the weekends, and during school breaks. Upstairs would be an amazing venue for a birthday party for your older child, and they also run summer camps, as well as special events throughout the year.

Boy in dressing-up hat and tie.

If you’re looking to entertain younger or older children in the cold weather, or just want to spend a morning with a friend somewhere sympathetic to rambunctious toddlers, the Playseum is like a clubhouse, a home-from-home where there’s always something new and new friends to meet. There’s one in DC as well, near the Eastern Market, if that’s closer to you.

The Playseum has a comprehensive website full of useful information about parking, special offers, and activities. You can rent it for a birthday party or bring your preschoolers there on a field trip.

Upstairs has a separate website where you can read all about the great facilities available there. Birthday parties are big business here too, and if you’re in the Bethesda area with a teen or tween, it looks like a really great option.

The Playseum Bethesda is at 7000 Wisconsin Ave. Check the website for opening hours and directions.

Christine spends her days avoiding housework by blogging early and often at Awfully Chipper from her home in Prince George’s County. Photos are her own, and she was not compensated in any way for this review.