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Noodles & Noggins Toys Teach and Entertain

Jacquie Lambertson got the idea for Noodles & Noggins toy store in the Town of Clifton after visiting her brother, last May, in upstate New York. Her daughter Keeler was 7 months then, and she loved playing on her uncle's rhythm instruments.

"Afterward, she had an incredible leap in her language and motor-skills development," said Lambertson. "It was just amazing. I wanted some of these things in my house, so I looked all over, but couldn't find a good source."

However, with college degrees in music and English, she knew which companies to call for quality instruments made by professional instrument-makers, but designed for children. Then a retail space opened up in Clifton, and she decided to open her own toy store.

"IT'S REALLY ABOUT creativity and imagination — and what kinds of implements to put in a kid's hands to inspire that," explained Lambertson. "That's why we have music, art things, games and puzzles for ages 0-14 years. They're toys that spur creativity, as opposed to just entertaining."

Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Noodles & Noggins is at 12644 Chapel Road, next to the Clifton Post Office. Phone 703-502-8585 or see www.noodlesandnoggins.com. The store opened in July and soon developed a loyal following through word-of-mouth and repeat customers, who may also shop there online.

Clifton's Jackie Bullis is already a big fan. Besides finding items there for son Patrick, 15 months, she's also purchased baby-shower and other gifts in the store.

"I have 10 nieces and nephews, and I did all of their Christmas shopping in there," she said. "I bought two, Make Your Own Gummy Bears kits and gave one to a 10-year-old and one to a 14-year-old. My brother is 37, and I got him a Make Your Own Hot Air Balloon kit."

At Noodles & Noggins, said Bullis, "You don't have to trudge through a huge mall or a large store. And [Lambertson] really has unique toys and gifts that you can't find other places." Bullis said the prices are very reasonable, and she's recommended the store to others: "She just has such neat stuff, and they're gifts you feel good about giving because they always have some kind of learning, art or music component to them."

Lambertson's most popular item for infants is the $56.95 Sunshine Symphony, an interactive toy for newborns and up. "It's a soft, plush sunshine that you hang on a crib, stroller or play yard," she said. "It has different tactile surfaces to feel, and it plays high-quality, digital songs, including 'Mozart's Piano Sonata.'"

TOPS WITH TODDLERS, 3-5, is the $22.95 Paint Station. This portfolio contains all the stamps, brushes, stencils, paper and paint that children need to be creative. "It's a fantastic way to bring a child's love of art to life," said Lambertson. "And moms like it because it all closes up and goes into the closet."

Children, 5-7, enjoy the $39.95 Fingerpuppet Theater Stage, with puppets ranging from $5-$22. Kids may either follow the storyline or create their own adventures. A hit with ages 8 and up is the Butterfly Bedroom, a $16.95 craft kit with three, large fabric butterflies to paint and use for decorating a room. Lambertson's also sold some to teen-agers.

And for ages 12 and up is the $22.95 Oodles of Doodles — a finalist for 2003 Family Fun Toy of the Year. An extension of Pictionary, it takes the art of doodling to the next level. "You work in teams, racing in time to draw eight doodles in a specific category," explained Lambertson. "The other team has to guess what they are."

Parent of sons Brennan, 8, and Michael, 3 — and expecting a third boy in April — Centre Ridge's Lisa Arvo also loves Noodles & Noggins. "I like it that the toys are educational and aren't the typical toys you see everywhere — [often related to a cartoon or movie]," she said. "I like the personal service and, because I have my own small business, it's nice to support small business."

She bought a bubble gum-making kit for Brennan and a tom-tom drum for Michael, plus books for her nieces and nephews. "The store has plenty of toys for all ages, but you don't feel overwhelmed by all the choices," said Arvo. "It's a nice selection of quality toys."

CLIFTON'S LIBBY FRITSCHE has two daughters, Olivia, 14, and Virginia, 10, and has shopped there several times. She bought craft kits and scrapbooking sets, plus a building toy called Zolos for creating funky-looking people, animals and bugs.

She also ordered "Gobblet" — like an advanced, tic-tac-toe game where players gobble up others' pieces. Said Fritsche: "I'd absolutely recommend the store to others because it has unique and unusual toys."

Noodles & Noggins also offers classes run by Busy Head Learning — a group of former teachers. Call the store or see its Web site for the latest calendar of classes, which include singing, dancing, acting, making music, math, reading and writing.

"I've really enjoyed meeting the other moms and kids in the community, and I want to enrich kids' lives with creative things," said Lambertson. "It's all about giving them the resources to explore their imaginations. When you see a kid really click about something, it's a phenomenal experience — and it keeps me coming back, the next day."