5 Places To Take Your Kids While They're Still Too Young To Whine About It
We all agree that kids grow up too fast. Somehow at the same time, we seem to put things off. Tomorrow, we'll visit the playground. Someday, the petting zoo. We'll go here when the kids are old enough to really appreciate it. When we finally do get around to it, or deem our children to be old enough to 'appreciate' things the way we wnat them to, we're frustrated at the tween terrors who roll their eyes and say "This is boring, can we go home?"
Believe it or not, there are still a few kids out there who don't need you to spend a fortune in tokens or to be bribed by food or video games to go out and experience culture with the family. If your kids are still young enough that you're putting off that museum trip or making other plans for when they're older, it's not too late. You can have kids who are refined and appreciative of the boring, mudane arts. The best part is, you don't have to wait. If you start them early, it's amazing how much fun tiny tots can have in the most unexpected of places. And, although it's easy to put off the less exciting adventures, it's remarkable how much fun us grown ups can have in the kid-centric zones.
It's hard to think about where to take little kids that might amuse them. It's much easier to ignore the obvious choices, after all, with the image of the eye-rolling tweens in our head, who wants their toddler throwing a full sized tantrum in a quiet zone? The thing is, if you teach your kids what's expected of them, then introduce them to a place as if you expect them to enjoy it, they'll do their best to meet your expectations. (That goes both ways, if you warn them that poor behavior will not be tolerated, they'll be anxious to clarify what 'bad behavior' might be.)
Day Hike Checklist: What to Bring
Before you set out for a walk in nature or a kid-sized hike, make sure you stock a bag with the essentials. While you shouldn't plan on walking farther than you're used to, remember that there won't be a fast food window or local convenience store in the woods. Take a cue from scouts and be prepared. Consider packing the following.
- Sunscreen and bug repellant (don't just pack them, use them. And wear a hat.)
- A lightweight jacket in case it gets chilly
- First aid kit: Just the bare essentials. Bandaids, first aid antibiotic spray, gauze, tweezers and a one time use ice pack.
- Food and water. It gets really thirsty out on the trail. Pack twice as much water as you expect to need. It's heavy, but well worth the effort if you get lost and find yourselves walking farther than anticipated.
- Treasure bags: Not strictly necessary, but some sort of contraption for gathering treasures like bird feathers make the trip more interesting. You might consider writing out a scavenger hunt on the back of a brown paper lunchbag for kids who can read.
- Camera: You need some way to capture all these great memories.
- A bandana. It may sound like a fashion accessory, but a bandana is useful when you run into a particularly thick patch of gnats, if it gets too dusty, to keep the sun off your neck, and to drizzle a bit of water on and cool off if the sun gets too hot. It makes a better tissue than your shirtsleeve, and the kids love looking like cowboys.
On a Nature Hike
This one doesn't have to be fancy. I'm not suggesting you haul out the fancy hiking kit, fasten on the bedrolls and take your tots for a grueling trip across the Rockies. Just find your local nature preserve, whether it's a beach, wetland or actual forested area. Keep it short. Your kids have short legs, short attention spans and big appetites. Leave them wanting more.
For a positive experience, choose a relatively level trail that is under 3 miles round trip. Unless your kids are already old hats at doing a lot of walking, you might not want to plan on going more than a mile your first day. Or your second. But you should certainly get out there. It's important. Kids who are exposed to wild greenery are calmer, smarter and better able to concentrate. They do better in school. They develop a connection with nature. And, it's just plain fun.
Morning and late afternoon are ideal times for hiking, because that's when the most wildlife is out. Let your kids clamber over boulders, dip their toes in a stream, and balance along fallen logs. The world is a playground, and if you can ignore the inner mom screaming "Broken leg! Lyme Disease! Mysterious ailment!" your kids will most likely curtail their own curiosity just enough to avoid getting seriously injured. Feel free to put limits on how close they are permitted to get to rushing rivers, and teach them that wild animals are to be seen and not petted. Or captured. Or rescued and raised in the bathroom. But let them explore to their heart's content.
You'll be amazed at how much they really get from spending time with rocks and trees.
Your Local Library
Some people don't believe that libraries are for children. For adults, they are a place of refuge, of quiet contemplation. They are a place of learning. A library is a place to study or work on a project that needs concentration. Tiny tots can't appreciate literature...can they?
I've found that children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, love the library. There are thousands of books, filled with colorful opportunities to explore. Every book is a new adventure. There are also frequently a variety of programs that appeal to young children. Some programs are simple read alouds, exposing kids to new books and authors and inspiring both kids and parents to read together. Some involve community theater groups, and allow kids to experience snippets of live theater, opera or ballet for free. And some are just plain fun. There are art programs, and clowns, musicians, dancers and even wild animals that come to visit and showcase their talents at the local library.
If you begin taking kids to the library early, they will quickly learn appropriate behavior. They'll also learn to associate the library with a sense of excitement, nostalgia and anticipation. If you want your kids to read, and to love reading, then take them to the library regularly. Get stacks of picture books to look through together. Find a corner to curl up and read out loud. Teach your kids how to use a card catalogue (Most are electronic now) to research their current interests. Allow them to bring home a movie now and then. Enjoy the fact that every one of the books you borrow are free. Just make sure you return them on time. It's a great excuse to go back to the library for more adventure.
An Art Museum
No, I haven't lost my mind. One of my fondest memories is of wandering through a local art museum, the kind that is free entry and stocked with offerings from local artists, with my then toddler daughter. She thoughtfully studied several of the paintings, while a curator fussed and admonished that this really wasn't a place for kids. My daughter was too young to know that 'normal' kids would be running around like crazy and trying to climb the statues. I told her we were going to get to go the museum, and quietly look at the pictures and statues. I also informed her that this was a quiet, indoor voice kind of a place. We played I Spy, finding dogs and trees and a variety of colors in the artwork. And so she gained a little bit of appreciation for the work presented. And asked to go back again and again.
She still loves art. And she likes to experiment with different techniques. She doesn't remember the museum visits very clearly. But that's okay. The fact that she remembers the museum as an adventure and a special treat are the things that matter, not whether she was old enough to identify the painters or the techniques used.
The Farmer's Market
Most kids believe that the supermarket is where food originates. Produce is yucky, and comes fully developed in those little produce bins. Unless it comes out of a plastic bag, and is rinsed thoroughly in the sink, it's dirty and goes straight into the trashcan.
The farmer's market reveals a different story. There are stalls and stalls of fresh, vibrant looking produce. Carrots and potatoes still have soil clinging to them. Cucumbers and melons come in lumpy and bumpy varieties, and farmers are quick to slice them up and offer up free samples as if they're candy. The apple vendor can carry several unique varieties of apples, in addition to familiar supermarket standbys. There may be a beekeeper there vending honey (and honeycomb creations), and farmers are happy to talk to young shoppers and explain what their produce is and how it can best be enjoyed.
Children who visit the farmer's market learn to appreciate real food. They are offered small tastes of a variety of stone fruits, apples, pears and melons. They learn that all apples are not created equal. They discover the elusive beekeeper, and wonder over the variations in honey color and flavor. Children who visit the farmer's market regularly will also learn that food follows the seasons, and different favorites come in and out of season regularly only to be replaced by new colorful fruits or vegetables. They're more likely to try new foods, and more willing to 'eat the rainbow' recommended by pediatricians everywhere.
A Live Performance
No, I don't recommend you spend your life savings on a trip to Broadway. Or even off-Broadway. There are plenty of opportunities to see live actors and actresses performing family appropriate plays and concerts, without breaking your wallet. Check with your local parks and rec department. Many have local theater groups with inexpensive tickets (or even free performances). You can also find ballet troops, children's musical theater groups and free concerts in the park. High school bands perform in city parades, and some schools offer tickets to their performances to the public as a fundraiser. So by taking your kids to the local high school version of Bye Bye Birdie, you're not only introducing them to a classic musical and exposing them to a cultural experience, you're supporting their future alma mater.