Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Playseum in Bethesda, Maryland







The Playseum is a wonderful new place that just opened up in Bethesda, Maryland. In only a short amount of time, the word has gotten out about this place and every room had tons of children engaged in wonderful activities. The Playseum is a great place to take children ranging from 1-8 years old. The owner was friendly and accommodating in making sure that all of the customers were happy and in the hour and a half that we were there, I did not hear a single child crying. Additionally, there were so many different rooms, toys, and crafts to interact with that children never seemed to be fighting over one particular toy.
The list of rooms included a small radio studio set up by WTOP so that children can be weathermen, a science room (with different activities led by staff), a construction/building room, a creation room with all sorts of art supplies, a kitchen for cooking, a Safeway sponsored grocery store, an animal room, and much, much, more. My 3 year old son enjoyed getting to hold a bunny rabbit, make his own bouncy ball in the science room with staff members teaching a class, and using the pulley system to lift blocks to the ceiling in the bucket that he had filled up.
Another area where he had fun included the music area where a group of children were playing different instruments. One girl was on the piano, my son picked up the guitar, and another girl was playing with the cymbals to form an incredibly cute little band. He also had fun in the puppet show booth, the costume area, and at the train table as well.
This place was affordable at only five dollars per person, and while we had to get home after playing for an hour and a half, we could have spent 3-4 hours there. Also, one of the most important aspects of making any place successful is having a friendly and knowledgeable staff. All of the staff members were smiling, patient, friendly, and outgoing with both the children and the adults. My only complaint is that the place is very small and narrow. The hallways were very crowded and it would be helpful if there were chairs in each room for parents to sit. However, due to the size of the place, there wouldn't have been a place to put them. Additionally, it was slightly aggravating that there was only metered parking one block away. With that said though, we are definitely planning to come back soon.
http://www.playseum.com/
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Explore and More in Gettysburg, PA.

We happened across, what I think, is a best kept secret. It's a place called Explore and More in Gettysburg, PA. Before you gasp, for those of you who live near Silver Spring, MD, it's only 1 1/2 hours away - just long enough for the kids to watch a movie in full on the DVD player. We came across it on a weekend away last summer. It's a lovely little rowhouse that two former preschool teachers transformed into a children's place. It's inexpensive and rarely crowded. Sometimes they are busy with field trips or birthday parties. But you can always call ahead and check on the day you want to go and if none of the above are happening, you practically have the place to yourself! The place is small enough that the children can roam from 1st floor to 2nd floor and back, doing science experiments, creating in the art room, constructing in the building room, being inside a bubble (always a favorite), searching for fossils...there is even a housekeeping area set up with a Civil War time period. There is no fear of losing them or having to follow them every second because of the size and layout of the place. After 3 hours (or more!), they are moaning NOT to go home and need to stay longer. They also have a wonderful big backyard with a huge sandbox and other activities (my husband couldn't stop playing with the digger!). Bring your own snacks or lunch and enjoy eating in the backyard. Metered parking is on the street, never had a problem getting a spot. We love it and the kids do too (even my 11 year old)! http://www.exploreandmore.com/ .
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Sharps Farm in Brookeville Maryland









Sharp’s Farm may not be well known, but it has a lot to offer. Located in Brookville, Maryland, it is only a few minutes past Olney. While it may not look fancy when you first get there, it has many educational programs involving agriculture, pilgrim life, animals and an array of nature related activities.
I participated in the Pilgrim history with my class. In order to learn about the Native Americans and Pilgrims, they set up a variety of stations for us to participate in. We learned about the lives of the Pilgrims and Native Americans and the students loved seeing them act in character. After the Thanksgiving stations, we had the option of a hayride or to pick corn. We chose to pick corn; however, the hayride is a popular choice as long as the weather permits.
Sharp’s Farm has seasonal hours, so be sure to check the website before going. I highly recommend picking an activity that your family will be interested in. It is great for group activities or for individual families, so gather some friends and enjoy an inexpensive, but educational experience! This farm is geared towards children of elementary school age but can be enjoyed by children slightly younger as well.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Shenandoah in Virginia























We stayed at the Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah during the beginning of September. The drive is about 2 hours and the vacation offers a variety of relaxing and fun activities for the family. Even the drive is scenic as your car winds up the mountains to your destination. There are a few other lodging areas that you can stay at in the Shenandoah, I can only comment on the Big Meadows.
The Big Meadows offers a few different room options, all pretty basic - no heating/ac but the community lodge area is enjoyable and is always open for families to gather, play games, etc. Things to do in Shenandoah are primarily hikes and nature walks. The hikes and nature walks aren't great for small children, but we managed and were able to take our kids to a waterfall and to the top of a few short peaks. About 45 minutes from the park are a variety of activities for kids of all ages in Luray Caverns. Luray Caverns is beautiful (not cheap) and offers a self-guided tour that is fun for almost all ages. Next to Luray is an automotive museum (free if you have your Luray ticket) and a large Garden Maze which was also a fun time. Luray seems to offer a few other sites but we didn't have time to explore them.

Overall, I would recommend Shenandoah for longer periods with older kids and shorter periods with younger kids. Older kids will have more tolerance for all that nature has to offer.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The most important battle of the Civil War took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a tiny town about 75 miles from Washington, DC. The battlefields at Gettysburg are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of monuments which help bring history to life for children and their parents. A must see are some of the unexploded ordinances lodged in buildings within Gettysburg. Each regiment that fought in Gettysburg has a marker at their base location; and it is a great treat to see where our ancestors fought. All of the Civil War’s greats have monuments here such as General Lee, President Abraham Lincoln, General Abner Doubleday (for the baseball fans), General Custard, and many more! Families can spend a few hours at this historical site, but several days could be spent learning about the intimate details of what really took place in our history.
Once at Gettysburg, you can tour yourself, get on a tour bus, or hire a private guide to drive your car and give you a personal tour of the battlefield. Before doing any of the above, the first stop needs to be the new visitor’s center. This is where you can pick up maps, hire the guides, get bus tickets, visit the museum, and just stretch your legs from the 90 minute drive. The self-guided tour is for those with an unlimited amount of time, but you’ll miss out on a lot of the little details that make Gettysburg worth the trip. The official tour bus is about $28 a person, and takes you on a specific route. You cannot skip stops, or stay longer in a place if you want; you are on the tour bus’ schedule. This is a good idea if you’re traveling solo and just want to get the Gettysburg experience quickly.
My recommendation is for the private tour guide. Make sure you hire an official guide from the visitors’ center ticket booth. It is $55 dollars for a two-hour-tour (if you are two or more, it is cost effective too). He will drive you to all of the important spots, so you don’t have to worry about one-way streets, oncoming traffic, as you are trying to see all of the sights. He drives while explaining the history of each location, and its importance during the battle. You can also have your guide look up where your family’s regiment fought, and he’ll take you to their markers (great for pictures). Even if your family didn’t fight, you can request that he take you to other famous individual locations, like Lee’s headquarters, Doubleday’s location, etc. Be sure that you take his advice and get out of the car every once in a while. The Virginia state monument is beautiful, as is the view from Little Round Top (possibly the most important site of the entire battle).
The tour ends where it began, at the visitor’s center. Use this time again to see the museum, watch the video, or just stretch your legs one more time before the drive home.

Website:
http://www.gettysburg.com/
Website 2: http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sesame Place in Pennsylvania


 We went to Sesame Place in the beginning of September 2008 and in the beginning of June 2009. Both times were a blast - for both the adults and the kids. In 2008, we went with our 3 year old and 1 year old and basically our 3 year old had a blast and our 1 year old didn't have too much to do, but it was still fun for him. This past June, both our 4 year old and 2 year old had a blast. The parade was really fun! They got to high five some of the Sesame Street characters and a 2 year old who was with us got to dance with some of the characters during the parade.

Aside from the parade, there are shows - The Elmo Show, Big Bird Show, etc. where children get to sit in the audience and watch their favorite characters perform as if they are on TV. In addition to the shows and parade, there are rides in water (where you can get a little wet or soaking wet) and on land, as well as places where you can climb on nets, a carousel, and some rides for younger kids (around age 2 years). The rides in the park are fun for children as well as adults.

Both years, we chose to go on Sundays either after the school year has begun (beginning Sept.) or before the school year has ended (beginning June). We did this to try and avoid the insane summer crowds on Sundays. Also, both times we were part of a group that either we or others organized. The group rate is significantly cheaper than buying tickets at full price. A group is 15 or more people who pay in advance to go on the same date (although they do not have to arrive together in any way or even know one another). For every 9 people you have in your group, you get a free ticket. If you do not want to eat the park food and would like to eat a picnic lunch/dinner, then I recommend that you leave a cooler in your car and park in one of the preferred parking lots near the entrance which are also near picnic tables. Big coolers are not allowed in the park (only small ones are okay).

Lastly, we wore clothes that we would wear to go on the water rides (e.g. swim suits, etc.) and went on the water rides first before lunch. That way, during lunch your clothes have a chance to dry or you could change your clothes then for dry rides, shows, and the parade and not have to carry clothes, towels, etc. with you in the park. Enjoy!
The website is: http://www.sesameplace.com.
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

South of the Border in South Carolina











On the way to Florida there is an area called "south of the border". There are souvenir shops /bathrooms/hotels and other attractions to spend time at. There is an arcade for kids as well as a merry-go-round . In the store called the "antique shop and hats around the world" there are riding toys and there are also statues of animals for the kids to look at and take pictures on. Additionally, there was an amusement park right next door with rides like the pirate ship, Ferris wheel, mini golf etc. A lot of people stop here when they drive by and there a lot of signs so you really cant miss it! Also there is a big sombrero that you can ride in to go to the top of a tower (200 feet they said). They call this place, America’s favorite highway oasis!
Website: http://www.thesouthoftheborder.com/
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Brookside Gardens in Maryland


















Brookside Gardens has a scenic nature garden with wide paths that are stroller accessible and offers a beautiful place to walk with children. Kids are fascinated by the colorful flowers, the wide open places to run, and the wildlife. There is a gazebo which is on a small lake filled with fish, turtles, and other creatures as well. There is also a butterfly garden, greenhouse, a formal garden (which is great for taking pictures), and a nature center . This botanical garden is free and is good for children of all ages.
Brookside Gardens frequently offers classes and has special events such as the festival of lights (Winter) which shows the park at night with small lights hanging throughout the park. During the winter, they also set up a big model train set near the butterfly house that is fun for younger kids. The only down side to this wonderful place is that you may not eat in the gardens. However, you can eat out in front of the visitors center on a small plot of grass. Brookside Gardens may not be appreciated by younger children, but there are many open spaces to run around.
(note: For young Children, a stroller is a good idea)
Website: http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland















Wheaton Regional Park is a great place to go with children from ages 1.5-10 years old. The park is located just outside of Silver Spring, Maryland, and offers many different slides, swings, and things to climb on. However, what really makes this place fun is the merry-go-round ($1.75 per ride) and the 15 minute train ride($1.75 per ride). The train is not only fun because of it being on a train (who doesn't love trains!), but also fun because the route through the woods is scenic and makes the children have a greater appreciation for nature. This park also offers many gazebo's with areas to grill and spend time with family and friends.

Book Recommendations before going to a playground
Please Play Safe! Penguin’s Guide to Playground Safety (Margery Cuyler)
Manners on the playground (Carrie Finn)
King of the Playground (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)

Website: http://www.montgomeryparks.org/enterprise/park_facilities/trains/wheaton.shtm
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Waterville Valley New Hampshire

Waterville Valley is one of my favorite places in New Hampshire...its about 2 hours from boston and has all sorts of fun family activities year round. I originally went up to Waterville Valley to ski and absolutely love it! Then in the spring and summer went back to hike and camp. There are several hiking options...some much harder than others. Right in the ski resort town is a snowboarding mountain that is used for mountain biking in the summer. You and your bike can ride up the lift and then you bike down the mountain. I dont mountain bike so we took the lift ride up and hiked down (which plenty of people do). It was an easy hike (all downhill of course!) and a lot of fun. My one recommendation would be to wait until mid summer when the snow has had time to thoroughly melt AND the ground has had time to dry. Although playing in the mud was pretty fun too...

The area has a TON of affordable hotel options too. Ive stayed in the waterville valley townsquare condos, which when divided among 6 people was extremely reasonable. And Ive stayed in the Black Bear Lodge right down the road. Most places offer great weekend packages that include ice skating, use of the fitness center, a free lift ticket, canoeing, paddle boating...all sorts of fun stuff. Come on the right weekend and they might have a chili cook off or some other festival going on.

http://www.waterville.com
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Flume Gorge in New Hampshire


Flume Gorge is a part of Franconia State Park in NH. It is a fairly easy hike, with clearly marked trails...some parts with handrails, steps, and even paved paths. There are incredible photo ops of waterfalls and covered bridges (which are very famous up here in New England although I have yet to really understand why!) I think there is also a bus that will take you to the top if you dont want to hike (or have little kids). We actually got there a little late, around 3pm on a Saturday and thought we'd be too late, but the park was still open and we had plenty of time to wander around. It actually worked out perfectly because the place is apparently extremely crowded on the weekends. It seemed we got there when most people were heading home for the day. The one down side is you do have to pay for tickets...although Im always happy to support state parts so I didnt mind too much. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for children and kids 5 and under are free. For more info: http://www.visitnh.gov/flume/index.htm
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Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
















In the year 2005 BK (before kids), My wife and I took a road trip up to New Hampshire. While we were up there, we got a chance to drive up Mt. Washington. Mt. Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft (1,917 m). The mountain has beautiful views and is known for having erratic weather. While we took the car tour which can be fun for young children, there are also many trails to hike along the way for older children. The car tour comes with a CD to listen to, which guides you through the history of this wonderfully scenic experience.

The one thing that bothered me as a person who fears heights is the fact that there is no guard rail when driving. The ride up the mountain was very pleasant and there were several scenic stop-offs that overlooked many beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. However, being so close to the edge of the mountain on the way down was a bit nerve racking. However, if you do not mind being so high up without a guardrail this was an incredibly scenic and peaceful experience. Next time you are in the New Hampshire area, I highly recommend this beautiful mountain.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sandy Point State Park in Maryland


I decided I couldn't let the summer pass without taking my 2 year old son to the beach. I did some quick research, and picked the beach that seemed closest to DC, called Sandy Point State Park, in Annapolis (which of course means it's not too far from Baltimore either). The entrance fee is $4.00 for state residents, and children that come in car seats are admitted free (at least that's what the nice woman at the gate said, I'm not sure if there's an actual age limit). The beach was very clean, inhabited almost entirely by families and had 2 lifeguards per tower, and there were at least 2 towers. The beach was not rocky, the sand was great to play with using buckets and shovels and the water, while murky, seemed reasonably clean. The beach has a fantastic view of the Bridge that leads from Annapolis to eastern Maryland. There were also clean bathrooms with showers and a concession stand that also rented/sold(?) beach supplies. And there was a park with a large jungle gym. I highly recommend.

Read more about Sandy Point State Park here.
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The National Zoo in Washington DC




















The National Zoo is a fantastic place to visit with children of all ages all the way through adulthood. It is a very large zoo that has many great exhibits that are both indoors and outdoors. They also constantly look for ways to improve the zoo and make it an experience that will be remembered for years to come. One of the parts that we particularly enjoyed was the petting zoo area. The animals were docile and it was nice to have a section in the zoo that was dedicated to allowing the children to get up close and personal with the animals. Be sure to enjoy your lunch in the shaded picnic areas and bring good shoes as it is a very large and hilly zoo.

The zoo is free and is conveniently located near the Cleveland Park metro station. There is parking on the streets if you have patience and are willing to walk a few blocks, or you can park at the zoo. Parking at the Zoo is $10 for the first hour, $15 for two to three hours, and $20 for more than three hours. If you are a FONZ member, you do not have to pay for parking.

Website: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/default.cfm
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South Germantown Splash Park in Maryland














This splash park is good for kids that can walk-8 years old. Its benefit is that it is not a huge park so the kids are easily accounted for. However, it does get incredibly crowded during the summer months. The park has a small cave that has a waterfall covering the entrance, circular fountains shooting up from the ground to form a maze, big plastic animals that spit water, a new slide, and small buckets that dump water on you (Only in certain areas). The staff was friendly, helpful, and accommodating when we had any questions or concerns. There are also several tables with umbrellas set up inside this play area so that you can bring lunch, eat, and then go back and play (no standing water means no 30 minute wait time to get back into the water after you've eaten).
One of the reasons that we loved this place is because there is no standing water anywhere in the park so there is no risk of drowning. It also costs only $5.00 per person so it is relatively inexpensive. Our kids had a great time standing on the streams of water coming out of the ground, jumping in and out of the cave, and splashing at the water that shot out of the frogs mouth. Additionally, this water park is also located right next to a mini golf as well as a really nice park with great equipment for children to run and play on. This will be an annual summer trip for our family!

Website: http://www.montgomeryparks.org/facilities/south_germantown/splash_announce.shtm
Hours:
10am-7pm during the summer months

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Jump Zone, Columbia, MD












Jump Zone is in Columbia, MD and is filled with 7 huge (about 25 feet) inflatables which have slides, wall climbs and small obstacle course type things to do. Check online ahead of time as this place has strange times due to being rented out for parties. This place also has times when it is restricted only to kids under 5 years old so that they don't get trampled by older kids. I recommend this place if your child is at least 3 years old as my 2.5 year old was just barely able to do it and the other children get very wild. This place was a lot of fun and my son is still talking about it, but it can be a dangerous place as the kids bounce into each other and could smack heads. The best ages for this place are probably 5-10 years of age. The cost is $7.00 per child, but adults do not have to pay for themselves, and parents can go on the inflatables to help their younger children (2-4).
Website: www.jumpzoneparty.com
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National Building Musuem in Washington DC











The building museum was an average destination in terms of comparison to other places that we went this summer. It has a special room called the building zone which is geared towards children ages 2-6 years old and is $3.00 per child 2 and older. They also have programs that run on different days for a fee (check their calendar for list of activities. This place was a watered down version of Storyville in Baltimore but was good for children who like to build with blocks, or play with trains. This is also a good alternative if you live in DC and do not want to drive into Baltimore. There also might be a wait list when you get there because they only allow a certain number of children in at a time. However, they put blocks out in the lobby for children to play with while the parents waited in line.
Website: www.NBM.org
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Clarks Eliok Farm in Maryland













Clarks Eliok Farm was fantastic for kids aged 1.5-6 years old. It's best attribute is the petting zoo. Children can pet and feed goats, horses, and chickens as well as seeing pigs and rabbits. Some parts of the petting zoo allow you to go into the pen and walk around with the billy goats. The animals are friendly and allow you to come right up to them without fear.
They also have a tree maze which has some enchanted character statues such as Jack and the bean stalk. The maze is hard to navigate with a stroller, but is doable. There is also a small jungle gym and a few other enchanted forest characters. Additionally, they had a shaded gazebo filled with toys so that the kids could play while the adults ate lunch. My son had a blast playing with the tug boat, the trucks, and the other toys at the table.
Several Enchanted Forrest characters were located throughout the grounds and getting to see the smile on my son's face as he slid down the slide belonging to the little old lady who lived in the shoe was priceless. He also enjoyed posing like Peter Pan in the room that was decorated like Never Neverland. It takes about 30-35 minutes to get to from Silver Spring, MD and is located in Ellicott City which is on the way to Baltimore. The best advice is to go on a day that is not too hot as there is a lot of walking, but this is a fantastic place to take kids and is near enough to Historic Ellicott City that you can also stop off and do some antiquing.
Website: http://www.clarklandfarm.com
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BCPL Storyville (Rosedale) in Maryland





Storyville in Baltimore county public library (Rosedale Library) was a fantastic place to take children ages 6 months-5 years old and was absolutely FREE. Kids over the age of 5 are not admitted to this place. This place is small enough that you can sit and watch your child, but don't have to chase them. Additionally, they have a restriction on the number of children (I think 50 kids at one time) that are allowed in the room at once so that it is not too crowded and stays enjoyable. They use a sign in sheet and if you have to wait to go in, you also get a vibrating buzzer that will go off when it is your turn to enter. They had a person in the room sanitizing the toys throughout the day to make sure that everything was clean and that everything stayed in very good condition. The staff also walked through putting things away so that it remained orderly.
Storyville has many small rooms that are set up like small work spaces for the kids to play in. The rooms include the construction zone, supermarket, mail room, a kitchen, a tree house loft, a theatre, and many other rooms. Our kids enjoyed a puppet show that other children put on, and loved putting the mail back in the mail room (each room had a mailbox with a number so that kids could deliver the "mail"). Our 4 month old enjoyed sitting with my wife in the separate room for children that are not yet walking. They had many Bumbo chairs to sit in, mirrored cirlces on the floor for children to look at themselves in, and many other small things that made the gated in (white picket fence) area fun and safe for our baby. Our 2.5 year old played for hours with the trains, the canoe, the supermarket, and a variety of other rooms, and could have played for longer had we not had to drive back from Baltimore. This place is about 50 minutes from Silver Spring, MD and a great destination for fun.
Website: www.bcplstoryville.org
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Let the blogging begin

I have created this website as a way to share ideas about fun things to do with children of all ages all along the east coast. Please email me if you have any questions, comments, or if you want to post fun trips that you went on. Additionally, I try to ask everyone in my pictures if they mind that I post the picture on the blog, but for larger crowd pictures where people are not really identifiable I can't ask everyone. If you notice yourself or someone that you know of in one of the pics, and don't want the picture up, just send me an email to the address listed at the top of the blog and I will take it down. I hope that this can be built up to a hub of knowledge of fun places to go with children all along the east coast!

-Brett