Category Archives: Outdoor Fun

No bad weather

It’s howling outside, we’re about to go for an overnight camping trip, and I need to convince my children to bring the right clothes. I think it’s time for a refresher on how to dress for success in the outdoors. There are many tricks I’ve learned wandering around the mountains in New Zealand, so here are some – as a way to remind myself as I teach them to my children.

Fabrics

No cotton. None. That stuff gets miserably cold when it gets wet. We used to have synthetic underwear just for hiking in NZ, and if we were to go winter camping I would insist on those for us now. The problem with cotton shows up only when it gets wet, which it will with sweat, or rain, or melting snow. Cotton becomes cold when it gets wet and can cool your skin to hypothermic levels. So definitely no jeans, no t-shirts, no cotton “thermals” (they got me with those the first year), cotton socks, cotton everything. Leave the cotton home.

Down-containing jackets and pants might seem like a good idea, and they are as long as they stay dry. In NZ there was always some rain during the day, so down jackets were only useful if they got trotted out in a hut. Those jackets are useful in below-freezing snow and ice environments, because it just isn’t going to rain. The moisture that might come from sweat will easily escape out from the body.

Good warm fabrics to bring along are fleece, polypropylene, and if your don’t mind the itch, wool. Even if these fabrics get wet, they will keep you warm to much lower temperatures. So, fleece sweater, pants, jacket, hat, gloves, and polypropylene thermal underwear. My list of clothing items to take camping on a cool, possibly rainy autumn camp is below.

Layers

Another trick to getting the most warmth out of your clothing is to wear layers. Your body heat will get trapped in subsequent layers between clothing, with the end result of less of your body heat dispersing. If you can keep your body heat close to your skin, you will be warmer.

Image result for hiking clothing layersThe Outdoor Gear Lab has some nice infographics on how to dress based on different expected temperatures.

So when I go out in the above mentioned autumn rain for a camping trip I will wear a non-cotton thermal base layer of thin polypropylene. On top of that I might wear a slightly layer of thicker base layer, followed by at least one layer of thick fleece. If it’s raining, I’ll put on a waterproof outer layer of a jacket and some rain-pants. If it’s not raining I might show off my down puffer jacket. I’ll also have on a fleece hat, and fleece gloves.

Here are my recommendations:

Nature Playscapes–Zoo New England

Zoo New England educators Stephanie Veitz and Jennifer Jenson asked us if we’d be interested in being one of the first to check out their new natural playscapes.  Let’s think about the type of things that make it onto the “Angelika and Lindsay perk up their ears” list:

  • playspace– CHECK!
  • natural elements and recycled materials–CHECK!
  • community partnerships–CHECK!
  • nature mentoring–CHECK!
  • art–CHECK!
  • efficient, creative, and environmentally responsible use of under-utilized empty space–CHECK!
  • being surrounded by actual perky-eared animals–CHECK!

Yes, I think Zoo New England thought correctly!  They invited us to take a look at their work in progress last weekend.  This time, we went to check out the Stone Zoo, although they are constructing a similar playscape at Franklin Park, as well.

Check out the sensory table!  They can easily change out the contents, although these selections are hits:

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While a focus is child-led exploring, they offer a variety of prompts.  Here’s a nature guide worksheet.  They also include leaf rubbing supplies, a scavenger hunt, and will continue to include more based on observation and inspiration.  IMG_1471

What would your children do with a simple wooden frame?  Bridget and Fiona just completed Friends of the Fells youth programming and were inspired to share their recently honed lean-to skills.  This will be a likely be a common approach, but I bet it will be far from the only one.

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Colorful blocks, flowers, and mirrors?  Add some art to your engineering, or discuss optics, color, and more:

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The girls took to the “balance beams” right away.  They will also be including a variety of stumps to hop on or hide behind in this space.

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The zoos expect to open these spaces to the public by the first week of August, 2016. One exciting addition that had not yet been installed: a large nest replica the children can climb in, similar to the one near the bears Smokey and Bubba!  The space opens next month, but they plan to continue to tweak, develop, and listen to input and feedback.  They’d also like to run workshops with groups–if you’d be interested in joining a Playground Hunt contingent, let us know!  When will you go check out the new Zoo New England playscapes?

 

 

Stanley Park–Westfield, MA

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Our followers in Western Massachusetts are probably familiar with Stanley Park.  It is large, beautiful, well-known, and has lots of amenities.  Those of you in Eastern Massachusetts (and everywhere!) who went to Westfield State University–as I did!–are surely familiar with Stanley Park.  The students are lucky enough to have it practically on campus.  It’s not officially, but it might as well be.  If neither of these things apply to you, and you’re one of our Greater Boston readers, this park may still be worth a visit.  It is quite close to Six Flags New England and other tourist attractions, so it is a doable side visit.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That's the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That’s the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

As usual, playgrounds are a top priority for us and Stanley Park has a great one–a relatively recent rebuild.  It is large, and ADA accessible, with a toddler structure as well.  Stanley Park is quite accessible overall, and has an annual “Wheel Walk” tour to showcase this.
Some playground highlights include an extra large twisty slide, and a huge canopied sandbox.  The playground is fenced, and dogs aren’t allowed in that area, but are welcome leashed in the rest of the park.

(Click to enlarge thumbnails)

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Stanley Park was founded by philanthropist Frank Stanley Beveridge in 1949. He moved to Massachusetts as a teen but he was originally from Canada–a legacy that is shown in the famous black squirrels he introduced to the park.

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of "tree fort".

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of “tree fort”.

 

Stanley Park has many other amenities.  It will always hold a special place in our hearts because Craig and I got married there, right between the Rose Garden, the fountain, and the dinosaur tracks!  It also has many other award-winning gardens, hiking trails, playing fields, and event pavilions.  They are known for their historical tours and the wide variety of community-building events they host.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I'll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I’ll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

Please take some time to check out some more photos at the Facebook feed and the park webpage linked above. We were rushing around with small kids and didn’t have time to do the gorgeous grounds justice photography-wise.

Do you have any favorite Stanley Park memories?

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Springs Brook Park

The last time we went to Springs Brook Park was two years ago. Last year they closed in early/middle August and we missed the chance to go. We made sure to go this year:

SPRINGS BROOK PARK is a man-made, filtered, swimming facility. The park is set back in a beautiful wooded setting. It is located at 181 Springs Road, just north of the four way intersection at Springs Road, Page Road and Pine Hill Road. SBP is staffed by lifeguards/swim instructors who are certified in water safety,lifeguard training, first aid and professional rescuer CPR.

Turns out there are some changes for this year. For 2015 the park is not open on weekends. There is now minigolf and a few other extra things to do.

General Info

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:30-7:30 —  Saturday & Sunday: CLOSED (Park will not be open on weekends summer 2015.)

Cost: $7 per person, with a maximum of $25 per family, free for under 1y.o.

GPS coordinates: https://goo.gl/maps/DXaNW

Parking

Springs Brook Park has a decent sized parking lot, which is free. I like to get there as close as possible to opening as I can. I suggest arriving before 11am, or after 3pm.

Stuff to Do

  • Sandy beach with shade
  • playground
  • sprinkler park
  • water slide (must be >9y.o., or level 3 swimmer, or wear a life jacket)
  • swim lessons
  • volleyball, basketball, golfball (I’m sure that should be a thing)
  • concession stand (reasonably priced – e.g., icecreams are $1 to $2) that sells snacks, icecream, drinks, hot dogs, pizza
  • mini golf
  • barbecue spots
  • picnic tables

Bring:

playground photos

Playground at Springs Brook Park

lake photos

Panorama of man made lake at Springs Brook Park

beach

Beach and Lake at Springs Brook Park

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Lake at Springs Brook Park

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park - sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park – sorry, it looks wonky as panorama


Best Giant Bubble Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup blue Dawn dish detergent – original
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder (not baking soda)
  • 1 Tbsp Glycerine

 Directions

  1. Mix cornstarch in the water, stirring very well.
  2. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients without making froth
  3. Allow mixture to sit for at least an hour.
  4. Stir occasionally if needed
  5. use giant bubble wands/rods

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Footnote

Avoid creating froth when playing with the mixture Overcast/humid conditions are best. Wind, dry air and sunlight will wick the moisture out of your bubbles.

Camping Checklist


Angelika’s Car-Camping Checklist, with free printable pdf file at the end. I have linked each item to the actual product I use. This is the list I use to go with Alex and Jen. We sleep together on a Queen-sized mattress and all in a double sleeping bag. We put sleeping at one end of the giant 8-person tent and the table at the other. The kids keep their toys and books there so that they are off the floor.

Sleeping

Kitchen

Campsite

  • table
  • chairs
  • insect repellant
  • sun screen
  • bikes
  • clothes line
  • powercord rated for outside use
  • insect bite medicine
  • allergy medicine
  • camp towels

Clothes

  • underwear
  • shorts
  • shirts
  • pants
  • fleece top
  • rain jacket
  • sandals
  • swim suit
  • sun hat

Here is the downloadable pdf file Car-CampingCheckListbyPlaygroundHunt

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation–Sutton, MA

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful, joyous holiday.  But sometimes, as thankful as you are, it doesn’t live up to expectations.  Perhaps your family is far away, or passed on, or perhaps you have complicated family dynamics.  Sometimes there is just some understandable frustration if the kids decide to pick that day to begin acting up.

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Why not embrace this, and spend Mother’s Day in Purgatory?  Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, that is!  The chasm is a bouldery cliff and cave filled mini-canyon in Central Massachusetts.  Unlike many geological phenomenon where they’ve got a pretty good idea about the science of it, there seems to be a lot of controversy about how this one actually formed.

As always, it can be tricky to illustrate the scope of these things with photography, but here are a few tries.  Note some remaining snow in the last one!

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Yes, we brought the littles to a state park filled with such gorgeous but challenging features.  There were a lot of children there and it was not harrowing.  One should be mindful and very serious injuries are not common, but like any outdoor adventure the payoff is worth it if you take precautions.  Climbing among the cool rocks and exploring the caves was refreshing on this 90F Mother’s Day!

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We were careful to follow the marked trail which leads through the bottom of the chasm and then you can loop around the top on either side.  Be prepared to boulder climb through the chasm and then the loops are easy to moderate.  We took another short extension at the end of the chasm that followed a beautiful stream and led to a waterfall.  There are several more miles of trails around the rest of the park as well. (Click to enlarge any thumbnails.)

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They have a lot of regular park programming just like our Middlesex Fells here in town.  We’d just missed a “skull science” presentation.  In-season there is a very reasonable parking fee of five dollar per car but that doesn’t begin until Memorial Day weekend.  So all it cost us was an “ice cream tax” from the friendly truck driver who correctly assumed it would be a great place to plop down for the day, but overall it was a very reasonable Mother’s Day celebration!  There are public bathrooms, a small visitors center (pick up a trail map!), and the entire park is dog-friendly (on leash).

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In honor of all our playground  lovers, I have to mention the park has a pretty nice playground, considering it is pretty much a natural playground itself, arguably moreso than most day hikes.  The landscaping is beautiful and the merry-go-round was especially popular.  There are also many picnic tables with grills. There doesn’t seem to be an extra fee for those, but I imagine they are staked out quickly in peak season!

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At one hour from Boston, Purgatory Chasm is a good getaway when you feel like exploring a bit farther afield but don’t feel like driving all day.  Or do make a day or weekend of it and check out other Worcester area kid-friendly destinations like the Ecotarium, Old Sturbridge Village, and more.  Time to plan those summer adventures!

deCordova Revisited

 

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We hope you all got some outdoor time on the second beautiful weekend in a row!

One of the places we visited (in addition to the Stone Zoo and the new storybook walk out of Greenwood Park at the Middlesex Fells) was deCordova Sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA.  Angelika’s done a post on it before but it has been five years so we figured a quick update wouldn’t be out of line.

Nice to meet you, otter man!  Teach me about art, please!

Nice to meet you! Teach me about art, please!

It was founded in 1950 and is known for its sprawling lawns with large scale sculptures and art installations, as well as a museum with a wider variety of media.  Admittedly, we’ve only taken quick peeks inside the museum because we had so much fun playing outside and need to pay it the attention it deserves someday.  The main indoor exhibit at the moment is on Walden, which is not too far away, although the museum itself is on Flint Pond.

But as Angelika said, the outdoor portion is perfect for small kids.  They can run and play and picnic and the huge and sometimes colorful sculptures are right up their alley.  Dogs are allowed in the outdoor portion as well.

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We made it *right* when the grass was turning green. I swear it was brown in our yard the day before and brightened up that morning. A good day for a picnic!

Another perk to bringing kids is they are free under 12!  Adults are $14 each, but there are all kinds of discounts. We used a combination of library passes and teacher discounts (thanks, Bree!) and there are many more including AAA or Zipcar or biking, to free admission the first Wednesday of the month, and more. Of course it is a worthy institution that I’m happy paying full price to support, and there are membership options as well.

Sneak peaks of some of the new and different things, with more in the works:

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Belated

I’m back. In case you don’t recognise me, it’s Angelika 😉 .

It has been almost a full year since I have written anything for Playground Hunt. And it has been a year of huge change in my life. Briefly, and without complaining, I got sick last April and spent a week in hospital with kidney issues. I spent the rest of spring on the sofa and in bed recovering, while many of our friends helped looked after Alex and Jen.

I spent most of the summer taking it veeeeery slowly, but taking Alex and Jen to as many fun activities as I could. Luckily my children like playing with each other and they are both now at an age where I don’t need to hold their hands everywhere. I could take them to the playground and sit on a bench, and to the lake and watch them potter around the water edge from our blanket. I did have baby sitters come and help, but at least I could spend time watching my children enjoy themselves and sleep when I needed it.

We did go camping a few times. I posted pictures of these trips on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PlaygroundHunt), but we went to the yurts on Peddocks Island again (this time with Lindsay and her girls), to Searsport Shores Ocean Campground in Maine where I somehow also spent a week showing campers how to make paints, giant bubbles, playdoughs, bouncy balls, etc. as a follow-on from the Recipes for Disaster Kickstarter *, and to Pawtuckaway Campground in New Hampshire.

Fall and Winter seem to have gone by in a blur. Alex and Jen both enrolled in school because homeschooling became infeasible due to my health (it’s hard to teach when you have to spend so much time resting). It has been a time of reflection on how life will be now that some weeks I sleep 16 hours a day. It has been a time of learning how to parent and have a couple of chronic illnesses (suggestions welcome). I am trying to be at peace with enjoying the present, the calmer, and the smaller things.

One more thing before I go for now… I have joined the Friends of the Fells board in the hopes of getting an outdoor afterschool program started in the Fells. They did a superb summer camp forest Kindergarten last year, and this would hopefully be a natural extension. Check out their website and join the Babes in the Woods hikes – they are hugely popular!

* This project was almost funded when I ended in hospital and couldn’t promote it for the final two weeks to make it become a reality 🙁

Furry this February: How are the animals doing?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Playground Hunt slows down in the winter, guilty as charged.  We remain outdoorsy, but school and work can take over.  Do you know who else slows down in the winter?  Some animals. Some hibernate, and some slow down to conserve energy.

Some not so much!  Read on:

Farms

Farmers and their livestock remain busy in the winter.  New England has a surprisingly long grow season, then they plan for next year.  The animals need to be kept safe and warm, and many are getting ready to have adorable little babies in the spring.  Many farms have CSA programs that go through the winter.  Some have bed and breakfasts to help them through the season.  And many that allow visitors continue welcoming them.

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We visited Tall Grass Alpaca Farm in  Whately this season.  They have a great set-up.  Alpacas are very hardy and do well in a wide variety of climates, as you may guess by their wooly coats.  But still, many farms heat the barns and use lots of insulating–and filling!–hay.  They were also playing classical music.  They are very refined alpacas.  This serves a dual purpose.  One, it  makes them feel like they have company, and two, it scares predators away, because the predators also think they have company (in that area, mostly coyotes).  They have a nice set-up for visitors, too. The farmers offered us free hot beverages and cookies, and have a nice store with handcrafted wool gifts to browse through.

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Many other farms and outdoor educational venues stay open in the winter.  Sturbridge Village is having a Chocolate Valentine festival, as well as a child-focused week.  Drumlin has a big to-do for maple syrup season next month, but are open limited hours until then.  Speaking of maple syrup season, check out Angelika’s post from the archives.

Wildlife

It seems most people have mixed feelings about this record-breaking snow.  Epic snow forts!  Sledding! Hot cocoa! Bragging rights! But there are the negatives.  Thankfully true tragedies have been minimal but missed work and school is taking its toll, and there is worry about the future too (flooding, etc).

It is also tricky for the wildlife.  Research what you can do to help them.  The Humane Society and the National Wildlife Federation seem to have some good articles here and here.  The main tips involve shelter and food.  Leaving shrubs untrimmed or even a leaf pile out in the fall makes more great burrowing spaces.  It’s recommended only to feed the birds, if that, but leaving out freshwater is said to be fine. Change it frequently before it freezes, when you can.

It is also an ideal set-up to look for animal tracks in the snow.  Track-spotting remains pretty great with all the mud in the spring, but they are even easier to see on the flat white surface.  Have you seen anything cool?

Pets

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How are your pets doing?  Okay, indoor fish probably have no idea what is going on. And I’ve heard most cats are loving watching the snow.  Dogs seem to love it or hate it.  It can be tricky taking them for walks with unshoveled sidewalks and slick streets. Dog parks are buried or unsafe to drive to or empty.  Thankfully our dog Moxie loves it, and she’s having a great time prancing about and digging tunnels.  Her best friend Lupo lives next door and his dad snowblowed some trails and they’ve been having a ball chasing each other around, so she’s doing pretty well but some are not so lucky.  What do your pets think of the storms?

From the fun parts to the frustrating parts to the photos, this winter will be memorable to us.  Animals likely don’t have the same context.  But it is still fascinating to learn and observe the different ways they are experiencing it, and how we work together and help each other.