Category Archives: Places

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:

IMG_1466

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.

IMG_1469

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

IMG_1479

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.

IMG_1485

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

IMG_6764

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)

IMG_6767IMG_6763IMG_6778

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?

IMG_6787

 

beach

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

lake

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


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 🙁

Artist-in-Residence

slime?!Pinterest has been the bane of my existence. At first, I was sooo excited at all the inspiration, the creativity, and the awesome ideas of what I could do with my preschool children. Then I tried some ideas. And failed. Quite a lot.
Follow Angelika’s board Ideas for Children on Pinterest.

By training I’m a scientist (Ph.D. in Biology), and with each unsatisfactory attempt at making finger paints that cracked, or colored sand that stayed brown, I got frustrated that the proportions of the ingredients were not great, and that I didn’t know what the variables were that would make each recipe a success.

Sausages

Sausages

So my children and I started testing and experimenting. I am compiling all the recipes I have tested and optimized into a handy, boxed collection: Recipes for Disaster. My plan is to produce this as an actual physical product by fall 2014.

Meanwhile, Last year we stayed at the very kid-friendly, arty Searsport Shores Ocean Campground for a week.  Read my blog post of our trip here.  This year, we will be back showing fellow campers some of the trick and lessons we have learned.

During my week as Artist-in-Residence at Searsport Shores Ocean Campground (July 6 to July 12), I will have a different theme each day. I will show you how to make colored sand, pasta, rice, and sugar, several different kinds of paints, doughs, clays, slimes, and BUBBLES. We will measure and cook and mix all these recipes from scratch and I will have several suggestions on what to create from our concoctions – making marbled paper, making your own bouncy ball, a colorful salt mandala…

My sessions will be perfect for all ages – we have been trying  these recipes since my children were toddlers. At the same time, using some of these basic materials is only restricted by your creativity. I will be taking pictures to add to my blog Playground Hunt, so please join us in making some of our Recipes for Disaster art.

Wolf Hollow–Ipswich, MA

“What do you think is in this bucket?” asked Z Soffron, Assistant Director of Wolf Hollow, as he emerged through the pack with a large orange pail.  “Raw meat?”

IMG_1636

He dumped it on the ground and we saw large red dripping chunks, which the wolves excitedly started lapping at.  Nope, it was homemade apple and watermelon “popsicles” (just fruit pieces frozen in water, an appropriate summer snack for your canines, as well).

While verbally reminding us that they are wild keystone predators, by serving what is basically a healthy version of the snowcones featured at the festival’s entrance, they made these creatures  instantly relatable as well.

IMG_1645

And that seems to be the point of Wolf Hollow’s Free Family Fun Fest.  Wolf Hollow is a non-profit wolf education center, and an affordable day trip any season ($7.50 adults, $5.00 children and seniors).  But once a year they open their gates for free so newcomers can check out what there is to learn, and old fans and new friends can enjoy the celebratory atmosphere.

It was very crowded–not overly so or in a bad way–but one could see how taking in these fascinating animals in their multi-acre sanctuary like atmosphere would take on a whole different tone on a quieter day, and I’m sure many first-time visitors (like us!) are now eager to have that experience as well.

But the Family Fun Festival is a good way to do it once a  year, too.  The usual hour long presentation was cut in half.  While it was well done and made me curious about what else there is to learn, the shorter time is great for the younger children.  As were the games and activities, including a coloring contest, puppet making, tye-dying, Pin the Nose on the Wolf, and more.  There were food and drink vendors, and if you saw the post I made on the Facebook feed, the free Ipswich Ale Brewery samples for the adults did not disappoint!  I recommend the summer ale!

IMG_1630IMG_1626

The rest of the year they have hour presentations on weekend days (going down to Sundays only during the thick of winter) at 1:30pm.  They are occasionally cancelled due to bad weather or special events so it is good to call first.  Groups of 20 or larger, like school field trips or camp groups, can schedule presentations by appointment on weekdays.

Wolf Hollow supports its wolves and their habitat through their modest admission fees, gift shop sales, private donations, special fundraisers, and their Adopt a Wolf program so if you go and enjoy it, support them!

IMG_1637

When I ask a small child what their favorite animal is, I find I often get one of several answers: dinosaurs (a lot to learn but sadly extinct), unicorns (imaginary, but many great creative myths) or wolves.  With the latter, you’re in luck.  Two local non-profits aim to feature them and educate us about them.  There are the Mexican Grey Wolves at Stone Zoo and the the British Colombian Timber Wolves at Wolf Hollow.  We’ve got easy access to these popular but occasionally misunderstood animals, so take advantage of it!

 

MIT Museum

The MIT Museum is another one of the endless superb museums in the Boston area. We went to a free day at the end of February – there is free admission on the last Sunday of each month until June 2014. Otherwise admission in $10 per adult, $5 for kids, free for under 5 years old.

The museum is on Mass Ave, near MIT, and even though the area is busy, I have always found on-street parking nearby. Bring quarters.

The exhibits are not hugely made for younger kids and there are not too many things for the under-5-year-olds to poke. There are lots of buttons to push, but a lot of those move some delicate wire contraptions.

Oddly, my children found the extensive hologram collection totally uninteresting. I hope it’s just that they don’t understand the cool-ness of it, rather than that children are now so jaded by technology and touch screens that that is no longer fascinating for hours on end. Or maybe the hologram thing was only ever me? 😉

The biggest fun was had by my 4 and 6 year old with a conveyor belt machine that took pictures of small items and projected them onto the conveyor after they were removed. It think that was worth about an hour, and the source of all the high pitched squeals that day.

Downstairs is another large area, that had a bunch of robots and high tech stuff that mostly was beyond even my 6 year old, so I’ll have to come back sometime by myself for a closer look.

Be warned – the MIT museum has a really cool shop with really cool gadgets and toys. And it cannot be avoided.

Einstein’s Workshop in Burlington

Still somewhat catching up on all the awesome places we’ve been to recently: Einstein’s Workshop in Burlington. http://www.einsteinsworkshop.com. This is a space for older kids – definitely for over three year olds up to adults. They have all the construction toys you have ever heard of and then some. There is a laser cutter and 3D printing (which I’m personally drooling over). They do classes in everything and birthday parties.

Einstein’s Workshop is an amazing space for kids to explore the creative side of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Our goal is to expose young children to fun and engaging STEM activities so that they remain interested and engaged in STEM subjects as they progress from elementary school through high school. In addition, we are working particularly hard to inspire both girls and boys by creating classes for electronic fabric art and through a lasercut dollhouse/model home construction and decoration class. We currently offer science project classes, programming classes (Lego NXT, Scratch, etc), engineering classes such as 2D and 3D CAD design, electronics and circuit project classes, 3D printer and laser cutter project classes, math classes, and more. We offer classes to kids from kindergarten through high school and beyond, including training for FLL and JrFLL coaches. Einstein’s Workshop also features a drop-in creative/maker space for kids, where kids can build with various construction toys such as Legos, K’Nex, Anchor Blocks, Kapla Blocks, and where qualified kids can access our CAD lab, electronics workstations, Arduino projects, 3D printers, and 80-watt laser cutter.

You can get discount tickets for Einstein’s Workshop at https://www.livingsocial.com/deals/1026599?rui=4566718 (that’s a referral link if you are in the mood to give something back to the blog 😉 Many libraries also have free passes

Discovery Museums

There is so much to do around Boston that even after 5 years of trying to visit all the museums and playgrounds and beaches and forests and … there is still more to discover. We finally made it to the Discovery Museums in Acton. And LOVED it.

The Discovery Museums is comprised of two buildings on our 4-plus acre campus.   At the Children’s Discovery Museum, younger children (toddlers through early grades) learn while they play.  At the Science Discovery Museum, children and adults of all ages explore scientific concepts and hands-on creativity.

The Discovery Museums offers exciting programs for all ages.  Check our Calendar for upcoming programs and events!

We spent all day. First in the Children’s part in a smaller house – this opened early and we had a thoroughly awesome time in the various rooms. Everything is put together really carefully and with love.

After a quick lunch on a bench, we went up the hill to the Science museum and spent the entire afternoon there. So much to do for every age. Truly superb. And the best bit is that a lot of public libraries have bought into their discount admission passes. We got 50% off admission, so it is definitely worth checking out.

Pictures:

Winter Play Spaces around Boston

Here is Angelika’s first installment of her list of 1001 things to do around Boston in the Fall and Winter of 2013. This is my list of places to go: museums, public places, commercial indoor playgrounds, and some great organizations that lead events for kids outside in winter. This is along the lines of “They can’t bounce off the walls if you take the walls away”.

Actually, this installment is about Inside Educational Play, so there will be a couple of walls…

A lot of the museums offer activities for children and separate areas for even the youngest. It is possible to get heavily discounted tickets to lot of the museums from local libraries, so check there.

Inside Educational Play

Museum of Science

Huge space with something to discover for everyone. For kids under 5, head to the Discovery Center, all the way past the cafeteria and shop. And try to go before 10am, so there’s room in the attached, covered garage (hint for bad weather). I’ve written about it before here: LINK. For frequent visitors I recommend the premium membership – you get two hours free parking each time and lots of tickets to see the MoS shows.

Boston Children’s Museum

Jen and Alex at the train table in PlayspaceAnother huge space with lots of activities and rooms to get absorbed in. My recommendation is to let the kids lead the way. They’ll stay in the rooms they find fun. There is a room dedicated for the 3 and under set, with what we think is the world’s best train table.  Everything is interactive, and can get messy and wet. I recommend brining at least one complete change of clothing per child.  Parking is a bit farther away in a public garage. I’ve written about it before here: LINK

Wenham Museum

"Look Mama - trains!"Not sure if this is still a “hidden” gem, but this small museum is superb for the under 5 year old set (and anyone into trains and dolls). About half the museum is devoted to a range of model trains with lots of buttons to push for the younger set. Parking is easy, but be warned that they have an excellent gift/toy store attached ;-). I’ve written about it before here: LINK and LINK

Discovery Museums

We haven’t made it here yet, but everyone says these museums are super good. Someone send me a message before you go and maybe if we meet some people there I’ll be motivated enough to drive the half hour from Stoneham.

Einstein’s Workshop

I heard about this place in summer, when the Stoneham library announced they have passes. I (I mean my children) would love to play with lots of Lego, robots, 3D printer,…

Imagine an enormous room filled with toys: LEGOs, K’nex, Zome, magnetic blocks, wooden, stone, and cardboard blocks, electronics kits, puzzles, board games, and computer games. That’s our indoor playspace – an indoor playground where kids and adults come to build and create together.

I’ll report back when we’ve been, but it does seem like it’s aimed at kids over 5 years old. Again, leave a message here or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PlaygroundHunt) to arrange to meet us there 😉

New England Aquarium

Alex really getting into the touch tankThe New England Aquarium is really quite spectacular (and spectacularly expensive). Get a library pass to make the entrance fee less painful.  The displays are stunning, and the last time we went, we really enjoyed the new touch tank with all the sting(less)rays. The giant tank in the center is open again, too and we got to see the sea lion training. I’ve written about it before here: LINK

Harvard Museum of Natural History

I think the Harvard Museum of Natural History is amazing. Alex got freaked out by the large number of stuffed animals on display last time we went. So instead we spent a lot of time looking at the large rock collection and the fossils and arthropods. Free to Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning (year-round) from 9:00 am to noon and on Wednesdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm (September through May), and library passes can be found. This museum is beautiful, but not tremendously hands on, so might be better for kids over 5.

MIT Museum

I have no idea why we haven’t been to this museum that is all about robots, machines, robots, kinetic sculptures, robots, machines, and all things engineering. Is my inner nerd showing?

Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts is gigantic. The only time I’ve been with my children was when we went to one of the homeschool classes they put on. We got a great, but quick, tour through some of the space, and got to do craft. I can’t talk about art endlessly, especially with children, so I’m inclined to go back as part of another class, so that they will get more out of it than what I feel I can offer. I have written about our last trip at this LINK, where we learned about textile arts.

Institute of Contemporary Art

never been!

Peabody Essex Museum

also never been!!!

American Textile Museum

Ha! We went here 😀 This is superb museum, and surprisingly large. It covers all things textile from waaaaay back in history to space (really). Very educational, very hands on. And they have lots of super helpful staff on hand, who were willing to help us sort out various weaving looms.  This museum also and an exceptional “Textile Learning Center”, a very well stocked and staffed play room, where people of all ages can touch, weave, and otherwise play with textile related toys.