You don’t need to spend hours in the car to get to your next adventure with your kids. On a LocalVenture, you’ll spend time exploring sights and sites within about thirty minutes of your home, arriving before anyone has a chance to say “How much longer?” and leaving before anyone has a meltdown (hopefully). Find the unexplored and undiscovered in your backyard. Pretend to be tourists and actually go to those places you’ve always been too busy to visit but recommend to visitors. From historical sites to scenic sights, wherever you are is the perfect place to explore with your kids.
HOW TO PLAN:
Planning your LocalVenture is as easy as 1-2-3:
- Research. Ask friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Go to your local visitors center. What? You’ve never been there? You can pick up brochures and talk to the staff about where they like to send visitors. Even if you’re a local native, you may be surprised at what’s available. Then, do some legwork on the Internet. You may find out that the local museum offers free admission on the first Friday of the month or that the thespians at the local high school are putting on “Singin’ in the Rain” in the spring.
- Prepare. Consider your kids and meal, nap, and/or bed times when selecting a date and time for your LocalVenture. Well-fed and well-rested kids make the most pleasant adventure companions. Depending on your destination and length of your venture, you may need to take water, snacks, and extra clothes and diapers. You may also wish to prepare your kids for what they’re about to experience, especially if you are going to a performance or a cemetery.
- Go! Have a great time! Enjoy the thrill of adventure with your kids by experiencing it through their eyes. Join them in the fun. Then, when you’re ready – or, rather, when your kids are ready – pack it in and head home, taking the short ride home to talk about what they enjoyed most about their adventure.
WHERE TO GO:
One of the over 8,000 farmers’ markets across the nation may be close enough to introduce your children to the seasonal nature of fruits and vegetables, which is absent from a visit to a grocery store that offers strawberries and tomatoes twelve months a year. Here you can let your kids pick up a snack or pick out food for supper and meet the farmers that grew it. Musical entertainment and activities for kids may also be offered.
Pick-Your-Own (PYO) Farms
To get even closer to where your food comes from, find a local pick-your-own farm. From May through October (depending on your growing season), you can spend several weekends enjoying produce as each comes into season – from strawberries in late spring to blueberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, and then pumpkins in the fall. Your kids (and, perhaps, you) will learn that blueberries grow on bushes and strawberries grow low on the ground. The best part is that your kids will get to enjoy the delicious fruits (literally) of their labor – sometimes immediately! Plus, these places cater to families and often provide additional enticements, such as a small petting “zoo” of farm animals or a hay bale maze. Frankly, my kids love the port-a-pots.
Celebrate what makes your town or city unique with your kids. Once a year, your town may go crazy with hot-air balloons, tobacco batteaux, or cherries. These events can be overwhelming to children (and adults), so anticipate your child’s need to leave for home. Even just a thirty-minute visit can provide vivid images and lasting memories. You can always go back next year.
You’ll find a museum in even the smallest communities, and these small hometown creations can be preferable to big-city, mega-museums for a few reasons: (1) They are not overwhelming and can be explored quickly enough that young kids won’t get bored. (2) The price of admission is very reasonable (sometimes free), and you know that your contributions are going directly to your community. (3) Local museums target the history and culture of the area in which you live, the immediacy of which makes a real impact on growing involved citizens.
Local museums, such as county historical societies, focus on local geography, history, and prominent citizens. Some museums are more specific, focusing on a particularly noteworthy citizen that made it big (Thomas Edison, Milan, Ohio) or unique local event or phenomena (The Mothman, Point Pleasant, West Virginia).
Local cemeteries can be thought of as open-air, historical, art museums. With just a little online investigating, you can locate the oldest cemetery in your town. Challenge your kids to find the oldest tombstone in the cemetery. See if they can find someone with the same last name as yours or the same birthday. Explore the artistry on the grave markers – from the largest structures to the smallest stones. You may wish to visit on Memorial Day if your community decorates the gravestones of veterans. There may also be a special ceremony to mark the occasion. Your community may also have special commemorations stemming from unique community events. For instance, Bedford (Va.) residents remember local soldiers who fought on D-Day with memorial services at local cemeteries every June 6th.
Monuments and Public Sculptures
Nearly all towns have some sort of monument or memorial to find and explore. Often they are memorials to local residents who served and died in wars, but others commemorate historical events and prominent citizens. While they may be ubiquitous, they are also unique to this particular place. Some locales have pieces of public art which would be a worthwhile LocalVenture.
We all have our “go-to” parks. The ones with the favorite twisty slide or awesome climbing wall or cleanest bathrooms. Challenge yourself to explore another park. The one you never go to because it’s across town. Go and let your kids explore. You may be surprised what you find. We once discovered a previously unknown (to us) firefighters’ memorial.
This one is as easy as finding your closest train track. To stack the deck in your favor, see if you can determine the most likely time for a train sighting. We are lucky enough to live fairly close to a spot where railroad workers put together (and take apart) the long strands of train cars. With a convenient parking lot and a load of snacks, we’ve spent a good amount of time watching the trains go by and the gates go up and down at the railroad crossing. If you have a passenger train service in your town, ask the stationmaster about arrivals and departures and schedule your trip accordingly.
If you live in a large enough town with public transportation, take your kids for a ride around town. Take the bus to the library and back, or just make big loop. My kids still talk about doing this.
Kids also love fire trucks and ambulances, and emergency personnel are often very eager to show excited kids the inside of their fire truck while waiting for calls to come in.
The Arts and Athletics
Do you love Motown? How about the plays of Shakespeare? Or a football game complete marching bands at halftime? Or The Nutcracker? Whether amateur or professional, nearly all communities can boast of hosting cultural and sporting events and offer you the opportunity to expose your children to performances, both artistic and athletic. Find out what athletic, musical, theatrical, dance performances your local schools, churches, and colleges offer.
Colleges and Universities
Colleges or universities offer an amazing array of opportunities for local residents of all ages. Keep an eye on your local college’s calendar and get to know their campus and facilities. Our tiny local liberal arts college offers theater, art, coding, and sports camps for kids during the summer, kid-friendly programs at their art museum, a tremendous science festival for all ages, and a monthly “star parties” at their observatory. In addition, the public is welcome to attend recitals, sporting events, theater productions, and lectures from guest speakers, which have included such luminaries as Maya Angelou. My kids’ favorite spot? I think it’s a tie between the fish pond and the organic garden.
The Great Outdoors
What natural features does your area contain? Mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, beach, forest, desert. Great! Go explore! Nothing so grand? It doesn’t matter. No matter the size your kids will enjoy the chance to wade in a creek or skip rocks across the surface of a pond. Let them climb hills and roll down. Even better, do it all with them! Go for a walk around your neighborhood and notice what is blooming, then go home to look up what it’s called. Camp out in your backyard.
Geocaching and Letterboxing
If you are looking for a way to really engage your school-age kids with a LocalVenture, try geocaching or letterboxing. These “treasure hunts” are available around the world and, likely, even in your town. (If not, hide your own caches!)
The bumper stickers with “Buy Local” encourage us to patronize local businesses, thereby keeping money in the local economy and encouraging those businesses to remain in town. Other bumper stickers ask us to “Eat Local,” supporting ideals of sustainability as well as local farmers. We need new bumper stickers that say “Play Local.” Explore your community with your kids on a LocalVenture without the time or financial commitment of a grand adventure. Because these are local places, you can return to them again and again, allowing your children to add to their experiences and knowledge as they grow older, and by focusing on your town, your children’s community pride will grow and grow as will their interest in becoming involved citizens.