A Hike at Blue Hills

My city kids are always asking to go on a hike.  They love following trails and finding their way through the trees.  Blue Hills has a great hike for kids that feels like a scavenger hunt.  Different trees along the path have red dots on them and when you find one, you know you are going the correct way.  There are harder trails marked by different colored dots, but we thought we'd start with the simplest trail and work our way up.


It's possible to spend hours here walking on every board and log then lifting them up to see what is living underneath them.  


The rocks are also really fun for the kids to hop around on.  Some are so big that they need to climb up them.  I find the bigger rocks are the perfect place to sit down for a minute while they climb.  If only I had as much energy as they do....

At the top of the climb are picnic tables and a beautiful old building to explore. Make sure you don't miss climbing the stairs inside to check out the view.


The view from the top is spectacular.  My kids were amazed at how small Boston actually is when compared to the land around it.  They both had comments about how it feels so big when you are in the center of it.


And, if you stop by Blue Hills on a whim, like we did, there is a tasty food truck right near the parking lot to grab a bite to eat.


There is also a great little museum, Blue Hills Trailside Museum, with a few natural history exhibits as well as live animals.

Make Way for Ducklings

If you live in Boston with kids, you've read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This beautiful story is a great celebration of wildlife in the city, the Boston Public Garden, and the infamous swan boats. If you haven't taken a ride -- put it on your to-do list!

Everyone loves the duck statues, and even as by kids get bigger they love to stop and climb on them for a few minutes!

We also listed to an amazing CD of an orchestra and reading of "Make Way for Ducklings," narrated by Ted Kennedy, now available on amazon

One spring, we went to the Public Garden and noticed a duck on a large nest, sitting on eggs! The city had fenced off the area, to allow for privacy and protection. While observing the duck on the nest, my son said, "Ducks are not mammals." My daughter replied, "Nope! They don't give live birth!"

When we got home, we wrote down his comment and made lists, classifying animals into "mammals" and "not mammals."

Later in the week, we pulled out our mural paper and a beautiful sticker book my son received as a birthday gift. We used the images to categorize and then graph animals, expanding with reptiles, birds, fish...: 

Meanwhile, we looked for ducks and swans all over the city!

At the Museum of Science - models of ducks

At the Museum of Science - models of ducks

Now at the MFA -- until June 18 - there's a lovely gallery about Robert McCloskey and his artwork. We are such fans of his books - Make Way for Ducklings, obviously, and Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine have found permanent spots in our reading rotation. 


And we can't wait until those eggs hatch in the Public Garden this year!

Chocolate Love

Happy Snow Day!!  We are in the Valentine's spirit today making valentines for friends and teachers.

Last weekend, when I asked my kids what Valentine's Day makes them think of they said "Hearts, red, pink, love and chocolate."  It just so happens that the Museum of Science (so clever of them!) has on display an awesome exhibit on chocolate.  We have explored the world of chocolate in Bringing Books to Life when we visited the Taza Factory in Somerville.  Now, we were able to learn a little about how chocolate itself is made and it's history.  


The entrance is awesome.  We felt like we were walking into a chocolate bar!  The exhibit even smells like chocolate.  

It's truly amazing how cocoa has traveled the world.  It is grown near the equator, mostly in Central America and has made it's way, over time, to every corner of the globe.  


We were able to check out some dried pods, smell roasted beans and learn how they are turned into the chocolate we eat today.


We came home and had to have cup of hot chocolate.  I put on one of our favorite scenes from I Love Lucy where she is working at a chocolate factory.  It never fails to make all of us laugh. 

And, this Saturday at the Whole Foods on Harrison Ave, there is a chocolate festival from 11am-2pm which features a chocolate tasting.  Yum!

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Harvard Museum of Natural History

Our last museum post for this month is all about the Harvard Museum of Natural History.  Kids love exploring this museum and learn so much by just wandering around and checking out the animal exhibits.  And, it's free for Massachusetts residents if you enter between the hours of 9am and 12 pm on Sundays!

It takes some effort to bundle the kids and get them out of the house, but it's worth it. If your kids are up early like mine, stop in Harvard Square at the Crema Cafe for some breakfast before wandering over to the museum.  Once you're there, you can follow your kids around, winding through the maze of animals.  It's such warm and cozy museum that's it's actually a very relaxing family activity (and how many places can claim that?).

My son is really into tigers these days so he spent quite a while checking these guys out and examining their every detail.  I don't often get to tell my kids to take all the time they need, but I did that morning and it felt great.

There are dinosaurs, bugs, mammals, human skeletons...so many interesting things to look at that guaranteed, something will spark your child's interest.  The museum also has a great little store that stocks really thoughtful items.  The books and toys are fun yet educational and are a wonderful place to grab a gift for an upcoming birthday party or just to remember your (hopefully) peaceful morning.

Also, check out the museum's special program offerings when you visit.  We happened to be there near the Chinese New Year and were able to learn about the different animals represented.  This year, the Chinese New Year is this coming Saturday, January 28th, so they might have a similar program for your kids to enjoy.  If you were able to get to the Greenway this summer to check out the sculptures of the zodiac heads, it would be fun to build on that by celebrating the new year.


Once you having finished exploring the museum, make your way through the Earth Sciences room to the Peabody Museum which is a whole other amazing museum that is part of your admission.  You enter through a really small door with a small sign, but I promise it's allowed!  I think my kids love the adventure of finding our way around more the museum itself, and I love that we are out of the house, spending time together and maybe even doing a little learning on a weekend.

Let us know if you go! And, if you've been, we'd love any recommendations.

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Spaces for Designing and Engineering

For our next installment on museums to enjoy in January, we are recommending two - The Museum of Science in Boston (particularly the Engineering and Design Workshop), and Einstein's Workshop (actually more of a studio space than a museum) in Burlington, for hands-on tinkering opportunities. 

Our kids have been really interested in engineering. We highly recommend a stop at the Engineering and Design Workshop at the Museum of Science next time you're there. They offer a rotation of hands-on activities that involve creating, testing, and redesigning. We've designed boats, simple machines, windmills, and trampolines. 

Recently we went to Einstein's Workshop in Burlington. They offer drop-in hours, and for a flat fee children can use Legos, Knex, all types of wooden blocks, and puzzles. 

When classes are not in session, families can use the computers and software program connected to the 3D printer. My son could not get enough of watching the printer in action!

Do you know of other spaces in the Boston area to explore engineering? Please share with us!

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Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Happy New Year!  This month we are doing a series on local museums. We hope we can inspire you to visit a new museum with your family or revisit one you've been to before to check out a new exhibit.

On a recent rainy day we decided to check out the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum.  After my son accidentally set off the alarm by opening an emergency exit door to let my husband into the museum (all part of the family fun!), we set off to explore.  We were excited to find that there were family guides for much of the art.  These guides were wonderful for my daughter to read and wander a little more independently, but also fun for my husband and I to engage with our son, who is younger, and learn about the art together.


Near the entrance to the museum is the Living Room.  My kids enjoyed watching this beautiful yellow bird that lives in this room.  This is also where we found the family guides.

The courtyard is stunning and feels like a summer day no matter how gloomy it is outside.  It was fun to go through the museum and look out every window to get a different view of it. 


Each room has map that explains which piece of art is hung where and a small little note about the art.  We didn't come close to reading about every piece but it was fun to as least locate them all based on the map.  It was a little scavenger hunt that kept my kids newly engaged in each room.

Before we left, we brought the family guides back to the Living Room and my daughter noticed a large shelf of wonderful children's books. There were also many art books for my husband and I to flip through.  All four of us found this room to be a great place to put our feet up for a few minutes after wandering through the museum.

We hope you decide to go!  And, if you are an MFA member, you get a small discount off of the entrance fee.

Historic Home Tours: Longfellow House

We recently visited the Longfellow House near Harvard Square in Cambridge.  My son is enthralled with George Washington and since he stayed in the house during the Revolutionary War, we thought it might be fun to learn about his stay.  There is really no parking near the house, so we parked in Harvard Square and walked over through the beautiful neighborhood. 


The house is breathtaking from the outside and my son was eager to check it out!  And, did I mention that the tours are free?  

There are express tours which are only a half hour long.  These are great for kids because with such a short duration,  the guide needs to focus on a small aspect of the house.  Our guide asked my kids why they wanted to see the house and they replied that they were interested in the fact that George Washington stayed in the home for a few months.  We then went through learning how the house would have looked when Washington was there and some cool facts about his stay.


Even though our tour was based on George Washington, our guide had to mention the small stand-up writing the desk in the corner of this room.  It was where Longfellow wrote "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

The garden was a big hit with my kids who spent awhile running through the quaint pathways.  I was able to sit on a bench and relax for a bit.


The Longfellow House is open until October 30 for tours.  If you can't get there this Fall, take a tour when they reopen in the Spring.  And, let us know if you go!

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Historic Home Tours: Nichols House Museum

Living in New England, we are so used to history surrounding us during our daily lives.  Our next few posts will be dedicated to a few of the amazing historical homes in the Boston area. There is so much for kids to learn from these homes about the history of our city.   Not only do they get a sense of the daily lives of the people who lived in them but they can also connect these homes to larger historical events.  My kids learn so much from these experiences and it's fun to see their reactions when they are immersed in history.

My daughter and I went to the Nichols House Museum last Spring after school one day.  Rose Nichols is a fantastic role model because she truly created her own path.

Rose Nichols was a master at embroidery.  Since my daughter had shown interest in sewing and weaving (you can check out those earlier posts here: sewing, weaving), we thought it would be interesting to look more into embroidery.  We were planning to just look at the famous bed cover, but the museum had set up a chance for visitors to try their own hand at the art of needlework.


The latest Improper Bostonian has an article about the Nichols House called Working The Room that has pictures of the rooms with small descriptions.  It was fun for my daughter to see after she had been to the house.

A picnic at the library

The courtyard at the Central Library in Boston is a fantastic spot for a picnic.  After visiting the beautiful new children's wing, walk downstairs and grab some lunch at the Map Room Cafe. The courtyard is a few steps from the cafe and you'll find tables surrounding a fountain.


There are plenty of shady spots to eat lunch.  My kids were interested in the statue in the middle of the fountain (mostly because they thought it was funny that we were eating our lunch looking at her naked bum).  We looked it up and found out that it's called Bacchante and Infant Faun and it depicts a woman celebrating while holding an infant.  How sweet!

Mega MFA

My daughter came home from school the other day begging to go to the MFA.  A friend had been to Mega Cities Asia and told her all about it, highlighting the two mazes in the exhibit.  My kids enjoyed so many of the pieces from the flower on the front lawn that moves to the comic books that allowed to be read.  One maze directs the viewer to be curious by really examining each element and the colors throughout are fantastic.  Mega Cities has so much more to it though.  Reading the descriptions for each piece is thought provoking and brings up some interesting philosophical ideas for all ages.  Is it better to have a plastic flower that lasts forever or a real flower that perishes after a few days?


Different artists as well as cities in Asia were represented throughout the exhibit.  It was interesting to see the wide range of pieces and how each artist represented living conditions in these very populated cities.

We walked back and forth through this maze of bamboo and rope.  The more curious we were, the more we were rewarded for our efforts by sensors placed throughout the structure.  It was a very unique experience!


We had so many interesting conversations surrounding the "green hill of plastic."  So many green spaces in cities are man-made and this piece really brought out a lot of questions and comments from my kids.  It was a real life "Where's Waldo."

My son loved finding the different patterns in the enormous kitchen piece.  He could have observed, counted and reflected all day if we let him.


Our family loves to bike in the city so we all were thrilled to have bikes represented in such a beautiful way.  The shadows, the shapes and the amazing fact that bikes were used to create art has all wanting to go back and look again.


The exhibit is all around the museum and adds a striking opposite to so many of the other pieces in the museum.  These "columns" are pieces of colorful plastic that the artist picked up on walks around his city.  


The courtyard is open for the season and is a gorgeous spot to enjoy a lunch that is bought in the cafeteria or brought with you from home.


Mega Cities Asia ends on July 17th and is absolutely worth checking out with kids.  There are so many hands on exhibits to enjoy while learning about other cultures.  Please tell us if you go, we'd love to know your favorite part!

Getaway to Odiorne Point State Park

Our last getaway post stems from when I asked my kids to make a summer list, last year, of things that they'd like to do while on vacation.  One thing they wrote down was "step on stepping stones."  After a little research, I came up with Odiorne Point State Park, which when the tide is low, has many stones/rocks to step on while exploring tide pools.  It's a quick trip, only about an hour north of Boston to Rye, New Hampshire.


They both were able to step on lots of stones at low tide.  We brought buckets and they collected all kinds of sea creatures in between the rocks.  We studied them and then let them go before we left.


While we were there, we also took the time to check out the Seacoast Science Center. There was a small aquarium inside as well as some fun interactive exhibits about the ocean and keeping it clean for future generations.

It was a great little museum with a lot of exhibits as well as a touch tank.  The view of the ocean from most of the windows is beautiful.

Let us know if you happen to go to any of our getaways!  We will keep exploring New England and writing about it, so we'd also love to know if you have an idea for a getaway.  We are always up for a new adventure!

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Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Brewster

Last spring, we featured a Getaway to Brewster, and mentioned this gem: the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. While the trails to Wing Island are perfect for exploring on a sunny or overcast day, the inside of the museum itself is perfect to take a break from heat or rain. 

Lately, we've been interested in bees and pollination. After reading a lot about bees being endangered, we began to study their amazing life cycle and contribution to the earth!

More on our interest in bees to come! Have you been to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History? Let us know what you've enjoyed there!


Getaway to Newburyport

Happy May!  This month we are doing a series on getaways that are close to Boston.  We have four amazing places to visit this summer with your family.  If you have a some free time, we encourage you try one of these day trips!

On a sunny weekend last summer, we decided to explore Newburyport.  We started our day on the beautiful beaches of Plum Island playing in the waves.  After working up an appetite in the water, we made the quick drive into the historic downtown area.

The Purple Onion Cafe is delicious spot to stop for lunch.  There are a few outdoor tables and a playground a few feet away.  Our kids ate quickly and went to play while my husband and I had a leisurely lunch.  

It's such a quaint town to walk around.  The kids were delighted when we wandered into Gram's Homemade Ice Cream.  It was a delicious treat on a hot afternoon.


While walking around, we stumbled upon the Maritime Museum, which we all loved.  There are docents walking around in the building that love to answer every question your kids ask.  We all learned so much about the history of Newburyport and so many interesting facts about lighthouses and the coastguard.  There are model ships to check out and we all had a chance to ring a giant ship's bell.  We were all amazed to get to see a document that is signed by George Washington.


We have plans to go back this summer to check out the Parker River Wildlife Refuge , which has two boardwalks to explore.  One, the Marsh loop, goes through the water and the other, the Dune loop, takes you up the dunes for views of the Atlantic.  We also learned in the Maritime Museum that the lighthouse on Plum Island is open for visitors to climb to top.  

Let us know if you go!

Ninjas and Samurai

My five year old boy is loving all things Ninja, sword and Samurai these days.  After spending so much time learning about Japan with the Hokusai exhibit at the MFA, as well as looking deeper into Japanese culture around Boston, he has found a new way for us to build on our knowledge of Japan.  


He asked for a "ninja suit" for Christmas and wears it all the time.  With this in mind, I thought he might enjoy some books about Ninjas and Samurai. We were even invited to a Ninja birthday party at Gymja Warrior (it seems a lot of kids are interested in this subject lately!) which afterwards he told us he felt "like a real ninja!"

We found a samurai exhibit at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard.  We were able to see a helmet, body armor and a sword.  Because his interest was already there, he enjoyed having the descriptions read to him.  A lot of times, we speed through museums, taking in the in general idea, so it was fun to stop and really focus on a few items.

After studying the sword in the museum, my son really enjoyed watching this video of how these swords are made:

Are your kids into Ninjas?  We'd love some more ideas to pursue this passion!

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The Perfect Sword
By Scott Goto
The Three Ninja Pigs
By Corey Rosen Schwartz
By Arree Chung

Animals: Machines in Motion

We are so lucky to live near the Museum of Science.  The newest temporary exhibit, Animals: Machines in Motion, which was developed by The Field Museum in Chicago, is simply fantastic.  There are so many hands-on exhibits that use math and science to show how animal bodies work and move.  My kids loved it and are begging to go back.


We had never thought about the way a cheetah runs before.  It's a pattern called the rotary gallop that other animals like horses also use.  My son was enthralled with this video and played it over and over (as well as backwards!).  The video we took is of him counting the separate steps to get a better idea of the coordination these animals use to run.

My daughter wore herself out pumping this giraffes blood.  We were able to learn to about blood pressure as well as some interesting facts about giraffes.

All of these living things have evolved into a similar dome shape to protect themselves.  We were impressed by the array and now notice this shape all the time in our everyday lives.

We love the Field Museum in Chicago and were so happy to see our favorite dinosaur, Sue, in Boston.

We had fun experimenting with this infrared camera.  My son held up his shirt to see if his stomach was warmer than his shirt.  We held onto one of my daughter's braids to warm it up and by doing so changed it to different color than the rest of her hair.  We also grabbed a piece of paper and blew on it to see it change color as it warmed up.

My kids really enjoyed pretending to be birds.  They had fun trying out the two different wings to get a sense of flying.  Check out the video of my daughter spinning herself around and around with the smaller wing.

This exhibit is only temporary and we highly recommend getting to the Museum of Science at least once to see it!

Material of the week: Clay

My daughter has an interest in clay. We did a lot of hand building at home, but, without a kiln, we were limited to air-dry clay. So, we found a pottery class at Mudflat Studio in Somerville, and we were so impressed with the facility and instructors, we had to share!

My son does not yet take classes (although he does love exploring clay at his school and home). But, every time he drops off his sister, he takes a few minutes (or more!) watching the potters on the wheels and asking questions. They are all incredibly kind and patient!

My daughter has made bowls, ornaments, and a vase she plans to give as a gift. An avid horse lover, she made these (not yet fired or glazed) ponies:

And, she's found that she loves making impressions in the clay. This project helped reinforce her learning about leaves and their veins

The Museum of Fine Art offers drop in vacation week activities and we found one focused on clay.  We used many different types of tools (including plastic utensils and cookie cutters) to create our own cartouches or name plates which were used in Ancient Egypt.  My son had fun creating a scene that described him and his favorite things in the clay. 


How do you explore clay at home or at studios? We'd love to hear your suggestions!

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This time of year brings with it a lot of darkness.  The sun is gone from the sky so early in day, leaving us with a house full of shadows. We have felt very inspired to make shadow puppets on the wall (or our beds) using a lamp or flashlight.

The Lighthouse exhibit at the Museum of Science has a camera which captures your shadow.  We took a shadow family portrait the last time we visited.  

Shadows can be used to tell stories or create your own story.  

There are so many great books and props to teach you how to create shadows and allow kids to play with shadows.  Also, Clay Rice, an amazing silhouette artist who visits the children's shop Tadpole once a year, has written a couple of books where he uses silhouettes for the illustrations.  We highly recommend visiting Tadpole when Clay is there to have him create a silhouette of your children.

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The Lonely Shadow
By Clay Rice
Making Shadow Puppets (Kids Can Do It)
By Jill Bryant, Catherine Heard
The Art of Hand Shadows
By Albert Almoznino
By Suzy Lee