Great Ways to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
by Nikki David, Associate Editor, BEYOND
School’s out, sun’s out, now it’s time for your family to get out! Take a tech break and reconnect with nature at some of our favorite outdoor spots in each of our regions. From one-of-a-kind parks to nature preserves to outdoor performances, there are countless ways for your whole family to stay active, learn something new and rekindle your love for the great outdoors.
Looking to beat the heat? Check out our favorite indoor activities that will keep kids’ brains active and engaged throughout the summer.
Search the Shore: Head for the coast and uncover hermit crabs, sea stars, anemones and tons of other tide pool critters at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve! Also check out the tours, workshops and low tide schedule to get the most out of your day trip. The free-admission reserve is designated as one of 34 California coastal habitats with “special biological significance,” so your family’s sure to see and learn about some fascinating water dwellers.
Play for All: Be one of the first to experience the stunning new Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto! This inclusive high-tech playground is perfect for kids of all abilities, and features soothing sensor-activated music, a wheelchair-accessible treehouses, signs in braille and a giant two-story playhouse.
Paddle Out: Spend the day in the sun and along the water at Lake Cunningham Regional Park. Whether you want to rent a paddleboat, snag a volleyball court or take your bike or roller skates around the paths, there are lots of ways for your family to get moving. Numerous picnic areas with grills, electricity and running water are perfect for lunch – just make sure not to feed the great blue herons or white pelicans who also frequent the park!
All that Jazz: Free on a Friday evening? A night of free music and art await you at the National Gallery of Art! Share some culture with your kids during the weekly Jazz in the Garden series, where you’ll enjoy live music while strolling through the Art Sculpture Garden. The wide selection of can’t-miss whimsical sculptures from Calder to Miró are sure to pique your little one’s curiosity.
Woodsy Wonder: Imagine the silly excitement of a children’s play mixed with the beauty and magic of a lush forest. Then, experience it for yourself at Wolf Trap National Park’s Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods! The stunning outdoor venue will host everything from Alice in Wonderland to a Bilingual Dance Fiesta this summer, and you won’t want to miss out. With tickets at only $8-10 dollars, this is sure to be a unique experience for the whole family.
Just for Junior: Explore, learn, and protect! Let this motto guide your trip through one of DC’s National Parks, where your child can become a Junior Ranger! Ask a ranger at a participating park for a Junior Ranger activity packet, and complete the activities as a family while learning about and enjoying nature. When you complete the packet, turn it in for an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate! Also ask about the Let’s Move Outside program. When your family completes a fun physical activity like hiking, biking, paddling or horseback riding, your child will receive a special sticker to accompany their badge.
Dance & Drum: Missing enrichment class during the summer? The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts has your fix! Tuesdays through Thursdays are “Kidz Days” at the Center, with free family programming designed to both entertain and educate. The programs are also interactive, meaning your kids will be invited to sing, dance, hula hoop and perform experiments during Danceworks or the Mad Science show. Stop by on Thursdays for an extra treat – special cultural performances will celebrate Milwaukee’s diverse culture with appearances by the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Hispanic Dancers and Lucky Diop African Drumming & Dance.
For the Budding Ecologist: There are so many amazing outdoor activities at the Urban Ecology Center, we couldn’t pick just one! All three locations offer dozens of ways to work up a sweat, expand your nature knowledge and give back. Kayak around a lake, rent a disc golf set for the full 18-hole course, feed the frogs and turtles, or play in the habitat-themed playground. Learn about citizen science, take a family cooking class with fresh ingredients grown in the park, or celebrate with a summer “B’earthday” party. There’s no better place to take advantage of Milwaukee’s natural beauty.
Endless Possibilities: The wonderfully unique (and gigantic football-field-sized) Possibility Playground is a must-see. Specially designed playground equipment allows for children of all physical abilities to play and laugh together in a creative space fully accessible by wheelchairs. The park aims to “blend the line between learning, therapy and playtime,” and the stunning view of the lake makes it well worth the short drive to Port Washington.
Critters & Campfires: Warner Park Nature Center’s summer schedule is full of unique programs to learn about nature and get your hands dirty! Look for the caterpillar on their calendar to see which events are free & available for online registration. Children’s events include outdoor movies, nocturnal insect night hikes, campfire sing-alongs, and snakes & salamander hunts led by the Nature Center staff.
Make a Splash: Did you know the Rivers of Tennessee Fountain at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park has 31 vertical water fountains, one for each of the state’s major waterways? Head to the park on a hot day to help your kids cool off in the fountains, then stick around for the light show after dark! The park has hours of fun and state history, including a 200-foot state map, a 1,400 foot wall engraved with 200 years of major Tennessee events and a World War II Memorial globe that floats on 1.8 inches of water.
Go Green: Take the scenic route! Nashville has over 75 miles of gorgeous greenways, or parks and trails that connect neighborhoods to other local points of interest. Grab your bikes and see where your nearest greenway takes you, or pack a picnic for the road. Many of the greenways line the Harpeth River, so there are lots of places to cool off and enjoy the greenery.
What’s your favorite thing to do during the summer? Share with us and other Rocketeers at @RocketshipEd.
A member of the Rocketship Network Support Team, Nikki came to Rocketship to help close stark inequalities in education and build the innovative schools of the future. Mentoring and tutoring throughout South Los Angeles showed her the transformational power of learning, and she is inspired every day by Rocketeers’ bright spirits and boundless potential. She earned her B.A. in Communication and Communication Design from the University of Southern California. Her other passions include community service, D.I.Y. projects, getting lost in new places, and trying challenging new workouts.
Follow Nikki on Twitter: @plaincrash
Published on July 13, 2015