Tag - maplewood nature center

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Nature Playgrounds in the Twin Cities – Get Back to Green
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Maple Syruping with Kids in the Twin Cities
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Free Family Weekend Events for January 2-3, 2016
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Indoor & Outdoor Fun: Twin Cities Nature Centers (NE Metro)
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Twin Cities Free Weekend Events for January 17-18, 2015
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Twin Cities Free Weekend Events December 20-21
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Staying Busy on a Budget: Five of our Summer Outings Done on the Cheap

Nature Playgrounds in the Twin Cities – Get Back to Green

Nature Playgrounds are a growing trend for good reason; scientists keep finding connections between nature to child development and well-being.

nature playgrounds
It used to be, according to my children, that in order for a park to be authentic, it needed at least a slide and a set of swings. I was less enthusiastic about taking them to places like state parks simply because I felt I’d have to go the extra mile to “prove” that playing and exploring in a natural environment could be just as fun as clambering around a commercially manufactured jungle gym. Don’t get me wrong – the local playgrounds can be a lot of fun, too. And some are really inventive! But I have to say that I get a deeper satisfaction from watching them play in a more natural setting: digging, figuring out how to climb that tree, following paths, building forts. They become immersed in tossing rocks into the water, scouting frogs, collecting wildflowers. They also gradually forget that “playing at the park” requires a plastic treehouse.

So here’s what I find really cool: incorporating natural elements into new playground designs seems to be the trend. More places are popping up where kids get the opportunity to interact with the landscape and, perhaps, develop a greater appreciation for it. Here are seven places I’ve discovered that have those goals in mind:

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Maple Syruping with Kids in the Twin Cities

March is maple syrup month in Minnesota, and with an abundance of nature centers around the Twin Cities, we have ample opportunities to learn about and participate in the maple syruping process. Maple syrup events usually contain one or more of the following activities: tapping the maple trees, collecting the sap, boiling it into syrup, and the best part — according to my kids, anyway — a sample of the finished product.

Click through for a list of upcoming maple syrup events across the Twin Cities Metro. Read More

Free Family Weekend Events for January 2-3, 2016

Winter is finally here! Get out and embrace it with these four family fun ideas, or use our Family Fun Calendar for more ideas on getting out and about this weekend.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 2

Free First Saturday: Wintertime Escape
@ Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis

Time: 10am-3pm
Details: Admission is free for all every first Saturday of the month and the galleries abound with arty activities for kids of any age. This month’s theme, Wintertime Escape, will warm you up with an all-day dance party.

Snowflake Wonders
@ Maplewood Nature Center, 2659 E 7th St, St Paul

Time: 1-3pm
Details: Design beautiful snowflakes for your windows. Learn how snowflakes are formed, and peer at preserved snowflake crystals up close on the microcam. Nature Center exhibits and trails will be open for self-guided activities.

SATURDAY & SUNDAY, JANUARY 3

Free Admission to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska

Time: Daily 8am-4pm through January 31, 2016
Details: Explore the winter season at the Arboretum free of charge! Play outside, or warm up indoors by taking a stroll through the “please touch” greenhouse and playing with the kid-friendly exhibits in the Marion Andrus Learning Center. Drop into the Plant-Maker Studio weekends between noon and 4pm — this weekend’s theme is “Evergreen Wonders” and will keep kids busy crafting with branches and pine cones.

Wells Fargo WinterSkate
@ Rice Park, St. Paul (map here)

Time: Rink opens 11am daily through
Details: Bring your skates to the Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink in downtown St. Paul. Skating is free and the backdrop of Rice Park is beautiful. Skate rental is available for $4/pair. For more free skating opportunities, use our Skate the Twin Cities list to find your nearest free outdoor ice rink.

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Indoor & Outdoor Fun: Twin Cities Nature Centers (NE Metro)

How very typical of you, Minnesota. Last week you have the kids in short sleeves begging to hit the playground after school and a few days later the same kids will be heading to the bus stop bundled from head to toe. Fortunately, our Twin Cities-area nature centers are well-equipped when it comes to our state’s wacky weather ways. These places are packed with ways to stay entertained and cozy inside when the temps are cold — and when the sun decides to make an appearance, there are countless ways to enjoy the natural world outside. Read on for a look at three nature centers located in the northeast metro. And, did I mention, all this fun is to be had only at the cost of the gas to get you there?

Maplewood Nature Center
2659 East 7th St., Maplewood, MN 55119

nature centers

Visitor Center hours: Tuesday – Saturday • 8:30am – 4:30pm

Indoor fun: With cutouts of trees on the walls, birds perched on the tree branches, and a sunken part of the floor made to resemble a pond, it’s easy to pretend you’re outdoors when, in reality, you’re stuck inside on a dreary day. My toddler loved the miniature animal set and the crawl-through log draped with animal pelts. Maplewood Nature Center often offers reasonably-priced ($5/kid) indoor family nature programs, usually combined with an outdoor activity. For a list of upcoming March & April events, click here.
Outdoor fun: The Nature Play Yard was a big hit with all four of my kids (ages 2-9). Who says a playground has to have elaborate equipment to be fun? This one has a ginormous tree trunk to climb on, sand for digging, hedges to hide in, materials to build a fort, and much more to spark creative nature play. If you can coax the kids out of the yard, there are hiking trails and a floating boardwalk from which to spot wildlife.

Harriet Alexander Nature Center
2520 North Dale St., Roseville, MN, 55113

nature centers

Visitor Center hours: Tuesday – Saturday • 10am – 4pm

Indoor fun: An impressively realistic floor-to-ceiling “tree” now dominates the entrance to the nature center’s indoor exhibits. I don’t think my preschooler was as impressed as I was; she headed for a doctor’s kit and could have played veterinarian all day with stuffed forest friends. There’s also a library nook with children’s nature books, a back room crammed with tanks of turtles to observe, and a seasonal bee exhibit.
Outdoor fun: Harriet Alexander offers Sprouts, a great preschool program for kids ages 1-5 and their caregivers. You can enroll for a single day class ($14/first child, $7/additional children) or in a series of three ($36/first child, $18/additional). The classes combine indoor fun such as a make-and-take projects and games with outdoor exploration that encourages young children to connect with nature. Find out more about the classes here.

Tamarack Nature Center
5287 Otter Lake Rd., White Bear Township, MN 55110

nature centers

Visitor Center hours: Monday – Friday • 8am – 4:30pm, Sat. 10am – 4:30pm, Sun. noon – 4:30pm
Discovery Hollow hours: Monday-Friday • 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Saturday • 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., Sunday • Noon – 4:30 p.m.

Indoor fun: To tell you the truth, I don’t recall much about the indoor exhibits at Tamarack because the kids were so eager to play outside. But here’s an idea for the first Saturday of the month through May (and then every Saturday June – September): Tamarack hosts Drop-In Discovery Days at the interpretive center that are free, family-friendly, and based around nature and animals. To see examples of upcoming programs, click here.
Outdoor fun: What really shines at Tamarack is its glorious outdoor Discovery Hollow and Garden. Two things you really must know before you go: 1) bring a change of clothes for your kiddos unless you want a sopping wet drive home! As evidenced above, there are wonderful opportunities for them to dig in sand, mud and to get completely soaked. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of dry activities as well — beautifully-engineered rocks to clamber on, a garden to harvest vegetables from, logs to balance on, and sticks to build shelters with.) The second thing you should be aware of: plan to spend hours in Discovery Hollow.


Twin Cities Free Weekend Events for January 17-18, 2015

Welcome to the weekend! We’d like to start you off with a few FREE options for family entertainment around town and remind you that our Family Fun Calendar has a complete listing of events for this weekend and beyond.

Saturday, January 17

Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival
@ Lake Harriet Bandshell
4135 West Lake Harriet Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55419

Hours: 12 – 4pm
Ages: Appropriate for all ages.
Details: The 13th annual festival will feature a multitude of kites flying over Lake Harriet as well as experts demonstrating their flying skills and Tips Outdoors attempting to get you hooked on ice fishing. Bring your own kite or purchase one there.

Winter Open House: Snowshoes & Tracks
@ Maplewood Nature Center
2659 E 7th St, Maplewood, MN 55119

Hours: 10am – 3pm
Ages: All ages are welcome; snowshoes are rented to participants ages 4+.
Details:  Naturalists will be on  hand to answer questions, orient you to the nature center trails and, for a $5 rental fee, teach you how to strap on a pair of snowshoes. Sleds will be providing for pulling little ones and hot chocolate is free for all. Stay to explore the nature center’s indoor exhibits.

Childish Films Presents Adventures in Music
@ Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401

Hours: Doors open at 10am for snacks and activities, pre-show performances begin about 10:30 and films begin closer to 11am.
Ages: All ages are welcome; films are best enjoyed by kids ages 3+.
Details: Explore music before the show with Katie Condon of MacPhail Center for Music. Three short animated films will follow.

beARTrageous 6th Studio Birthday Bash
@ beARTrageous
2121 West 21st Street, Minneapolis, MN 55405

Hours: 3 – 5pm
Details: Join in the celebration as beARTrageous marks 6 years with a Black & White Masquerade Ball. Cake, art projects and face painting provided FREE!

Sunday, January 18

Target Free 3rd Sunday
@ Minnesota Children’s Museum
10 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102

Hours: 9am – 5pm
Ages: Appropriate for all ages
Details: The Museum is completely free of charge each third Sunday of the month; check out Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog™, now in its final weeks. As the free Sundays are very popular, a set number of people will be admitted to the museum each hour on a first-come, first-served basis. Discounted ramp parking is available for $5/3 hours.

Let’s Get StARTed: Snowy, Snowy Snowman
@ Silverwood Park
2500 County Road E, St. Anthony, MN 55421

Hours: 1 – 3pm
Ages: Appropriate for all ages, art projects may be geared towards children of preschool age and up.
Details: Drop in for the art project, stay to explore the grounds and art sculptures. No registration is necessary.

Urban Expedition: Austria
@ Landmark Center
75 5th St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

Hours: 1 – 3pm
Ages: Appropriate for all ages.
Details: The 11th year of Urban Expeditions at Landmark kicks off with a tour of Austria! Explore music, crafts, dance, food and more without leaving St. Paul.


Twin Cities Free Weekend Events December 20-21

Don’t forget to check our extensive Family Fun Calendar for a complete listing of events going on this weekend in the Twin Cities! If it’s seasonal events you’re searching for, try our Family Fun Twin Cities Holiday Guide.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20

Childish Films: Wind in the Willows
at Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN • 10am – 12pm

Ages: Most films are best enjoyed by kids ages 3+ but all ages are welcome.
Details: Doors open at 10am for snacks and hands-on activities, pre-show entertainment begins at 10:30 and films begin closer to 11am.

Live Animals @ Maplewood Nature Center
Maplewood Nature Center, 2659 E 7th St, Maplewood, MN 55119 • 1 – 2:15pm

Ages: Ages 3 & up with an adult present
Details: Touch and see the nature center’s live snake, toad and salamander.  Watch them slurp up a treat!  No registration necessary. Stay to explore and play with the indoor exhibits.

STEM Saturday @ Ramsey County Library Roseville: Stop Motion Animation
2180 Hamline Ave N, Roseville, MN 55113 • 10:30-11:30am

Ages: 8-14
Details: Try your hand at creating a movie using stop-motion animation and the library’s iPad Lab. Instructors will walk you through the process and be available to help anyone with their film creation.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21

Target Free Third Sunday
at Minnesota Children’s Musem, 10 West 7th Street, St. Paul MN • 9am-5pm

Ages: Appropriate for all ages.
Details: Roam the museum free of charge every third Sunday of each month – take note, it will most likely be crowded. Current visiting exhibits include Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog and Healthyville.

Staying Busy on a Budget: Five of our Summer Outings Done on the Cheap

To a family of six, the word “free” is magical. I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to you that I diligently search out free and low-cost outings to entertain my kids — during the summer and otherwise.  Sure, it’s also cheap to stay at home — and we do our fair share of that as well — but have you never noticed how quickly a day of play at home turns into an uncontrollable urge to clean and purge? Personally, I need inexpensive ways to take a break from that feeling. Let me share some that have gotten us (happily) through the beginning of the summer:

Free local swimming holes

If the goal is simply to cool down and get some splashing in, the Metro is flush with options. In fact, far too many public beaches, wading pools and splash pads to list here – and I’ve hardly been to a fraction of them. Some of our favorite sandy spots include beaches at Lake Calhoun (32nd St., Minneapolis), Lake Johanna (Arden Hills), and Snail Lake (Vadnais Heights). Minneapolis has an easy website to navigate its 63 public wading pools. Most are decidedly no-frills, but there are a few exceptions: we had a great time discovering Lake Hiawatha Park (2701 E 44th St., Minneapolis) and its hybrid wading pool-splash pad last week! Maxing out at 2 feet deep with zero-depth entry and some fun fountains, the pool was perfect for the non-swimmers in my group. For more splash pad locations, check out our master list here.

Indoor/outdoor art at Silverwood Park

One Sunday each month during the summer the exceptionally artist-friendly Silverwood Park hosts a free program for kids called Let’s Get StARTed. I brought my girls last weekend to make cloud ID charts (and they’ve since become my little meteorologists). They loved exploring the lake, trails and surprise sculptures that popped up along the way. Silverwood Park is located at 2500 County Rd. E, St. Anthony. There is no charge to visit the park. Remaining dates for the summer series of Let’s Get StARTed are July 20 & August 17.

Your local nature center

Numerous communities surrounding the Twin Cities are curators of these gems. Again, too many to list here, but I’d like to highlight one we visited this week in search of its nature play space. The Maplewood Nature Center (2659 East 7th St., Maplewood) has fashioned a decent outdoor playground filled with stumps, logs (some gargantuan!), boulders, sand, and other materials to spark kids’ connection to the natural world. My kiddos also loved exploring the nature center itself and wandering the boardwalk over the wetlands.

Fun for kids at the U

At least once a year we find a wide-open Wednesday and spend the afternoon at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. Why Wednesday? Because that’s the day you can Bowl for a Buck (plus $2 shoe rental) at the U’s St. Paul Student Center. Then, to celebrate a great game, we treat ourselves to a $3.50 pint of ice cream from the U of M’s Dairy Salesroom (1354 Eckles Ave., Falcon Heights – inside the Andrew Boss Lab of Meat Science). We also like to stop in at The Raptor Center (1920 Fitch Ave., Falcon Heights) for one of their free guided tours (suggested donation of $3 per person). In fall of 2014, the Raptor Center, which rehabilitates injured birds of prey, will celebrate 40 years with the grand opening of their renovated bird habitat. Public tours are run Tues – Fri, 10:30am – 3:30pm every 30 minutes and Sat – Sun, 12:30 – 3:30pm every 30 minutes. Parking on neighborhood side streets is available for free, or there’s metered parking on campus.

The library, obviously

But not solely to check out new reads for the summer Bookawocky program! The St. Paul Public Library, Hennepin County Library, and the dozens of county libraries throughout the Metro have jam-packed entertainment lineups. Click on the Events & Classes tab on your local library’s website to access them. I’m seeing great stuff all over the calendar; many favorite acts returning this summer include magician Matt Dunn, Brodini Comedy Magic Show, Bill the Juggler, Snapdragon Seeds, The Bazillions, and Bruce the Bug Guy. Plus, countless crafts, movies and other special events – completely free. We’ve been biking to our local branch at least once a week.


That’s my summer update as we coast into the final week of June. As always, we’d love to hear from you! If you’ve got any tips on where to entertain the kids without breaking the budget, please let us know.


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