My preschooler’s request for a simple picnic in April turned into a full afternoon of nature play, wildlife spotting and cargo-net clambering. And, thanks to the 80-degree temps, we were able to be outdoors for hours. Bonus: if you can make it out this month, you’ll beat both the crowds and the mosquitoes! Here are 10 things we’re confident kids of all ages can enjoy at the Richardson Nature Center and Hyland Lake Park Reserve: Read More
Earth Day Network’s first Earth Day was in 1970. It’s continuing mission — “to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle to build a healthy, sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations.” For us, it’s a chance to teach our children about good stewardship of our planet, while getting out and enjoying the long-awaited spring. I think the spring thing may be why the Twin Cities Metro does not skimp on Earth Day activities and events. We have a sampling of Earth Day family events to get out with your kids and celebrate our environment this month.
Does the spring weather have you itching to explore beyond the backyard? Twin Cities-area nature centers and outdoor education centers are wonderful places to seek out signs of the seasons and play in the natural world. Most of them offer programming specially designed for preschoolers, free family events, and indoor exhibits to stimulate little explorers.
TWIN CITIES NATURE & OUTDOOR EDUCATION CENTERS
Carl Kroening Interpretive Center, 4900 N Mississippi Dr, Minneapolis
For kids: Big River, Small Fry: Nature for Curious Kids, 2nd Thurs/month, 9am-noon • ages 0-6 w/ caregiver • $5/pp • Details: Drop in for an hour or stay for all three. Participate together in sensory activities, hikes along the Mississippi and science activities. The interpretive center is full of hands-on exhibits for kids including a farmer’s market, brick factory, a dress-up trunk and lots more.
Dodge Nature Center & Farm, 1701 Charlton St, West St. Paul
For kids: Nature Playdates meets select spring Fridays & Saturdays, 10-11:15am • recommended for ages 3-5 w/ caregiver • $6/child • Details: Through outdoor adventures, stories, artifacts, live animals and creative play, naturalists will provide new experiences each month.
For families: Wander the trails through the working farm and observe the animals. Dodge’s annual family festival, Rock the Barn, takes place 5/21/16, 3-7pm.
It’s another March (or April) day in Minnesota where we just can’t quite get spring weather to commit — and I’m back with my second round in a series of the indoor and outdoor entertainment to be had at Twin Cities nature centers. In my previous post, I highlighted the activities at three NE Metro locations.
Today, I moved in a south-westerly direction (for no reason other than the fact I could find three in a roughly 10-mile radius that worked with my schedule) and hit up another trio of nature centers I believe you and your young ones would enjoy. I found Westwood Hills Nature Center, Richardson Nature Center and Wood Lake Nature Center to be exceptionally family-friendly and great for a day destined to be spent either indoors or out. Read on for more details.
Westwood Hills Nature Center | St Louis Park
Visitor Center hours: Monday-Friday • 8:30am-4:30pm
Indoor fun: The indoor portion of the nature center is on the small side, very appealing to kids. One colorful corner is stocked with books, puzzles, games and stuffed animals; other areas have drawers to pull out containing natural objects to touch (beware the compost drawer if you’re squeamish about vermiculture!). An on-hand naturalist engaged my kids in a game of I-Spy with wildlife around the room and gave me the scoop on preschool and family programs available throughout the year at Westwood Hills. Get a sampling of those, including the Nature For the Very Young drop-in preschool programs open to the public here.
Outdoor fun: Weather permitting, bring a picnic and spend some time in the outdoor play area. There are both a traditional playground climbing structure and a small nature play yard containing stumps, logs, shelters and one really cool work of art (see collage above). Within a stone’s throw of a suburban neighborhood is a lake, winding trails, a beautiful observation deck, and a landscaped habitat for Westwood Hill’s resident Barred owl.
Richardson Nature Center | Bloomington
Visitor Center hours: Monday-Saturday • 9am-5pm
Indoor fun: Colorful, eye-popping relief murals decorate many of the walls of Richardson Nature Center. Grab a scavenger hunt card and see if you can pick out the wildlife in the detailed scenes. My oldest child did this while his preschool-aged sister explored the book nook, stacks of puzzles, a crawl-through coyote den, and other hands-on exhibits. Then, the two collaborated on a predator-prey puppet show for my viewing pleasure.
Outdoor fun: Sheltered within the Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Richardson Nature Center is the starting point for many trails and a Nature Exploration Area where kids can putter around with natural building materials. Check out a bird, bug or frog kit from the front desk to explore the prairie and wetlands. Close to the indoor exhibits is an outdoor raptor viewing area.
Wood Lake Nature Center | Richfield
Visitor Center hours: Monday-Saturday • 8:30am-5pm
Indoor fun: Again, I was pleasantly surprised and appreciative of how many interactive exhibits there were for kids at my third stop of the day – Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, a little preserve of land sandwiched between city and first-ring suburbia. The preschooler is always content with a set of miniature animals no matter where she goes; my 9-year-old prefers activities that involve a touch screen. Wood Lake has both — simple toys and books for younger visitors and some creative exhibits that older kids will enjoy operating. We especially enjoyed matching sounds in nature with the creatures who make them.
Outdoor fun: When the weather warms up, it will be great fun to spend time in the Wood Lake Nature Play Area, watching the kids interact not with screens, but with logs, boulders, sticks and other natural materials. The play yard is fenced in and completely conducive to creative play.
Yes, we visited all three of these Twin Cities Nature Centers in one day. Though we had a great time, I don’t advise trying to fit so many in. Pick one, slow down, explore and enjoy. Stay tuned this spring for the next installment of FFTC’s Guide to Twin Cities-area Nature Centers!
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.