Category Archives: Play and Fun Activities

McAuliffe Park – Kirkland

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After 30 years on the Eastside, and 6 in Kirkland, I had never been to McAuliffe park. I’d driven by on 116th countless times, but from the road, it didn’t look like much, so I never stopped in. But then on the Kirkland Rocks Facebook page, people would often post that they’d hidden beautiful painted rocks at McAuliffe for kids to find. So, finally we went. And this park is a unique gem!

It’s at 10824 NE 116th Street; halfway between Totem Lake and Juanita Village.

It’s 11.6 acres, with lots and lots of wide open lawn, shady orchard trees to throw out a picnic blanket below, a playground, picnic tables, nature trails, a community pea patch with 35 plots, an antique barn, 2 windmills, and lots of ancient rusted farm equipment and old gas station memorabilia to explore.

The community learning garden features permaculture principles, annual vegetables grown with organic practices, a new rain garden, and water and resource conservation. The Tilth Alliance offer classes at the park.

The property was homesteaded in 1877, and only two families owned it between that time and when the Kirkland Parks department acquired it in a series of purchases from the 1990’s through 2017. Read more (and see more pictures) on Active Rain, and in the Master Plan report. (Note: the master plan from 2005 had grand visions for the site, but it does not appear most of them were implemented.

We visited in the midst of coronavirus season, and there were maybe 30 people we saw there, spread out over 12 acres, so easy to socially distance! The playground was closed when we were there, due to quarantine, but people were hard at work in their plots in the community garden, and a few families were relaxing in the shade. It struck me as a great place to take 3 – 8 year old children where the parent(s) could sit and relax and the kids could run quite a ways, and play while still being safely in the parents’ sight. There’s even some nice low climbing trees.

It’s a park well worth visiting when you’re in the mood for a little wandering around and exploring or a little sitting under a tree reading a good book.

 

 

Low Contact Parks on the Eastside

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Update on 11/12:

Current state guidelines on outdoor activities do allow for outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, running or biking at each phase of re-opening. In phase 1 it’s only with people from your household. Phase 2 allows for outdoor recreation involving five or fewer people outside your household, camping, beaches, some sporting activities.

State recommendations and King County recommendations are

  • people with flu-like symptoms should not participate,
  • know before you go – check to be sure you know the status of the park before going (I’ve tried to include links below for finding the current status)
  • stay close to home – this is not the time to travel long distances (could carry disease with you) and prepare for facilities to be closed (bathrooms may not always be available) – bring your own food, water, and hand sanitizer
  • practice physical distancing – use face masks in any situation where distancing is not possible

And please, Please, PLEASE respect the guidelines!!! If lots of people violate them, the parks get closed down again. 😦

Choosing a Less Traveled Path

When planning an outing, the first parks that come to mind are the most popular ones – Green Lake, Alki Beach, Marymoor, Rattlesnake Ridge. But these can get crowded. But in King County, we are blessed with so many fabulous public spaces outdoors. Here are some less well known gems to consider for your walks during this time. (Some of these are bike-friendly, some are not: check bike maps for bike trails.)

If a park has a playground you would have to pass by to get to the trails, I’ll make a note, because when playgrounds are closed, I know it could be super hard for some little ones to see a playground and be told they couldn’t play there. Below, I’ll link to websites for city parks departments. Here’s the current status of King County parks, and Washington state parks.

Bellevue

Bellevue Parks has over 2700 acres of parks and open space and over 90 miles of trails! There’s a map of Bellevue Parks here. Here are the current covid-19 policies for Bellevue parks.  Some options to try out:

Lake to Lake Trail System is ten miles of trails. You could park at many spots along the way and just do a portion of the walk. The Lake Hills Greenbelt is from Phantom Lake to Larsen Lake. Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm has plenty of room for wandering up and down the rows.

Coal Creek Natural Trail is near the Cougar Mountain trails, but has fewer hikers.

Lakemont Park is 16 acres with 3 miles of trails. (The playground is right next to the parking lot, but if you’d rather avoid that part of the park, you could park at the nearby shopping center and there’s a footbridge into the park.)

Lewis Creek has a 2.3 mile walk that takes you through wetlands and meadows. (Playground at one end, but easy to avoid.)

Mercer Slough is 320 acres. It’s got multiple trails to hike to view wetlands and meadow.

There are three parks I know of that you might never know had a mile or more of hiking hidden in them.  Robinswood Park – near Bellevue College. Here’s a trail map, with one of our favorite trails through the woods marked out on it. Ardmore Park – near Microsoft.  Zumdieck is just north of downtown, and has a nice little loop through the woods. These are all great hikes for younger kids – I’ve done them with many three year olds, also good for elders who aren’t looking for an endurance hike. All three have playgrounds.

If you want a more challenging, straight uphill in the woods hike, try the Weowna Park Trail up hill from Lake Sammamish.

If you’re just looking for a place to sit and read or have non-social play, there’s also tons more parks, both big and small. Some have playgrounds, some don’t. There are also lots of “mini-parks” and “corner parks” that aren’t much more than some grass, some trees and a picnic table. (We ate at one of those the other day, but we threw a blanket out on the lawn rather than sitting at the table, where virus concentrations might be higher.) Check on the Bellevue Parks website to learn more. And more Bellevue trails are listed here. Click here for: Bellevue’s covid-19 restrictions.

Crowded Parks – may want to avoid

Avoid Downtown Bellevue Park – it’s often crowded on sunny days – leave this to the folks who live downtown and may not have cars. Same thing for Crossroads Park, which can be crowded and is in another neighborhood where lots of folks don’t have cars to take them to other options. I would leave Bridle Trails for the horse folks to get the outings that they and their animals need. I would avoid the barn area at Kelsey Creek park which may be more crowded (and may be closed), but there is a nice .9 mile walking trail there, which should be fine.

Kirkland

Here’s the Kirkland Parks map. Here are the current covid-19 policies for Kirkland parks. Some parks to try:

McAuliffe Park (between Totem Lake and Juanita Beach) is a big park with wide open grassy fields, shade trees, an ancient barn, vintage farm equipment and wind mills.

OO Denny – north of Juanita, near the Kenmore border. Nice beach area. (There’s a playground there.) What many people don’t notice is that on the other side of the road, up the hill, there’s a few miles of fabulous wooded trails (here’s a trail map with points of interest). It’s a pretty challenging steep climb, but beautiful. When we went on a beautiful day in late April, we hiked two hours, and passed maybe 20 people.

Big Finn Hill is also on the border of Kirkland and Kenmore. It’s got 9.5 miles of trails back behind the playground.

Carillon Woods – near Northwest College. Some trails into the woods, pretty hilly. I wrote a post about it, though it mostly covers the playgrounds, which are closed now.

Edith Moulton – between Totem Lake and Juanita. Here’s the schematic for when it was re-designed, which includes detailed maps. It’s got a nice easy walking loop.

Juanita Bay (around the corner from Juanita Beach) has a nice path to look over the lake. You may see turtles. The boardwalk there has looked a little crowded when we’ve driven by near dinner times.

There’s also some parks I know nothing about, like “Cotton Hill Park – undeveloped.” Looks like it at least has a trail? Juanita Heights, Kingsgate and Norway Hill also have trails.

Places to sit and read/work outside: Everest Park – I like parking at their north parking lot and sitting by the stream. (The playground is out of sight from there.) Peter Kirk in downtown Kirkland, Terrace Park in Houghton – both of those have playgrounds.

Parks to Avoid

Here are some parks I normally love… but they’re basically small parks with big playgrounds, that are closed, so if that would make your small child sad, avoid Tot Lot, Phyllis Needy, Reservoir, Van Aalst. On the other hand, they’re a fine place for older kids or adults to spread out a blanket and read, or play frisbee with household members and so on.

Juanita Beach, Marina Park, and Houghton Beach can get really crowded on sunny days. Whenever we’ve gone to Marina Park on a sunny day this year, it has felt a little crowded for my comfort. I mask when I’m walking through, but take my mask off if we’re sitting at a distance from others.

Kenmore

Here is Kenmore’s Covid-19 info.

Rhododendron Park has a short trail – a nice amble for a young child or an elder.

Wallace Swamp Creek has trails, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out. (Note, this is NOT an off leash dog park, but some people are under the impression it is, so there may be loose dogs there.)

Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a 20 mile long trail, but portions of it go through Kenmore. It’s paved, so great for bikes, roller blades, strollers. It is quite busy on sunny weekends, but probably a decent option for a cloudy, gray weekday. We have found the Kenmore stretches to be less busy than the Seattle zones.

St. Edward’s State Park. Lots of great trails. Definitely too busy on a sunny weekend, but would be a good outing on a rainy weekday. Large playground – it’s possible to park a ways away and walk away from it, and they might not notice. It’s a state park, so you need a Discover Pass, or it’s $10 to park there.

Here are more Kenmore parks,

Redmond

There are 59 miles of public trails in the City of Redmond! Current covid-19 info for Redmond parks. The City of Redmond website doesn’t provide a lot of detailed information on the trails; however, you can find more info about them on the All Trails website or app, on the Washington Trails Association website or TrailLink.

Trail names to look up:

  • Watershed Preserve Trails, off of Novelty Hill Road. 800 acres, with multiple trail options from 0.6 short loops to 4.3 mile hikes. Beautiful walk through green – moss, ferns, trees, ponds…. beautiful. There’s a lot of tree cover, so it’s good for rainy day hikes.
  • Tolt Pipeline Trail – 11 miles, Duvall to Bothell. Bridle Crest Trail, 3.3 miles from Bridle Trails to just north of Microsoft – it runs where 60th St would be if 60th went through.
  • The Marymoor Connector Trail is a 1.6 mile trail through Marymoor Park. It’s an easy walk with a stroller or an easy bike ride. It connects the East Lake Sammamish Trail (11 miles, up the east side of the lake) and the Sammamish River Trail (10 miles, Redmond to Bothell)
  • Farrell-McWhirter off Novelty Hill Rd. near Avondale – this is a farm park and there might be more people over by the animals, but there’s also a 1.3 mile trail through the woods. There’s a self-guided orienteering course there.

Or, there’s the 1.5 mile Viewpoint trail in the Tam O’Shanter neighborhood on the border of Redmond and Bellevue.

Parks to Avoid

I would avoid the dog walk at Marymoor unless you have a dog who absolutely requires that much space for running in, just because there’s probably many humans there. The rest of Marymoor has plenty of open space for walking in or sitting outside in while distancing. (Note: Marymoor is in Redmond, but is a county park.)

Snoqualmie / North Bend

If you don’t live there, don’t go there.

I say that because I have a friend in North Bend who says the locals can’t get out to any nearby parks because they’re all over-flowing with day hikers. If you really can’t resist the area, instead of going to Mount Si, at least check out this article on 7 Trails to Try for Better Social Distancing.

Other Areas

Check out this Parent Map article on State Parks near Seattle. It covers Dash Point in Federal Way, Flaming Geyser in Auburn, Bay View in Mt. Vernon, Camano Island, and Salt Water in Des Moines. And this article on Secret Urban Hikes in Seattle area.

Learn about Nature while you’re out

I’ve written a guide to learning about Northwest Native plants, which includes all the major plants you’ll find on a hike outdoors, and also has a couple of scavenger hunts – one for preschool age kids, one for older kids (or adults), and a dichotomous key. Here’s another great Native Plant Field Guide that was developed by someone as her senior year project.

The City of Bellevue has a scavenger hunt for Lewis Creek that could also be used elsewhere. I found that some of the things on it were harder for kids, so I made my own version of the nature scavenger hunt using theirs as a base.

Walking in Your Neighborhood

Or, if you want to stay super close to home, but need to get outdoors (there are LOTS of physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors), you can get outdoors with proper social distancing, in ANY neighborhood. If you’re an adult walking alone, try listening to some great podcasts as you walk, or use this time to call and connect with a friend or family member. If you’re walking with kids, and doing the same path over and over, there are lots of ways to liven it up: one day do a search for all the letters in the alphabet (on license plates, street signs, and so on), another day, do a search for all the numbers, another day, play I spy where you take turns spotting things. Some folks are trying to start some coronavirus-time connections, like placing a teddy bear in their window for kids to spot when they’re out walking – keep an eye out in your neighborhood to see if you can find any signs that this is catching on!

When to Go Out

Obviously, if it’s rainy or cool, there will be fewer people out than if it’s gorgeous weather. So, grab a raincoat or an umbrella and head out in any weather.

You may also choose to access the parks at less crowded times – I would suspect that the most crowded times will be lunchtime, maybe a 4 or 5 pm end of the day time, and weekends, since many people are still working regular hours, whether at home or a work place, or attempting to school their kids during “school hours.”

Before you go out

First, let’s be cautious to take as few germs out into the world with us as possible. Things to consider: If you haven’t changed clothes in a few days (no judgment if that’s the case!), do so before going out. Bring a cloth face cover, in case it’s hard to keep enough distance between you and others. Take your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever. (This is not a perfect precaution, because you can be contagious before symptoms, but still a good step because if you do have a fever, you should definitely stay home.) Go to the bathroom before you leave the house, so you’re less likely to need to do it when you’re out. (And because many parks facilities and bathrooms may be closed.) And wash your hands before going out!

If you have children, explain to them before you leave that this is a “no touch” outing. (Toddlers may not be capable of resisting all the time, but we can do our best.) I would not bring snacks along if I had a little one, since their hands would be in and out of their mouths over and over, maybe transporting germs in and out.

Note: Rails to Trails also offers a helpful article on the latest expert guidance on outdoor activity and covid-19.

When You Get Home

Leave your outdoor things (coats, shoes, purse) by the door. Don’t carry them through the house. Wash your hands! If you were using your phone, you could clean that too.

More Ideas?

If you have more ideas or any feedback, please add it in the comments!

Elsewhere on this blog, I have tips on

Plus the blog is just generally full of tips about parenting kids from birth to age 9.

When Should You Introduce Your Child To [your favorite media]?

small child with light saber and Ben Kenobi costume

The TL;DR summary:

Don’t rush to introduce your child to your favorite book or movie. Why?

  • There may be mature content the child is not ready for that might frighten or concern them.
  • You’ll all enjoy something more if you wait till they’re old enough to actually get it and enjoy it!
  • There’s plenty of fabulous media aimed at young kids. It’s OK to stay in the kiddie pool for a while… I promise, there will be time later on to introduce all the great stories!

My Rationale for Waiting:

As a parent, I’ve had lots of time to reflect on this. As a parent educator, my students ask me about these topics from time to time, but I’d never taken the opportunity to write up my thoughts till now…

Recently, a friend on Facebook asked for recommendations on which novels to read next to her 5 and 6 year old. Some folks recommended Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, the Percy Jackson books.

And I said no! Wait! Not yet!

Today, on the /Filmcast, a host (Jeff) was talking about when he would first show Star Wars to his kids, saying “I’ve got years before I can show it to them and really have it land… and be meaningful”. He said “even three is probably way too young… 4 or 5 is probably the right age?”

And I thought: No! Wait! 4 or 5 is way too young!

Whatever your favorite movie / book / play / music is, you may be anxiously awaiting the day you can introduce your child to it. But if you really want to “have it land” and be meaningful for your child, it is better to wait till they’re really ready. It’s hard to be patient, but I think it’s more rewarding in the long run. Here’s why:

Mature Themes

An obvious challenge of introducing too early is mature themes. Sometimes there are scenes that might frighten them (For example, although many first graders are plenty literate to read Harry Potter, I think it’s too scary for a 7 year old.) There’s also language, substances, “bad attitudes” and so on. Some of your favorite media may have more of this mature content than your child is ready for… and you may not remember till it’s too late. (I’ve made this mistake plenty of times. For example, watching Footloose with my tweens… I’d remembered all the dancing… I’d forgotten about the underage drinking… and the playing chicken with tractors… and the boyfriend hitting the girlfriend… the dad hitting the daughter… We pressed pause several times during that movie! This ended up being a good opportunity to start some challenging conversations. But it would have been better if I’d done it with a clearer plan!) I have now learned to refresh my memory first by reading the reviews on Common Sense Media, which does a nice job of clearly detailing all the potential issues so you can decide which feel OK to you and which feel problematic. For example, I’m not really troubled by bad language, or by fantasy combat, but I am really uncomfortable with realistic gun violence. Your concerns may be different.

I’m not saying that you should never take in media with your child that tackles challenging issues. I actually recommend that parents read books or watch movies where characters face a variety of challenges, make difficult decisions, and cope with grief (read my posts on how to talk to your child about death, scary topics, sexuality, and more). Reading sad books or watching sad movies with your child and then discussing them helps to build emotional literacy and build decision-making and problem-solving skills (as they watch characters manage situations that they have not yet had to face.) But, do this intentionally, not by accident. And do it with media that is developmentally appropriate for your child.

Will It Land?

My reason to wait isn’t just about avoiding mature themes. It’s also waiting till they’re ready to grok the material. Really ready to engage, enjoy, and get meaning out of it.

When I was a kid, I hung out in the public library and the church library by myself a lot. (Mom must have been in the building somewhere? I don’t really remember… I remember having full access to any book I wanted to read.) I read the Hobbit and LotR, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Wrinkle in Time all around the same time. Probably 8 or 9? Now, my reading skills were totally up to deciphering all the words (and to looking up tesseract in the dictionary).  I probably understood all of the Hobbit, and much of Narnia. But there was so much I missed. (Yeah, like that Narnia had any relation to Christianity.) And the thing was, once I’d read them, I didn’t want to go back and re-visit them when I was a little older, because I’d been-there-done-that. I didn’t go back to them till my own kids read them. So, my experience was fine, but it could have been better.

With my kids, we’ve mostly waited… With my youngest, we waited till he was 8 to show him Star Wars. Before that time, he’d read Star Wars themed beginning readers, he’d played Lego Star Wars video games with his dad, and he’d dressed up as Obi Wan. He’d even watched parts of the movies at family parties at his uncle’s house. But when we finally sat down to watch the original trilogy, he was ready to follow it, enjoy it, and understand it much better than he would have been at a younger age.

Spoilers

Spoilers float around in popular culture and discussions, so some parents worry that their child will be spoiled about key plot twists. And they will be. My kid knew who Luke’s father was long before he watched Star Wars! So, no, I didn’t have the opportunity to film his reaction to that revelation. (Yeah, that’s its own genre of YouTube videos.) But instead, I got to see his glee at finally learning the whole story related to that fact, and understanding why it is such a famous plot twist.

Although I had seen all the MCU movies, my son had not. I saw Avengers Endgame on opening night. Then I went on a binge of watching every YouTube video and listening to every podcast about the movie and all the Easter eggs. And my son rides in the car with me, and hangs out in the room while I do my morning workout. So, guess what – he knows ALL the spoilers even though he hasn’t see the movie. Over the past month, we’ve started to introduce him to all the movies (starting with Spider Man Homecoming and Ant Man movies, because those felt like the most kid-appealing choices). At 8.5, he’s actually in a really good sweet spot for these movies. Well… for watching them at home! Where we can talk during the movie when needed to explain something to him, we can answer his questions, and we can pause for a break to process if needed. We’re not going to take him to an MCU movie in a theatre this year or maybe next. Being in a dark room with the sound all the way up and having to be quiet and not able to pause can make a movie feel way more intense to young kids. (And if he asks questions he would disturb others.) We’ve also started pulling old Marvel comics out of the stash in the garage to entertain him till then.

We as adults may dislike spoilers, and like the moments of surprise. I find that children often go the other way. They like knowing information ahead of time because it makes them feel smart and powerful, and they may actually get more excited by the story that leads them to a known destination than they do by watching something when they have no idea where it’s going.

Stay in the World of Children for a little while

Another reason to wait on more “grown up” stories is that if we rush to that, we could miss out on the pure and sweet delight of children’s media.

When my oldest was in kindergarten, he came home from a playdate at a friend’s house singing ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears. And telling me about all the music videos he’d watched. Some people might have been offended by the child’s mother letting the kids watch mature content… I didn’t really care about that. But I was sad at all the things that child might have been missing out on.

At that time, my son was listening to kids’ music – and there is SO MUCH great kids’ music out there! His favorite singers at that point were: Tom Chapin, Tom Paxton, Priscilla Herdman, and Anna Moo. So many delightful songs to sing! We decided ‘Oops I did it again’ could wait.

If I’m showing Star Wars to my four or five year old, we’re not making time for Kipper, Toy Story, Lion King, Iron Giant, Ponyo, and Sid the Science Kid. In rushing toward Harry Potter, let’s not skip over Winnie the Pooh, Dr. Seuss, Henry & Mudge, Frog and Toad. Take the time to do kid stuff while they’re kids. You can always watch everything else later on, but it’s hard to talk your teenager into going back to all this great kid content.

Context Matters

As I’ve hinted above, there’s a difference between watching a loud movie in a dark theater full of strangers vs. at home. What your child might be up to in one context might be too much in another context. We love live theatre, but we start with kid focused shows where we practice our “theatre rules”, then we try outdoor theatre where if the kids move or make noise, it’s no more disruptive than the airplane flying overhead. Then we go to school or amateur productions indoors. We wait on those expensive tickets to the Nutcracker or to Lion King’s national tour till we know they’re ready to get the most out of it!

So, if you can’t wait to introduce a particular story, think about what context it is best to introduce it in. For example, if you’re worried about a movie being too scary, you can read the book together in advance (or tell them the story from a plot synopsis), and show them still pictures from the movie ahead of time so they know more about what to expect? (Yes, it’s spoilers, but remember that’s OK for kids.) Would it work better for you to “serialize” a movie and watch it in lots of short 20 minute segments with time to discuss along the way? Could you just skip scenes or fast forward through some for now? Do what you think is best.

For books, often once a child learns to read independently, the parent stops reading to the child as much, and eventually even bedtime stories fall by the wayside. There are all sorts of benefits to continuing to read to an older child (including building their skills at interpreting what they read, increased empathy, and an entryway into those challenging conversations.) When my older kids were tweens and teens, we would listen to audiobooks in the car and then have common ground for a discussion of something we were all engaged in. So, reading to your child or listening to audio books can be a great way to introduce some of your favorite tales.

It’s In the Water

Some things we don’t wait on. Some things are just part of the water that our families swim in. When I was growing up as the youngest of four kids with a dad who loved science fiction, Star Trek was on the screen in the living room every week when I was a toddler, and then reruns were watched for the rest of my childhood. So, the vision of a future of scientific exploration was just a part of my life. Seeing people of all ethnicities working together, seeing a black female officer – was all normal to me. Not the radical experience that Star Trek TOS may have been to some. And I absorbed lots of other science fiction and fantasy from the rest of the family – I think my sister told me shortened versions of some of her favorite fantasy tales. And I think all our kids absorbed the ethos of “with great power comes great responsibility” long before watching Spider Man. My older kids grew up hanging out in the room while I played roleplaying games with friends, and they joined in as they got old enough. My youngest is just starting to join my oldest and his friends in playing Magic the Gathering. So your favorite stories and characters can’t help but be an on-going part of your family’s life.

But, if you’re asking “When do I let my kid read…” or “When should I show my kid….”, or “is it to early to expose my child…” here are my completely personal biased recommendations for when the right time is for some properties (mostly from the geek universe cuz that’s the way I roll.)

Recommended Ages

(For more details on the kid appropriateness of ALL of these properties, use Common Sense Media to learn more.)

  • Chronicles of Narnia – Read to kids (or audiobook) at 8 – 10. Independent read at 10+. The 2005 movie of Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is mostly good for ages 6 and up, but there are some scenes that could be frightening for kids under age 10. The 1988 BBC Chronicles of Narnia may work for younger kids, but is very long, so break it up into pieces.
  • DC Movies: Shazam should have been a GREAT kids’ movie. And 90% of it is. But the beginning drags, is confusing and scary, and the intense scenes are really INTENSE. I’d say 12+. Wonder Woman is great for 12+ but I wouldn’t go younger – the World War 1 scenes are scenes of warfare. Aquaman is probably fine for 10 and up, though parts of it would hold no interest for them. (Note: I would not show Man of Steel or BvS to anyone under 15, and I opted out of Suicide Squad myself.)
  • Dungeons and Dragons (and other table-top roleplaying systems): My older kids could play as the kids in a group of patient supportive adults (with an adult DM) starting at about 9 or 10. I’m guessing groups of kids could play at around 12? We’re trying to start a group of 7 – 9 year olds on a simplified D&D now with an adult DM, and thought it was going well, until today’s character design led to a series of meltdowns – one child due to a lost character sheet, one because they were having a hard time understanding the spell options, and one because his character is not as strong as the others. (Being told that he was smarter and had higher dexterity than the others did not resolve the meltdown.)
  • Harry Potter. The series starts on the scary side, and gets much darker as you go along. And for most kids, the movies are scarier than the books.
    • My oldest read the first few books when he was 10, then read the last three as they came out, when he was 10, 12, and 14. He recommends this as the appropriate timing. He says movies starting at age 12 or so.
    • Another approach: Kids read the book when they’re the same age as Harry is in the book – so book 1 when the child is 11, book 2 when the child is 12… When it’s almost time to read book 2, you could watch movie 1 for a reminder of the general plot of book 1. (Tip: never read the book then IMMEDIATELY watch the movie… I did this for Goblet of Fire, and I was painfully aware of every minor variance from book to movie.)
    • Common Sense Media has a helpful Harry Potter Age-by-Age Guide which addresses which books to read and which movies to watch by age, and includes the new properties like the Fantastic Beasts movies.
    • In reality though, I know it might be hard to keep these books away from my youngest for that long, as he’s got lots of friends who have read them. He’s already played Lego Harry Potter and put together Harry Potter Legos, and seen the attractions at Universal Studios, so he is familiar with the characters and the broad story lines. I suspect we will start by listening together to all the books on audio – the audio versions are narrated by Jim Dale and are absolutely stellar! Then he can read the books if he wants, then we’ll watch the movies.
  • The Hobbit – read to a child at 7 – 9. Child reads independently at 9 or 10. But wait on the rest of the Lord of the Rings books till 12 or so. I’d watch the animated version of the Hobbit from 1977 with a 6 – 8 year old, but I’d wait on the Peter Jackson Hobbit movies till age 10 – 12, and wait on the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings till 12 or higher. (Partially due to the violence but also I don’t think younger kids would follow the plot well.)
  • Magic the Gathering – My oldest is introducing a simplified version to the 8 year old now, and that’s going well.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’d say start at age 8 with careful forethought and the ability to pause and explain. Older for in-theater. And maybe 10 and up if the child is likely to imitate combat behavior. But also pick and choose – some are more appropriate than others for younger kids. (That’s why we started with Spider Man Homecoming and Ant Man / Ant Man and the Wasp, not Iron Man 1 which starts out with some real-world violence.) In other Marvel: X-men movies for tweens. Deadpool – yeah, it’s R rated for a reason – the violence was uncomfortable for me!
  • Percy Jackson. I’d say 10 and up for the books. The characters are teens, who tweens could identify with well. I saw the first movie, and I’d go 13 and up on that one – read why.
  • Princess Bride. The movie is actually less intense than the book – although the ROUS and the torture scene might be distressing to kids. I would generally say 8 and up, though we took our son to outdoor movies in the park when he was 6 and 7. Scary moments don’t feel too scary when you’re sprawled on a picnic blanket on the grass. The book is probably for 10 and up as independent readers, but the audio book would be great for a 9 – 13 year old on a road trip.
  • Star Trek – If you tell your 6 year old “I have a show you’re going to love!” and  you turn on Star Trek, they may not think it’s for them. But, if the adults are watching Star Trek and the kids are watching along, they’ll probably like (and role play) many aspects while missing other concepts. All the TV series are probably fine to have playing around younger kids, some of the recent movies might be better around older kids. Of the series, TOS and TNG are more accessible to younger audiences and better to start with. They also have a really nice culture of optimism about the future. DS9 and Enterprise skew older; Discovery has some interesting conundrums for teenagers about when do you obey authority and when do you question it.
  • Star Wars
    • For this post, 19 dads were asked when to introduce Star Wars. “Conclusion: Fathers answers ranged from “in the womb” to “never”, with an average suggested age of somewhere between 5 and 6. Fathers also cited innumerable variables to take into consideration which were not consistent from child to child, or from family to family. There was consensus among the sampled fathers that exposure should be determined on a child-by-child basis, taking into account that child’s emotional, intellectual and social development, and always under parental supervision.”
    • My husband and I lean toward waiting till 7 or 8 because we think they’ll appreciate it more then. (If you’re wondering what order to watch movies in, read Machete Order – Explained.)
    • Release dates of new movies may skew your decisions… Someone told me she would have waited till age 8 or 9 to start these movies, but her mom took her to the opening of New Hope when she was 4, and when it turned out Force Awakens was going to come out when her child was 4, she decided to take her. But, they sat in the back row and had a stuffed animal and the iPad so if the child wanted to “opt out” of watching the movie, she could.
  • Studio Ghibli Films – I agree with these recommendations: My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo for age 5 – 7. Cat Returns and Kiki for age 8 – 10. Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle for tweens. (More recommendations here and here.)
  • The Martian – for ages 11 – 15. I have a whole post on the Martian… which was also inspired by a Jeff Cannata comment on the /Filmcast…
  • Willie Wonka – read the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 6+. Watch the 1971 movie at 7 or so. (There are a few frightening moments of “children in peril.”) I think you can skip the Johnny Depp version.
  • Wizard of Oz – read the book to ages 6 and up. Independent read a little older than that – some archaic words. When I was 4 – 6 and watched the movie, I was terrified of the witch and the flying monkeys and hid behind the couch. But my kids all watched around age 6 – 8 and handled it OK – I had prepped them for the fact that it might feel scary and warned them when those parts were coming up.
  • Wrinkle in Time – Yeah, I read it at 8 or 9. I’d recommended 10 – 12 to get more out of the book. (Although again, you could read it to them younger than that.) The 2018 movie is appropriate for 10+, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be.

Note: if you have multiple children, this all gets more complicated. Our older two were 3.5 years apart, so if I say something is good for ten year olds, that probably means we ended up watching it when the older one was 12, and the younger one was not quite 9. It worked for us because the older one was OK with “kiddie things” for longer, and the younger one wanted to be as “mature” as possible and had more tolerance for scary content.

What if they hate it?

And what if you’ve waited and waited for something, and then you show it to them, and they hate it?? Or what if they say “meh – it’s OK but not really that great?” Well, it’s a good lesson that our children are different people than we are, and we can all have different opinions. And maybe someday they’ll like it more… and maybe not.

I LOVE the movie Creator, a truly obscure 1985 romantic comedy with Peter O’Toole. It just makes me happier than almost any other movie I’ve seen. I waited till my older kids were in their late teens… it’s an R rated movie with some shower almost-sex and similar mature content. And I showed it to them, and they said “meh… I mean, I’m sorry Mom, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but maybe it’s just not for me?” And you know what? It was disappointing, but it’s OK. I still love the movie.

I had a dad tell me recently that there’s so many GREAT books he wants to share with his 12 year old daughter, but she’s only interested in YA romances and isn’t interested in any of them. I suggested to him that they listen to audiobooks together and that they take turns. She picks out one of her favorites, and he listens and gives it a fair chance and asks her what it is she loves about it. He may well end up liking it and even if he doesn’t, he gains new insights into her. And if he gave her book a fair chance, then hopefully she’ll give his book a fair chance.

Stephen Thompson, of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, has shared stories about how he’s been trying for years to sell his kids on all the things he thinks are great, and now as teenagers, his daughter is into horror movies, which have never been his thing, but she’s sold him on a few of her favorites, and his son has convinced him that some video games are actually enjoyable to play – even if he’s very bad at them. For both parties in these exchanges, it’s a chance to be exposed to new things, to learn to appreciate each other’s perspectives, and to connect over a shared experience. And that’s the real value in sharing our favorite stories.

Please add comments – agreeing or disagreeing with me… and what properties (books, movies, plays… ) have I forgotten that you have strong opinions on?

 

Gift Guide: Toys to Build Toddler Brains

photo showing toys like Duplo train, Quadro climber

Parents often ask me for recommendations for “the best toys for toddlers”. It’s a little tricky for me, given that I often advocate for owning fewer toys. But, if you’d like a few special items for a child to unwrap for their birthday, Christmas, or another holiday, here are some thoughts on how to choose the best toys. I’m going to sort them into categories based on ways to build a variety of skills and multiple intelligences. (I also recommend you check out my handout on activities and free items which also help to build their brains.)

Word Play (Linguistic / Verbal Intelligence)

We go to the library a lot! And when my son was a toddler, we went to story-time at the library every week. This means we get to “try out” hundreds of books a year for free! We only buy copies of the very best. Here are my favorites for books that toddlers love, preschool level books about inventors and makers, and books that sing. (For your adult reading enjoyment, here’s my recommendations for recommended parenting books and resources for teaching STEM to kids.)

It’s also helpful to play a lot with letters: I like magnetic letters for the refrigerator (which you can use all over the house) and duplo letters.

I also recommend a Kindle Fire tablet with Kindle FreeTime installed, which includes lots of ABC games and literacy building apps. (Here are thoughts on making screen time work for your family.)

Doing the Numbers (Logical – Mathematical Intelligence)

Everything you have more than one of is a math toy! You can count how many blocks you have, figure out whether you have more trains than balls, and so on. A few helpful specialty math tools are: a set of Duplo numbers, which you can use for counting, number recognition, while mixing them into your building tools, Unifix Cubes, and a great app called Bedtime Math. Every night at bedtime, we read a story problem and solve some math puzzles related to that story.

Putting the Pieces Together (Spatial Intelligence)

I like wooden puzzles for younger children and jigsaw puzzles for older kids. Melissa and Doug is generally a reliable brand. Babies 6 – 18 months like stacking toys and shape sorters. Toddlers love wooden train tracksto assemble and a big collection of wooden trains.

There’s tons of great building toys for older kids (I list many here in my STEM Gift Guide) but my all-time favorite is building toy to give is a basic Duplo set. For a 5 – 6 year old, choose basic Legos.

Moving & Grooving (Bodily – Kinesthetic Intelligence)

I would recommend several balls of varying sizes and textures, a Nerf style baseball bat, a Strider bike, and plenty of time to run and play indoors and out.

Rather than buying a pre-made climber that can never change configurations, I recommend a climber built of Quadro (Quadro is a fabulous combination of building toy and playground equipment! We’ve had ours for 20 years now, in near constant use.)

Playing Well With Others (Interpersonal Intelligence)

Imaginary play and telling stories with characters is one way to build interpersonal intelligence. Choose a few stuffed animals or puppets,  a collection of finger puppets to tell stories with, a toy picnic basket with fake food.

Learning about Myself and How I Feel (Intrapersonal Intelligence)

This category of intelligence isn’t about tangible stuff. It’s more about interaction and emotion coaching, and also making sure your child has time for quiet contemplation and down time.

Song and Dance Routines (Musical Intelligence)music

We have a box of miscellaneous musical instruments he can pull out anytime he wants. A few were purchased for him, but most are just items that have entered our lives over the years, like the plastic Yamaha recorder I had as a child, and the plastic Yamaha recorder I had to buy for my daughter’s class when I couldn’t find my old one… We also have a very old electric piano that’s in his room and he spends part of many “nap times” exploring the piano.

We listen to a lot of music together (one older sibling loves Broadway show tunes, one loves vintage jazz, Abuela loves classical and Spanish music) and sing songs A LOT, and enjoy circle-time songs at BC classes and library story times and hymns at church.

Fun with Flora and Fauna (Naturalistic Intelligence)

As you can guess if you’ve read other posts on my blog, we spend a lot of time outdoors. Camping, hikes, zoo trips, farmer’s markets, walks to the library and the pool. The only “tools” we use outdoors are a bucket and a shovel. (But, when we forget them, a stick and a rock can fill in as digging tools, and an empty Starbucks cup from the car makes a fine bucket.) Some day we’ll find our binoculars again, and pick up a new magnifying glass.

Expanding Horizons (Magic / Imagination / Religion / Cultures)

We have a big box of miscellaneous dress up – old Halloween costumes from his siblings, sunglasses, silly hats, etc. In all of our books and the videos we watch together, we aim for showing lots of diverse cultures and experiences, and we go to a church that talks a lot about diverse beliefs and appreciation of the sacred in all forms.

All the Pretty Colors (Artistic Skills and Appreciation)

This is the one area we have an abundance of STUFF.

One cabinet in the kitchen is over-flowing with art supplies: Model Magic clay, no-spill watercolors, pom poms, pipe cleaners, paint, paper, glitter glue, stickers, markers, crayons, beads, scissors, and so on. When he and I are in a relaxed, mellow mood, we pull these out and get to work.

I try not to do much art when I’m in a cranky mood, or when I won’t have time to deal with any mess that arises. I have to confess that I can have a hard time when he’s being really messy or “wasting” art supplies, or “messing up” art supplies – like when he dips the red-paint-covered paintbrush into the yellow paint. Because I know that about myself, I make sure that he has plenty of opportunity to do art in spaces that are designed for kids’ art and where it’s OK to make a mess. So, this year, he’s enrolled in Creative Development Lab, which is all about exploring and experimenting with art.

Child-Directed Play

In addition to buying stuff for your kid to play with, also make sure they have some time to play with you that is child-directed – where they get to decide what they want to play. Learn more about child-directed play.

If you have an older child, check out my Gift Guide to STEM Toys for Ages 3 – 6.

(Note: this post includes Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and purchase anything, I get a small referral fee. I spend any income from that on doing outreach to encourage more parents and educators to come check out what I offer here on this blog.)

What’s the Best Summer Camp?

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Each year around this time, parents start asking me about summer camp. They want to know which are the best ones. Just like with choosing preschool, I can’t give you a simple answer to that. Because it all depends on what your needs or goals are.

So, I recommend that before you look at camps, you first answer these questions for yourself.

Needs

What are your basic logistical needs?

  • Scope: Do you need full-time care all summer while you work? Or full-time care for a few weeks out of the summer so you can focus on adult projects those weeks? Or part-time enrichment camps every day that leave the afternoons for free play? I’ve also heard of families that when they visit the grandparents, they enroll the children in a part-time day camp, which may be more fun than hanging out at the grandparents house all day, and allow the adults some time to do adult activities.
  • Schedule: What time would it work for you to drop off? What time can you pick up? Realistically what works with your needs?
  • Location: I’ve often enrolled my kids in camps that are quite a ways from home. (Like wilderness camps and farm camps that were both about 40 minutes from our house.) It works for me, because my work is portable, so I just bring my laptop and while they’re at camp, I sit at nearby parks or coffee shops and get my work done. But you may prefer to stick closer to home or your workplace.
  • Cost: Costs range a lot! And it’s hard to compare costs between camps, as some camps are 5 hours long, some 6, some 7…  For example, even within the Bellevue Parks department, for a 7 year old, the hourly cost could be anywhere between: $9 per hour for theater camp or ballet camp to $11.50 for Lego/STEM to $22 per hour for pottery camp (high materials cost, I’m assuming.) If you need full-time care, the hourly cost matters. If you’re just looking for an activity focus for the week, and don’t necessarily need 6 – 8 hours of child care, maybe the total cost is more important. The Lego camp is $400 a week (9 – 4 each day), and the pottery camp is $242 a week (10 am – 12:30 pm).
  • Age requirements. There are plenty of camps for kids age 6 – 12. It’s harder to find camps for little ones, and if you do, they tend to be EITHER full-time child care OR very short – a few hours at a time. Versus camps for older kids can have a wide range of schedules.

Goals

The next question is what are your goals for having a child attend summer camp?

  • Is it just about child care while working? You may choose to have them attend the same camp every week all summer because having that routine is easiest for you.
  • Is it about summer fun? You may choose lots of camps that emphasize being outdoors and playing, or may send your kid to the same camps their buddies are going to so they have built-in friends.
  • If you want to expose your child to lots of different skills and activities to broaden their life experience, you may choose to dabble through a: farm camp, wilderness camp, theatre camp, art camp, science camp, and multi-sports camp all in one summer.
  • Is there something you want your child to learn that you aren’t able to teach? You may choose that opportunity.
  • Do you want a church-based camp, or a scouting camp?
  • Or do you want a family camp that you can ALL attend together?

Each family may have unique goals for each child.

Limitations: You should also keep in mind if your child has limits to what they can do. My youngest is autistic. He’s also very bright, so he can do so well at a camp that the staff  never realizes his challenges. But he has limits… and when he passes those limits, he has giant meltdowns. So, he does best when I enroll him in half day camps, not full day, and when he is one of the oldest kids in the program rather than one of the youngest so the social/emotional expectations are set at a lower developmental level. Know your child, and choose camps that set them up for success. (Note: there are camps that offer a few sessions each summer that are sensory friendly and have higher staffing levels, and there are also specialty camps that are solely for kids on the spectrum and that really focus on social/emotional skills – those can be a good match for some families’ needs.)

Research your options

Check out your parks department, and those in neighboring cities. Check the Boys & Girls Club, Campfire, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They tend to offer LOTS of different camps, in lots of interest areas and locations and may be fairly affordable options.

Your city may have a summer camp fair (in the Seattle area, ParentMap sponsors four or five camp fairs in February and March where you can discover lots of options for summer camps. Check ads in local parenting magazines – but keep in mind that there are lots more great programs that can’t afford to advertise, so also check out word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask your friends, family, parents of your kids’ friends, and parents at the playground about what camps they have loved (or not).

Once you’ve collected names of interesting options, you can do your research online to learn more. Look at their websites and Facebook pages, and also search to see what else other people say about them online. (Always remember with online reviews, the people most likely to submit a review are the ones who are mad about a bad experience – anger motivates action. The second most likely are the ones who had unusually amazing experiences they want to share. But there may be 100’s of other people who had good experiences who don’t get around to posting reviews.)

Questions to Ask

Things to look for when you’re researching your options:

  • What is the typical schedule for the day?
  • How much is structured activity and how much is free play?
  • What activities does your child participate in?
  • How many children attend? What is their adult to child staff ratio?
  • What experience / training do those adults have? (Note: the vast majority of staff at ALL summer camps are college students, age 17 – 22 or so, with one or two years of summer camp experience.)
  • What backup staff is available in case unexpected challenges arise at a camp site? You may not be able to find this info online, but it’s helpful if they do have this. (I had one camp we went to the first week of their season and it was the first year they’d used that site and the young, inexperienced staff faced some unexpected challenges without experienced folks on-site to back them up… they got there, but it took them a while – I’m now inclined to choose long-established camps for the beginning of the summer, and save those “start-up” experiences for later in the summer when they’ve worked out the bugs.)
  • Do they have an indoor option in case of weather problems (too wet, or too hot)? I don’t find this a necessity but there was a parent who I talked to last year who was outraged that a camp her child attended did not have an indoor option for a hot, sunny day.

After you go through this process, you’ll have a lot better idea of what you’re looking for in a good summer camp. And one of the nice things about summer camps is that they’re only one week long. It’s a lot less pressure than choosing a school for a full school year. I figure it’s easy to just try it out for a week, and if it’s great, we return every year, if it’s not, it’s a learning experience we move on from.

Camps We Have Liked

Sometimes when I offer parents ‘more questions to ask’ instead of answers to their questions, that can be frustrating for them. So, here are some answers to what I think of as some of the “best” summer camps my kids have attended over the years. (All on the Eastside of Seattle metro / King County)

These are  my personal experiences as a parent, not representative of the views of my employers (Bellevue College and Parent Trust for Washington Children.)

My logistical needs for location, cost and schedule were always fairly flexible, so I was able to prioritize my goals of broad learning experiences for my kids. I put them in part-time summer camps most weeks of each summer, because I find I’m the best parent to my kids when I have a few hours to myself each day to work on my projects – that energizes me to come back for a great afternoon with them – going on hikes, swimming, picnics, and more.

My older kids did some fabulous camps that I haven’t revisited with my youngest, so I don’t have current info on them. But when my kids attended these camps (between about 1998 and 2013), they were fabulous:

  • Wolf Camp – a wilderness skills camp. Day camp for ages 6 – 11 in Issaquah or Puyallup. Overnight camps for age 9 – 17 around Washington State.
  • Shoo Fly Farm – a day camp which captures everything you would imagine summer childhood on a farm to include – take care of and play with farm animals, making butter and jam, tie-dyeing, and swinging on a tire swing. Registration tends to fill early!! (For 2019, their camps were full by the end of January.)
  • DigiPen Academy – their Project Fun camps for k-12 teach programming skills for video game development. My oldest child did them as a teenager. (He’s now a paraeducator. My middle child who did fashion design camps is now a software developer… it’s interesting how our kids turn out!)
  • Stone Soup Theatre Camp in Seattle, for ages 5 – 15.
  • Columbia Gorge Theatre Camp. Overnight camp in Portland area, for ages 10 – 18. A huge formative part of both my older kids’ lives, not just their theatre skills. Love it!

Here are camps that my younger child has attended recently and enjoyed (most are camps my older kids also went to years ago.)

  • Studio East. (Also a huge part of our family’s history!) Theatre camps for ages 4 – 19, held at multiple locations in Kirkland. Kids spend a really fun week learning dance, music, lines, and more, and put on a show at the end of the week. Theatre education is great not just for learning theatre but also for social skills and teamwork. They really encourage creativity and include kids’ ideas in the experience.
  • Pacific Science Center camps. We’ve tried lots of science camps. PacSci’s are the best, I think, for science learning. They offer lots of themes, in multiple locations throughout King County. Staff is well-trained, and curriculum well-developed. PreK through grade 8. What I don’t love – they’re pretty indoors and pretty structured for a summer camp experience. And, all their camps for my son’s age (2-3 grade) are full day (either 8:45 – 3:30 or 8:45 – 4.) That’s simply more than my kid can handle. So, he tends to make it through Monday to Wednesday of a PacSci camp, starts melting down on Thursday and on Friday they ask me to take him home partway through the day. I love that they’re starting to note “sensory-friendly” camps on their schedule that are a better match for kids with autism or sensory issues. I wish they’d realize that a shorter schedule would also help. (With optional extended day for the parents who need full-day care.)
  • Wilderness Awareness. Day camps for ages 4 – 13, overnights for 11 – 18. Day camps in Kenmore, Issaquah, Seattle, and Carnation. Nature games, story-telling, songs, hikes in the woods, animal tracking, and more.  Camp Terra at Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon is supposed to be fabulous, but we’ve not been able to attend yet.
  • Pedalheads. Because of my disability, I’m not able to teach my son to ride a bike, so I love having a bike camp option. They offer everything from 60 minute long camps for 2 – 3 year old beginning riders to full day camps for older kids with strong skills. I know many parents who had a 5 or 6 year old who started the week not knowing how to ride, and was riding independently by the end of the week. My son went for one week at age 5 and ended that week still on training wheels. He went for a week at age 6, he could just barely ride without training wheels. But he still had a great time both weeks. Pedalheads also offers a Heroheads sports camp he has taken twice and greatly enjoyed. (The photo at the top was taken there.)
  • Skyhawks offers many sports camps at many sites. Many are focused on a single sport, but I really like their multi-sports camp. Although we’re a physically active family, we don’t really play team sports, so I like that my son gets to spend a couple weeks each summer being trained in baseball, basketball, and soccer skills so that if a buddy on a playground asks him to play he at least has a clue.
  • Family Camp. With my older kids, we thought about attending a family camp, like the YMCA camps at Camp Orkila and Colman, or Cascades Camp, or North Cascades Institute. But, we never did. Then, four years ago, we started attending Eliot, a week-long family camp for Unitarian Universalists. Partway through that first week, I looked at my partner and said “I guess we know what we’ll be doing for one week every July from now on.” It is a joy to spend a week at camp, singing, tie-dyeing, dancing, listening to Harry Potter under a tree, swimming in the lagoon, and re-connecting with people we see every year at camp, who range in age from birth to 90-something. We love family camp!
  • Some cooperative preschools (like Pine Lake Coop preschool) will offer a few summer camps each summer for ages 3 – 5. These can be especially helpful for young ones who are just about to start drop-off preschool or kindergarten to get them used to being without you at class.

New Camp: Mercer Island is offering an Adventure Playground Camp for the first time this year. They’ve had a loosely supervised Adventure Playground the past few years (read about it at that link) so I look forward to my son trying out the camp!

Flexible Options:

  • Arena Sports – these win for most flexible camp option! 5 locations. Half day OR full day, with extended care options, for ages 3 – 12. They play soccer and active games, they play on the bounce house. As a friend once described an activity: “it sweats ’em up good.” We would attend these on weeks when we had plans on some days but had other days free, and I wanted to have my child to have a chance to burn off some energy while I caught up on projects.
  • Steve & Kate’s Camp – It’s been held on the campus of Bellevue’s The Little School for many years (although they’re at different sites for 2019). The advantage is their flexibility. It’s a huge age range from pre-K to 7th grade. You don’t need to sign up in advance – once you’ve registered for the year, you just show up there in the morning, whenever you want to for as many days as you want to. And when kids are there, they have virtually complete freedom to choose from many different activities (film-making, bread-making, games, robotics, sewing). It’s a “free range” approach. Works great for many kids – I have a friend who says it’s an incredible opportunity for his daughter to learn skills and use her creativity! But for my kid, he basically sat in the “lounge” reading books or watched other kids programming on tablets. It was fine for days I needed child care, but it’s lot more expensive than Arena Sports.

We’ve also done various one-shot camps that were great but we never happened to return to. Like one year I visited friends in Portland for a week while my kids attended Do Jump circus camp. There were summers where my child’s interests of the moment led to Fashion Design or Nature Illustration camp. We  attended several camps sponsored by the zoo and our local parks departments. So, the ones listed here are just a sampling of what our family has done, but there are SO MANY MORE great options out there.

What have I missed? What other camps in King County have you had a good experience with? Add a comment below. (If possible, include with  your recommendation: what ages it’s for, where it’s located, and what you loved about it.)

And if you’d rather just spend time hanging out at parks with your kid, read my posts about local parks, or if you have a toddler too young for camp and need ideas for activities, check out cheap dates with toddlers.

And, a product recommendation to make every day of summer camp easier for you: I LOVE the Solar Buddies sunscreen applicator! You fill it with your favorite sunscreen and then just roll it on. So much faster for me, so many fewer complaints from my son, and I don’t end up going to work with hands all gunked up with sunscreen.