Each year, I write a post about all the outdoor theatre productions that will happen that summer. It was heartbreaking in 2020 when all the theaters were dark, and it’s sad that even in 2021, many have not yet returned. But, I am thrilled to say that there WILL BE OUTDOOR THEATER IN SUMMER 2021!!!
So… here’s this year’s update of my almost-always-annual post.
Outdoor productions of Shakespeare and other plays are a fun way to experience the arts in the summer time. Bring a picnic, spread a blanket out on the grass, and enjoy! (If you prefer sitting in a chair to on the ground, be sure it’s a low profile chair so you don’t block anyone’s view.) In 2021, productions will have COVID precautions in place, such as masking and distancing. Check their websites for the most current info.
Outdoor theater is a good venue for kids because it gives more leeway for squirming and wiggling than an indoor performance with theater rules. However, you should still endeavor to keep kids quiet and well-behaved. Other than Storybook Theater, most of the shows listed here are good for ages 8 and up. We have brought preschoolers to shows, but we don’t expect them to pay full attention – bring snacks, toys, and sticker books to entertain them quietly. Also understand that during outdoor productions, at times your experience may be interrupted by Frisbee players in the far distance, dogs sniffing by, and airplanes flying overhead.
NEW THIS YEAR: Storybook Theater in the Park. Studio East in Kirkland has been doing fabulous productions perfect for 3 – 7 year old children for many years. This August, they will perform The Boy Who Cried Wolf for free at various sites on the Eastside. Studio East is also doing Twelfth Night – Shakespeare in the Park featuring teen actors, on June 18 – 20 at Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland. Free.
Greenstage Shakespeare in the Park is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They also have smaller 4-actor adaptations of plays, called Backyard Bard that are an hour long. They’re doing Twelfth Night and the Tempest. (All three of these shows are some of the more accessible Shakespeare plays for older children.) Fridays – Sundays from July 9 – August 14 in Seattle, Burien, and Fall City. Free, but please donate lots!
Wooden O, from Seattle Shakespeare. Presenting Comedy of Errors. Thursdays thru Sundays, July 23 – August 8. By donation. Seattle, Tacoma, Des Moines, Federal Way.
Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theatre. Presenting “The Leisure Time Radio Show” on Saturdays and Sundays, August 7 – 21, as a dinner theater. Food and show for $40 – 44.
Outdoor Trek from Hello Earth Productions. In 2022, plan for Return (at last!) of the Jedi.
Island Shakespeare Festival – Langley. Will present As You Like It, Thurs – Sun at 6 pm, from August 6 – September 12. In the past, they were free, with donations encouraged – I assume it’s the same this year. (If you go, donate lots!) Their postponed 2020 Summer Season, with Love’s Labor’s Lost, Titus Andronicus, and Cyrano de Bergerac, will be presented in 2022.
Kitsap Forest Theatre – near Bremerton. Will present Little Women – the Broadway Musical. (My kids liked this show a lot when they saw it at age 9 or 10.) Shows are on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00. June 12/13, 19/20, 26/27; July 10/11, 17/18, 24/25; August 7/8, 14/15, 21/22. $34 adults, $18 youth, 6 and under free. Their shows that weren’t presented in 2020 (Beauty & the Beast and Bend in the Road, the Anne of Green Gables Musical) are moved to 2022.
Leavenworth Summer Theatre is presenting Sound of Music most Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays from July 9 – Aug 21. Tickets go on sale in June. In previous years, they were $14 – 35. They will perform their planned 2020 shows of the Music Man and The Secret Garden in 2022.
Other Summer Arts Opportunities
Library Summer Reading Programs
Library programs for ages 3 – 12 happen all summer long, and include reading logs with completion prizes, story times and other events. In 2021, for KCLS, all events will be held online. King County library: This year’s theme is space themed so the shows are about space, the stars, and science. Go to this page https://kcls.bibliocommons.com/events/search/index, and you can filter for events that work for you, or type the name of a show you want to see into the search bar at the top of the page. The Seattle Public Library summer reading info is here.
For school year activities, if you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about info about fabulous classes at local community colleges that are great for kids AND include parent education for you,- register now before they fill up!!
Some people love nature, and can look at mossy trees, birds, and spider webs all day long. Some people don’t connect to that at all and are far more interested in mechanical objects. And sometimes those two types of people are married to each other. Or sometimes there’s a parent in one camp who has a child in the other camp. One way to find common ground is to seek out signs of cool machines in natural settings. Here are some options with that appeal in western Washington: Gas Works Park in Seattle, coal mining remnants in Newcastle, Snoqualmie Falls, Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and the Ballard Locks.
Gas Works Park in Seattle
In the Wallingford neighborhood (2101 N Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98103), Gas Works contains remnants of a coal gasification plant that operated from 1906 – 1956. (Learn more about Gas Work’s history and the park today.) In addition to viewing the gas works, there’s also a great hill for kite flying, a sundial, great views of the boats on Lake Union, and easy access to the Burke-Gilman trail.
Coal Mining Remnants in Newcastle
On the border between Bellevue, Issaquah, and Newcastle, you’ll find the Coal Creek Trails in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. It’s a beautiful nature hike with lots of native plants, and view of Coal Creek, with the added bonus of ruins from old coal mines, and interpretive signs about their history. There’s also an old Nike missile installation, but not a lot to see there. (Learn more here.) I wrote up a guide to the science of coal formation and the history of coal mining in the area when I took an elementary school age class on a field trip there. You can read it here.
Here’s a trail map of the zone I’d recommend hiking. Walk Wildside trail to Steam Hoist trail to see the Steam Hoist. If the path isn’t flooded, go around the Steam Hoist trail loop to see the info about saw mills. Use Steam Hoist trail to get back to Ford. At Ford Slope, view a rail car (picture here), machinery, a closed mine shaft, swamp gas vents, and the 1920 (bridge??) just up the hill. If you still have lots of energy, hike up Rainbow Town (steep) to Red Town, then down Bradley Seam Trail back to Wildside to trailhead. If you have some energy, then you can duck back down Wildside just a bit, go UP Bradley Seam, and then walk down Red Town. On Bradley Seam, you’ll see an exposed coal seam and be able to pick up and examine lots of coal samples along the side of the path.
This is around a mile and a half hike without a a lot of elevation gain. Parts of the trail are wide gravel roads, some are more challenging terrain. I hiked it with 5 – 9 year old kids who did great. With younger kids, it would be trickier, and you’d need to make sure they were stating safe. (More about the hike.) The hike to Coal Creek Falls is beautiful, but it’s 3.5 miles with 350 feet of elevation gain and some tricky terrain, so not the best for a novice hiker. (Full Trail Map.)
Directions: Start at Red Town Trail Head parking lot, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. From I-90 take exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Blvd SE for 3.1 miles. Parking lot is to left (east side) of Lakemont. (Watch for the park sign and a dirt parking lot). The trailhead parking does fill up from about 9 – 2 on sunny summer weekends.
The falls are gorgeous – 268 feet high with the width ranging from 50 to 150 feet, depending on water levels. When the water level is high, they’re really LOUD and powerful feeling. This is also the site of Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project, built in the late 1890’s. It is one of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest hydropower facilities and the world’s first hydroelectric plant built completely underground. The museum (closed during pandemic) houses exhibits about hydroelectricity. Here’s a virtual tour video covering the history.
Near the top of the falls, next to the Salish Lodge, you’ll find two observations decks (aka “cliffside observation areas”) with great views of the falls, a gift shop and concessions. The observation deck is wheelchair accessible. There is a very steep trail down to the base of the falls. There is also a lower park area, with a hiking trail through forested wildlife habitat, a kayak and canoe launching area, historic interpretive displays and an observation platform for viewing the Falls.
Here is a map of the park and the parking areas. The parking lot by the gift shop is paid parking. The other 2 lots are free. The falls are lit up after dark.
Fort Casey on Whidbey Island
Fort Casey is a Washington state park. The fort was constructed in the late 1800s, equipped for seacoast fortification in the early 1900’s with large “disappearing guns.” Unfortunately the guns were quickly made obsolete with the advent of airplanes. The guns you see there now were transferred from the Philippines in the 1960’s. The Fort was used as a training facility up to the mid-1940s. (More history.)
You can climb the batteries, peer into catacomb like bunkers (bring a flashlight!) and climb up for a close look at the guns. You’re given pretty much free rein of the facility, without a lot of protective barriers. It was great for my 9 year old, but if you have little ones, they’ll need close supervision. (More on what it’s like to visit.)
There’s 1.8 miles of hiking trails (part of the 1200 mile Pacific NW National Scenic Trail) and amazing views of Admiralty Inlet which connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound (expect it to be windy!!). We went there in the summer of 2020, and after being isolated at home for a long time, it was lovely to be in a wide open space, where we could see families out enjoying the day from a very distanced social distance.
A bonus for the mechanically-inclined (a downside for those who like the quiet of nature) is that the U.S. Navy does flight training at the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey, with 100,000 takeoffs and landings per year, day and night. With noise levels of 100 decibels, you won’t miss them!
Note; as of February 2021, many of the visitors’ facilities at the locks are closed due to the pandemic. Check their website for updates.
The Hiram M Chittenden Locks, completed in 1917, connect Lake Washington with Puget Sound. They carry more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. Boats ranging in size from one man kayaks to 760 foot boats can travel through there. When a boat enters the locks from the lake, the water level is lowered 20 – 22 feet before a boat makes its way into the Sound. You can find a lot more about how the locks work and about their history on the WIkipedia page.
From June to September, you may be able to see salmon on the fish ladders. There is also the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden, a beautiful nature oasis. Read visitor reviews. More photos.
McAuliffe Park in Kirkland
This old farm homestead has windmills, old gas pumps, old farm equipment and large pea patch of working gardens. Read my whole post on McAuliffe Park. Also, as you walk, keep your eye out for Kirkland Rocks.
Monte Cristo Trail
You may also be interested in the Monte Cristo hike in Snohomish County. “Remnants of an old railway turntable … a group of boys pushed one end of the rusty girder, swinging it in circular fashion.” “Rusted-out bed frames, mining tools and pieces of railroad track and railway cars, among other relics, are randomly strewn around, as if they’re props for a play. “
All playgrounds are full of simple machines. You can point out to a child the inclined planes (slides, ramps), the screws (spiral staircases or ladders), the levers (swings, seesaws), and the wheels on axles (merry go rounds).
If you’re looking for an excuse to go on a quest around downtown Seattle, check out this guide to all the public clocks in Seattle.
10 days ago, our son heard the weather reports that there was a chance of snow in the Seattle area over the next few days. Well, the week came and went, and no snow! He was so disappointed.
But we told him that all winter long, snow is just a short drive away. And that when he’s hankering for a spontaneous snowball fight, it’s easy to make that happen.
We proved it on Sunday. We left our home in Kirkland after lunch, at 1:00. It took a little less than an hour to get to Snoqualmie Pass. We parked, jumped out of the car and played for about an hour, hopped back in the car, and were home by 4:00. No money spent, other than gas money, in exchange for fun in the snow.
Playing in the Snow
Across the street from the Summit West ski area there’s a huge field of snow. There were maybe 10 – 12 other families out there when we were, but there’s plenty of room to spread out.
There are lots of rolling hills, so it’s easy to find places to hide behind to build up a pile of snowball ammunition for snowball fights.
Previous visitors had made some fun snow caves to crawl into (see picture at the top of the post.) There are lots of little sledding hills – most are only a few feet long, but still fun little slides.
There was one nice long run, but it wasn’t quite steep enough. Our son would slide about six feet, scoot for a foot, slide for six and so on.
We hadn’t brought a sled along, but we improvised. He used an insulated bag that we keep in the car for restaurant takeout and it worked great!
If you want a much bigger production with more ambitious sledding, check out the Tubing park at Snoqualmie. It is super fun for 6 – 10 year olds. But, you do have to reserve in advance, and it’s $35 for adults and $12 for kids and was more than we needed for just our little day trip.
We’d decided we would go up and play for exactly as long as we wanted and then quit, and that’s what we did.
We did not do anything special to prep for this… we own ski clothes – snow pants, long undies, ski mittens, the whole deal, but we didn’t bother to dig them out. We just grabbed our regular boots, coats and gloves from the closet, and threw an extra pair of sweatpants in the car for my son. After he was done playing, he just changed to dry pants in the car.
So, there are no bathrooms in this field. I might guess there are some at the nearby gas station. I don’t know. During COVID, we prefer to avoid public buildings, so we just made sure to use the bathroom at home before heading out.
The Summit Pancake House said they were open for takeout only. There were also, I think, a couple places you could get hot chocolate after playing. We just headed home and had hot chocolate at home.
We drove I-90 to the pass. We listened to great podcasts in the car. We got off at the West Summit exit (I think it’s exit 52). Across the street from the ski area there’s a field of snow. We parked near there. (No fee.) We were there at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, and there was plenty of available parking. We’ve heard it can be bad, but that wasn’t our experience.
We did not experience any traffic, going up at 1 on Sunday and heading back down the mountain at 3:00.
It is important to check road and weather conditions before going. https://www.wsdot.com/Traffic/passes/snoqualmie/. On the day we went, there was no snow at all on the side of the road until we got just a few miles from the pass. At the pass, the roads were bare and wet. The temperature was 35. So, easy drive and pleasant weather. The forecast was possible light snow flurries, but we didn’t have any.
We would probably not have done this trip if there was a chance that there would be a lot of snow on the roads and chains would be advised. We are from Wyoming and Massachusetts, and are comfortable putting chains on tires and driving in the snow; however, we drive a Prius and they are not great in the snow!
But: we DID have chains in the car, and we did have blankets, water, and some food, because we keep them in our car all winter every winter. Just in case.
All in all, this was a really fun and easy afternoon outing in the middle of COVID where we got to get out and play!
We live within walking distance of downtown Kirkland, WA, which means we are blessed to be within walking distance of LOTS of great restaurants. During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been doing what we can to support those restaurants. We get takeout once a week, pizza delivery twice a month, and occasionally walk into town for a takeout treat from a bakery or café or boba shop.
But there are SO MANY restaurants within walking distance, that despite these best efforts, we have not yet managed to visit them all during pandemic! So, we decided to make a checklist and a spreadsheet to track who we have not yet supported. I’m sharing it here to encourage other folks to support all these great businesses. Every one of these 61 (!) eating establishments is in the downtown core between Kirkland Urban and Marina Park.
In the spreadsheet, I made notes about seating options during COVID. All these restaurants do takeout. Some have uncovered outdoor seating. Some have outdoor seating that is heated and/or covered. Some have “garage door” style windows that roll up for lots of ventilation and may allow indoor seating in phase 1. (Some restaurants will allow indoor seating up to 25% capacity during phase 2, but I have not made note of this option.) There are also some restaurants who participate in the “Dine in Your Car” option at Marina Park.
For our family, we only do takeout, and we always wear masks when we pick up. We don’t eat at the restaurants, either inside or outside, because we want to minimize any risk to the workers. And we always tip 20 – 30% on every order.
Also, we order directly from the restaurant, and pick up there. We do not use GrubHub, DoorDash, UberEats, PostMate… They take substantial cuts out of the restaurants’ earnings. If your goal is to support local restaurants, it’s best to pay them directly so they get the full amount.
On a regular basis, I see posts on social media from parents asking for advice on choosing “the best” preschool, or the best private school in the area, or asking which is the best public school as they plan a move. (And, of course, parents of older children agonize over what is the best college.)
There truly is not a “best” school. There are LOTS of great schools, and some mediocre ones, and a very few bad ones. What’s best is the school that best meets your family’s unique needs and goals, and best suits your child’s unique learning style.
Here are some steps to take to figuring out YOUR best option:
Step 1 – Needs Assessment
Before you bother researching all the options, and before you fall in love with an option that won’t meet your needs, let’s start with the pure nitty gritty essentials:
Schedule: Are you looking for full-time or part-time, or are you flexible? If the regular school day isn’t long enough, do they offer extended day care? What days do you need? What wouldn’t work?
What times could work for you and what just doesn’t work? (e.g. if you’re not a morning person, choosing an early morning program may not be a realistic bet)
Location: really think through the commute and whether it will work – I can’t tell you how many parents have chosen what they thought was a great school, but by October were miserable about having a cranky kid in the car in never-ending traffic)
Cost: there is a wide range in costs – be realistic about what’s affordable for you. If you stretch your budget, then it can make any little frustration with the school really stressful as you think – “I can’t believe we’re paying this much and this is happening!”
Drop-off or stay? For younger children, there are often parent-child options where you always stay, or co-ops that are drop off some days and have you work in the classroom on other days. These are generally cheaper than drop-off programs and also allow you to be closely involved in your child’s education.
Step 2 – Goal Setting
What do you hope your child will get out of the experience? Are you hoping for academic development? Social-emotional skill building? Art? Music? Physical education? Science? Religious education?
Are there things that you know you could do a great job of teaching your kids? Then you may not need the school to cover that well. Is there something you think you won’t be good at teaching? Choose a school that does it well.
Do you prefer a very structured teacher-led program? Or more of a play-based or inquiry-based program where the teacher works the lesson plans around the children’s interests? How do you feel about homework – are you happy to guide practice time at home for them to improve on their skills? Or would you like out of school time to be free choice for your family?
Is the school’s approach to learning compatible with yours? When our oldest was little, we looked at one school which discouraged use of technology and screens, and actually discouraged reading before age 7, instead focusing on things like oral story-telling. This did not work for our tech-heavy family and also didn’t make sense because my kids all learn to read by age 3 or 4. (Not because we drill them… but because we love books so much in our family that they couldn’t wait to read themselves.) We looked at another school where there were only non-fiction books on the shelf in the kindergarten classroom, and I asked “where are the story books?” They disdainfully said “they have plenty of time for that sort of reading at home…” I knew that wasn’t the school for us!
Take a good look at your child’s temperament and learning style. I had a very social chatty child, and we looked at one school where the children were expected to work quietly and independently and not chat with each other. Not a good match for that child. I had a high energy child who tended to get overstimulated in indoor classrooms, but stayed calm and happy outdoors, so we sent him to outdoor preschool. You want to choose a school where your child will feel competent and valued, not one where they never fit in.
During goal setting, it’s also worth asking: What do you hope to get out of their school experience? Some preschools and schools offer parent education and support. Some actively work to encourage community building amongst families. Cooperative preschools and home school coops are the ultimate example of involving parents in school in meaningful ways. On the other hand, some parents may prefer to outsource school, and have a pretty hands-off approach, and there are certainly schools that will also support that.
Step 3 – Learn about Your Options
OK, now it’s time to turn to the internet and social media.
In Facebook groups for parents, you probably don’t even need to ask a question – you can typically search the archives for preschool or school, because probably 50 people before you have asked “what’s the best school” and you can just read through all those answers!
You can look at Yelp and Google reviews and such – but, as always with reviews, you’ll see a lot of 5 stars and a lot of 1 stars and nothing in between. People only bother to write reviews when they’re really happy or really mad. So, reviews never tell the whole story. But, they can give you some hints of what to watch for.
Once you’ve got the names of schools, it’s easy to do lots of internet research on them. Check out their websites. Don’t just read the words, but also look for what’s NOT said. (For example, in my experience, if they don’t tell you the tuition up front, it’s probably high.) Look for what the pictures show, and what’s missing in the pictures. (For example, many schools try to portray diversity in their photographs to let folks know that everyone is welcome, but I’ve been involved in schools where we didn’t yet have a lot of racial diversity, and so we had the same few kids appearing over and over in several photos. I believe that we were welcoming, but when BIPOC kids came, there would not yet be many peers for them.)
Look at ads. But note: you may see a ton of ads for one school that make you think they’re great, but it could just be a big school with a big marketing budget (and likely high tuition to support that). Some really great small schools never run ads, because they’re trying to keep costs low to increase accessibility for families. They count on word of mouth – current and alumni families who had great experiences and tell their friends and family.
So, that leads to your best source of options: word of mouth. Ask friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, parents at the park! If you ask on social media, instead of just saying “what’s a great school”, say “we’re looking for a part-time, play-based, affordable preschool – what do you recommend?” Or whatever other criteria you want to state. That makes sure the recommendations you get are relevant to you.
Step 4 – Questions to Research
What do they teach? What would your child learn there?
What is the daily schedule? How is time divided between activities? Play time? Quiet time? Outdoors? Snack? Young children have short attention spans for structured activity, so it’s best in short doses, with plenty of unstructured time in between to explore and discover, and quiet time to process what they’ve learned.
How do they teach it?
A couple big picture ideas: A teacher-led curriculum means the teacher always prepares the lessons in advance (and may use a standardized curriculum) and sticks to them. A child-led curriculum (a.k.a. emergent or constructivist) follows the children’s interests and adapts to what the children want to do.
A structured class might use group time, worksheets, and formal instruction to teach particular skills. Students may be drilled in the basics, or asked to practice things over and over. A play-based class typically has multiple stations set up and allows children to move between things when they choose. The teacher moves around the room, making suggestions and observations, and asking questions to further the learning.
Who are the students?
How many students? How many teachers? The number of kids matters as much as student to teacher ratio. A 8 student class with 1 teacher (8:1 ratio) feels very different from a 16 student class with 2 teachers (8:1). And a 24 kid class is really different from a 6 kid class no matter the ratios.
What is the age range of the class? Some parents prefer that all the kids be as close as possible in age, but many programs tout the benefits of multi-age classrooms. The oldest kids have a chance to lead and mentor, and the younger ones benefit by the presence of an older role model.
What are the cut-off dates for age? Your child will do best when they’re in the middle of the recommended age range. If your child is a fall baby (born in September or October), I do NOT recommend trying to push them ahead… if they’re the youngest child in their class, they’ll always feel small, slow, and socially behind, even if they can keep up academically. Let them be the oldest – it’s a confidence booster. If they need more academic challenge than their classmates, most teachers are happy to give extra challenges to kids who can handle it.
Who are the teachers?
Training and experience: Where and how did they learn the content that they are teaching in the class? Where did they learn about how to teach? Do they participate in continuing education?
Longevity / turnover. As a general rule, the longer the teachers have been there the better. (Unless you get the sense that they’re burned out and only there due to inertia….)
Do they enjoy kids? Do they sit on the floor with the kids, smile, and engage with them? Or are they standing on the edges talking to other adults, occasionally calling out instructions to a child?
How do they handle discipline?What are their rules and how do they reinforce them?
What is the learning environment like?
Is the environment clean? Safe?
Is there a wide range of materials and supplies? Are materials in good condition?
Vibe: The most important thing you’re “looking” for is something you can’t see. How does it feel? Is it warm, nurturing, full of exciting learning experiences, and full of happy children and teachers? Or is it cold, institutional, uninvolved?
What is the parent experience?
OK, now it’s time to go back to social media with specific questions: “We’re trying to decide between X School and Y School. We’d love to connect to parents who have recent experience with them – we’re especially curious about _____.”
Step 5 – Go With Your Gut
We know from the science of brain development that children learn best when they feel safe and are happy, so look for a place where they will be happy and engaged. Look for a place where you would feel great every time you drop them off to spend time there. Our family has been lucky to participate in some schools where I just felt blessed to have found that environment for my child.
So, all the steps above are logical and focus on practical evaluations. But I think this final decision point often comes down to what feels right to you? That’s the best school.
My full post on Questions to Ask includes more info about play-based learning, teacher-led vs. child-led, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, forest kindergartens, academic preschools, and more.
And just a quick plug… I teach for the Bellevue College Parent Education program – we sponsor great cooperative preschools! I teach for our parent-toddler program and I teach a Saturday STEM enrichment class. If you’re local, check us out!