Somerville, Mass – I’ve been traipsing around the lower New England states to update the Lonely Planet USA guide. This big book covers a lot of territory, so we can’t give too much attention to any one place (in the book or on the ground). For that reason, I’ve been traveling quickly, covering whole towns in a day or less. And I’ve been traveling alone (with a few exceptions).
Of course, I have come across a handful of places where I really wished I was traveling with the twins. Here’s my checklist of places to return with kids in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Western Mass.
Springfield Museums, Springfield, Mass. The centerpiece of this Museum Quadrangle is the Doctor Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden, a tribute to Springfield’s most beloved native son. That alone makes this an ideal picnic stop. But it’s also surrounded by two art museums, a science museum and a history museum (and–coming in 2016–a museum dedicated to The Amazing World of Doctor Seuss!). Of particular interest (to my kids anyway): a massive collection of samurai armor and weapons; an excellent Art Discovery Center, where kids can try on costumes and make their own art; GameLand, an exhibit dedicated to–you guessed it–games; and some two dozen Indian Motocycles, manufactured here in Springfield.
Eric Carle Museum, Amherst, Mass. This is mostly an art museum, celebrating the diverse and delightful genre of picture book art. This is artwork that’s guaranteed to grab the attention of little people–at least for a while. And when that attention runs out, there’s an inspiring hands-on art studio, where visitors are encouraged to find their own artistic expressions.
Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass. The Symphony? Why not? The performances are outside, so there’s no need to sit still. Also, for daytime weekend concerts and rehearsals, Tanglewood has a Kids’ Corner, with special activities to engage the little ones while they listen. Other events throughout the summer include family concerts, instrument playgrounds and special “watch-and-play” discussions aimed at kids.
Roger Williams Park & Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island. There are many things to love about this giant park. Did you know the land was donated by the great-great-great-granddaughter of Roger Williams? Also, the park offers many options for wearing out your little people, including the Hasbro Boundless Playground (specifically designed to accommodate kids with special needs). The Roger Williams Zoo is one of the oldest in the country and arguably the best in New England.
Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut. All around New England, there are small art museums with excellent collections: private collections, university collections, etc. The Florence Griswold Museum is one of them, on the site of a former artists colony on a picturesque bend on the Connecticut River. It stands out for its children’s programming, which includes all kinds of activities and scavenger hunts to engage young people, eg, “Can You Find Me?” cards, which encourage the kids to look for details in the paintings on exhibit. On Sunday afternoons, the museum provides paints, brushes and canvas so kids (and adults) can paint their own pictures.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut. This place is packed with stuff to capture a kid’s imagination: dinosaurs, mummies, dioramas, etc. The Discovery Center is specially designed for kids age 5 to 12, with loads of up-close and hands-on stuff. When they say, hands-on, they mean it (even the 100-million-year-old fossil!). Kids can spy on ants hard at work in the live ant colony, try to find the poison dart frogs hiding under the leaves, and watch giant silk moth caterpillars eating.