Family Favorites Editors' Picks

 

The merchant down the block

Perhaps household goods are a bit more expensive around the corner; but can a little extra money be justifiably squeezed from the family budget for paper napkins or shoe laces? Light bulbs are a profoundly satisfying purchase for small ones as there is such a clear line between seeing the need, making the effort and completing the task.

 

Coffee shops

Local coffee shops offer all sorts of possibilities for low-key family time. Many provide toys and books for young children, Scrabble and chess for the older crowd (and they might be open to accepting donations from the toy overflow that threatens to take over your closets and family rooms). For the price of a cup of herbal tea--cooled with milk, sweetened with a touch of honey--there can be found a reprieve to both summer doldrums and subzero cabin fever. Perhaps it might be a time to practice restaurant and company manners in a relatively forgiving setting.

 

Newspaper and mail carriers

The morning paper and daily mail are not brought to us by helpful gnomes...the people who come to our homes each day delivering that which keeps us connected to the rest of the world can be wonderful members of a child's life. Much is luck of the neighborhood draw, but it's often worth the effort to establish a contact--notes, homemade gifts or pictures, a "thank you."

 

Local libraries

There are few things that make a child as proud as their own library card. To know they are a part of a larger community and have their own identity separate from their parents is a joyful childhood moment. It is also, of course, an excellent way to begin lessons in responsibility, patience, sharing, and research. And it's mostly a wonderful way to become engaged in the world of books. Be sure to explore the fairy- and folktale sections for a change of pace from Dr. Seuss and Curious George. Stories on CDs and cassettes provide a chance to relax and be entertained without turning on a TV or computer. Each library has family offerings, story hours, computer and research assistance; the children's librarians are especially helpful friends.

Best Way to Wear Out the Kids

Chutes and Ladders climbing structure at Hyland Park Reserve

Bloomington

 

Never underestimate the power of large motor activity. The play area at Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington is the perfect place to bring even the most jaded playground-going kid. Just about the time you've had enough of their crashing through the house, or when it seems the back yard is too small to contain their activity, pile into the car and head to this Hennepin County park. Suggest a game of hide-and-seek or tag and watch from the benches as they make their way to the top then shoot down one of the slides to the bottom. There are climbing variations and slides suited to almost all skill levels, and there is also a play area for the preschool set. Come prepared to provide an escort for little ones to the top.

The Richardson Nature Center, located within sight of the playscape, has restrooms and concessions. The park is also loaded with bike paths, hiking trails, open green spaces, and recreational activities year-round that are worth checking into. In the end, you will take home grubby, worn-out, and contented children.

 

Best Model Railroad

Trains of Bandana Square

1021 E. Bandana Boulevard

(west of Lexington Avenue and
Energy Park Drive)

St. Paul

(612) 642-9676

 

Housed on the second floor of Bandana Square, the Twin City Model Railroad club has constructed panorama of the representing St. Paul and Minneapolis during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. There are passenger trains and freight trains, trolleys and cars at the depot, and plenty of room to lean on the railing and watch the activity.

Volunteers maintain the tracks, keep things running smoothly, and often have a story to tell. Making your way around the room is a peaceful experience, and young children are afforded the opportunity to run ahead without actually getting out of sight.

During the holidays, the exhibit is open later in the evening. Then the room is darkened and the steady activity of the rails after dark reinforces the romance of an era gone by.

 

Best Cure for Blah Days

Minnehaha Falls and Park

48th Street and Minnehaha Parkway

Minneapolis

(612) 661-4806

 

It's easy to take the obvious for granted. When the weather is merely mediocre, when there is a large age-span of people to entertain, when all your budget can handle is the one-dollar parking fee, when everyone is so restless they need to do something but can't think what it might be...head for the falls.

It's one of those outings that can satisfy both grandparent and grandchild. The falls are lovely, impressive, and interesting to watch. There are pathways to wander that cover a moderate distance. If the stairs are too much for some members of the group, the trails lead back to one another in a loop that circumvents the backtracking dilemma. There are places to sit, to play, and to simply stand and watch the water. As the seasons change, so does the temperament of the falls, inviting return trips for comparison's sake. The concession stand sells snacks and ice cream, the pavilion offers a covered picnic area.

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