Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blackhawk Car Museum in Danville

Blackhawk Car Museum

When I thought of fun places to take my kids, a car museum did not come up in my mind. Yet when we were invited to attend a tour with a group of kids at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, we agreed to go. My girls enjoy playing with trucks and wheeled toys as much as the next kid, but they aren’t nuts about cars and neither am I. I was therefore, very happily surprised how fun the Blackhawk tour really was.

Our docent was so knowledgeable, and also seemed to really love kids. The museum is beautiful. The cars are spotless and just gleam in their spotlights. Having my littlest one running around this place made me cringe, but our docent was relaxed and encouraging to the kids. She had great stories to tell about the cars, and pointed out some very interesting historical details. Then at the next car, she would ask the kids to look at it a moment, then tell her what they noticed so the kids had a chance to use what they had learned along the way during the tour. The docent did a superb job of keeping the kids engaged.

While anyone who visits the museum can join a docent led tour as part of their museum admission, I don’t know how the routine tours might vary from the one we got that was focused for children. If this is a place you’d like your kids to see, I think it would well be worth taking the extra step and getting a group of kids together and calling ahead to set up a tour special for children.

There was a lot of history in our tour, as well as some very strange looking prototype cars that never went in to production, and the kids loved them all.

Just outside the Blackhawk Museum there is a very pretty little shopping area that also has a small pond, and stream with ducks and a small playground. Luckily, we were not in a rush, so we spent some time there as well. It would have been hard to drag the kids away once they saw it, so you may want to factor this into your planning as well.

As of this writing, the Blackhawk Museum is included in the Discover and Go discounted museum pass program through a number of public libraries. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Take a Bike Ride - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Take a Bike Ride

I often see kids out riding their bike. Sometimes to get somewhere, but more often they’re just riding up and down their street. My kids like doing that as much as the next ones, but when I pull out my bike and ride with them; it always takes the fun up a notch for them.

For starters, they don’t have to stay in front of our hose if I’m riding with them. They can actually go someplace. Maybe it’s just a few blocks up to the park. Even if it’s only to the empty parking lot of the church on the corner, it’s an extra special ride. There’s a fairly busy street between our house and that parking lot, so they don’t get to go there without me. Maybe that alone is enough to make it special.

I can certainly use the extra exercise myself, and riding together is giving me a better chance to help them understand and learn the rules of the road. This can only serve them well later in life, both on their bikes, and later when they are ready for driving. We’ve begun riding more together, and I’m seeing benefits for all of us.

If you ever get the chance to rent one of those big bikes that fit six or more people, go for it. They often have them in touristy areas. We rented one once in Old Sacramento (but I believe that bike rental place is no longer there). Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents and kids all rode it together, and it was a blast. A memory we all still talk about years later. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free and Discounted Museum Passes with your Library Card

Free and Discounted Museum Passes with your Library Card

A program called ‘Discover and Go’ available at libraries all over the bay area offers free or discounted museum passes to tons of great museums around the Bay.

We’ve personally used the Discover and Go program to visit the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkley, and the Lindsay Wildlife museum in Walnut Creek. Both times getting and using the passes was a simple and straightforward process.

We visited our library’s website, found the ‘Discover and Go’ link, then followed the instructions to find the museum we wanted to visit, and chose from the available days.  We printed the pass at home and presented at the admissions desk at each venue. That’s all there was to it.

Some museums have a limit to how many Discover and Go passes you can print each year. Some only offer free or discounted admission for 1 or two people, so if you have a larger family, you would have to see if you’re able to reserve the same date on multiple library cards, or pay for admission for some of the members of your group. Still, it is a really wonderful deal.

I could not find a complete list of participating libraries, but here are at least some of the libraries that offer Discover and Go:

Despite some of the venues being located in Solano County, I was unable to find Discover and Go passes on the Solano County Library website. If someone else finds that information, please share it here in the comments.

I don’t know if, or how often the museums in the Discover and Go program might change, but as of this writing, these are all the wonderful places you can visit with a Discover and Go discount:

Aquarium of the Bay
Asian Art Museum
Bay Area Discovery Museum
Bedford Gallery
Blackhawk Museum
California Academy of Sciences
California Historical Society
California Shakespeare Theater
Charles M. Schulz Museum
Children's Creativity Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
GLBT History Museum
Golden State Model Railroad Museum
Habitot Children's Museum
The Lawrence Hall of Science
Lindsay Wildlife Museum
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
The Marine Mammal Center
Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
Napa Valley Museum
Oakland Aviation Museum
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Zoo
Pacific Pinball Museum
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park
Ripley's Believe it or Not! ODDitorium
Saint Mary's College Museum of Art
San Jose Museum of Art
The Tech Museum
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
USS Hornet Museum
Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read Aloud - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Read Aloud

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of reading aloud to kids. Not just little kids who don’t read on their own yet. All kids. No matter what the age of your child is, read aloud to them. A picture book, a novel, a poem, a news article. Whatever.

In my opinion this should not be a one time, fun thing to do. This is the time to start a habit. If you’d like more inspiration to read aloud to your kids, or want to be convinced about the multitude of benefits that reading aloud to your children can provide, I highly recommend the book “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hap McGee Park in Danville

Hap McGee Park

Hap McGee Park in Danville has everything kids could want: a big playground, a water play area with sprinklers, and a sand pit. As a mom, I loved the shaded picnic tables, and the clean restrooms right next to the play area. If your family includes a dog, they can have fun too at the adjacent dog play yard.

The water play area at Hap McGee isn’t just one or two small spray spouts like many other playgrounds have. This area is designed to get kids wet. Really wet. Swimsuits are necessary, in my opinion. There are big spouts that shoot out from the ground, and tunnel sprinklers that spray a finer mist that the kids can run through.

Right next to the fun water area is a sand pit. There is a stationary digger that kids can use to move sand around. The favorite activity of all the kids in the sand area as I observed, though was to bring buckets full of water over from the sprinklers and pour it into the sand, then dig trenches and mounds designed to create a pathway for the water to flow. Then they would move the sand to get the water to go a different. It was a lot of fun, and I was only watching!

The playground is farm themed, with the play structures in the shape of barns and tractors, with silos and cows to ride on. ON the hot day we were there, the water area was much more popular than the playground, but I imagine that is probably a seasonal preference. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Play Follow the Leader - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Play Follow the Leader

You’d be surprised how much even older elementary kids will get a kick out of playing follow the leader with you. They’ll have fun leading you to do silly things, and they’ll also enjoy copying any silly moves you make. This can be a lot of fun at a park, or just around your own house. More kids can make it even more fun. You don’t have to play for long. I like to play at the park, so I can bow out of the game after just a few minutes, and they can continue without me, or play on the playground. Still, that few minutes is fun, and the kids remember it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading to Dogs at the Library

Reading to Dogs

One of my daughter’s very favorite activities at the library is a program called “Paws to Read”. Volunteers bring their certified therapy dogs to the library, and are paired off with a child, and the child spends 20 to 30 minutes reading to the dog. At our library, the program is not ongoing, but has several sessions throughout the year, and my daughter watches the notices for when a new session is ready to begin to make sure I sign her up for a space.

The idea is that dogs are wonderful listeners. If the child is having difficulty with a word, or read awkwardly, the dog won’t care. It won’t correct them, or be disappointed in any way. Plus, kids love dogs. If your kid does not love dogs, these programs are not for you. They aren’t a way to get kids over a fear of dogs. They are just a way to encourage reading.

I’ve since learned that there are many different, but similar programs all over the bay, run by different groups. The groups I’ve found are:

Paws to Read

I expect there are others as well. If you know of another, please leave a comment. These programs are very popular at all the libraries I’ve seen them offered at. Usually, they are so popular that advanced registration is required to get a reading spot. The dogs and their handlers are all volunteers, and there are just so many to go around.

Various libraries work their dog reading programs in different ways. I mentioned that ours has several sessions throughout the year that usually run for two or three months. Each child can sign up for a maximum of 3 reading appointments during a session. I’ve seen other libraries that have an ongoing program on an assigned day of the week.

Not all libraries have dog reading programs, but they are becoming more popular all the time. I suspect, one of the factors preventing the programs from expanding is the lack of dog and handler volunteers. The dogs have to go through training and certification to be eligible. It’s a big dedication on the part of both the dog and owner to take part in these programs. If you have a friendly dog, perhaps you’d be interested in looking into the requirements at the program links listed above. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Make Pancakes - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make Pancakes

Kids love pancakes. Grownups do to, even if we don’t let ourselves partake that much. Pancakes are also super easy to make, especially if you use a mix. The perfect cooking project for kids to help out with. Obviously, an adult should do the riskier parts, like the actual cooking, but kids can measure and mix, and get the table set up with plates and butter and syrup.

I’ve seen some internet photos of some fancy pancakes, made into interesting shapes. If you’re brave you can try those too for extra fun. I’m lucky to pull off a normal round pancake, and want to make sure to make a pancake my kids will actually have fun eating, so I stick to the traditional.