The 10 Best Outdoor Places to Take Your Kids In and Near Howard County, MD!

The best thing about living in Howard County, MD, in the spring is all the fantastic things to do with the kiddos that are just a hop, skip, and jump away! If you manage to find an opening in your schedule after all the play dates, story times, and toddler classes, here are some pretty fantastic places to soak in the springtime.
 

1. Clark’s Elioak Farm, located at 10500 Clarksville Pike in Ellicott City, opens for the season on April 1, 2017. Clark’s Farm, a 312-acre farm, was purchased by the Clark family in 1927. Martha Clark and daughter Nora Crist have been developing the family cattle as a 100% grassfed since 2006 and sell the beef at their farm stand along with non-GMO pork, and open a produce stand beginning July 1.

In 2002, they opened a petting farm and educational venue that includes goats, pigs, donkey, chickens, emus, sheep, horses, cows, bunnies, etc. My son really enjoys feeding the goats and sheep (bring a quarter!) and getting to go into the pen with the kids (baby goats).

In 2004, Clark’s Farm began the process of moving and restoring storybook attractions from a 1955 amusement park in Ellicott City called The Enchanted Forest, which closed in 1990. In addition to playground features such as a slide, they added a 1 and 1/4 mile maze filled with the characters and attractions called the Pine Tree Forest.

As if this were not enough to keep the kiddos entertained for hours, the farm also offers a hay ride, cow train, and pony rides ($2) and weekly events offered on the weekends. At just $6/person over the age of 1, this farm is my top choice for outdoor places to go in Howard County.

2. Watkins Regional Park, located at 301 Watkins Park Drive in Upper Marlboro, is open year-round, but will also run an antique carousel, train, and miniature golf from May 6 through August 27, 2017.  This huge playground, nature center, and small animal farm would definitely be first on my list given it’s cost of FREE if it weren’t 40 minutes from Columbia!

Watkins Regional Park is absolutely worth the drive. My toddler will spend hours on the Wizard of Oz playground alone. The playground includes animal spring riders, a two story chicken coop with slides, giant xylophones, swings, spinning flower chairs, climbing walls and ropes, play houses, a natural treadmill, a large bouncy tractor, etc. All of this is on a clean rubber mat so you take home none of the mess!

Just behind the Wizard of Oz playground is a trail to the Watkins Nature Center, where you can see the resident live animals close-up, explore hands-on exhibits, and participate in special events. We really enjoyed seeing the small owls they have inside the nature center!

Following the trail behind the carousel and miniature golf will take you to the Old Maryland Farm where you can see bunnies, chickens, peacocks, turkeys, ducks, pigs, goats, llamas, donkey, horses, and cows. You really could spend all day and night (there’s also a campground) at this beautiful park.

3. Wheaton Regional Park (Brochure with map: here), located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, is about 25 minutes from Columbia. I initially learned of Wheaton Regional Park when reading an article about the 50-acre Brookside Gardens and it’s butterfly exhibit, Wings of Fancy (leftmost picture below), which is located in the park. However, Wheaton Regional Park is so much more than a garden.

The garden offers trails, a children’s garden with a play house, plenty of places for picnic, and seasonal events such as the Garden of Lights and indoor train exhibit. The Brookside Nature Center, with it’s own parking lot at 1400 Genallan Ave, offers an indoor tot discovery room (picture right), resident reptiles, and an outdoor natural playground.

On the other side of the park (you can walk or take a 5 minute drive to 2000 Shorefield Road), is the adventure playground, miniature train (picture right), and carousel. The playground is really quite impressive. There are slides as tall as a house. There are things to stand on and spin until you can’t stand, things to climb, and slides that will drop your stomach. And yes, there is a smaller tot playground (picture left) with sandbox for the little ones. I have yet to explore all of Wheaton park in a day, but considering all is free except the butterfly exhibit and rides, we don’t mind going back time and time again!

4. Robinson Nature Center, located at 6692 Cedar Lane in Columbia, offers connections with nature both indoors and out. In the winter, my toddler has enjoyed the tot discovery room, resident reptiles, and exploring the small museum. I look forward to taking him to the planetarium when he gets a little older.

As the weather warms up, Robinson offers great little walking trails and a natural playground for the kids to explore. My son really enjoys the tunnel/slide. Robinson also offers a lot of great programming throughout the year, including story times and nature walks. We are looking forward to participating in their 3-day summer camp this summer! Robinson is $5/adult and $3/ kid over 3 years.

5. Irvine Nature Center, located at 11201 Garrison Forest Road in Owings Mills, is about 30 minutes from Columbia. They offer some really great programming, including Tales and Tails Story Time on Fridays, nature camps, special events, and even a nature preschool for ages 3 to 5. Irvine Nature Center also has a fantastic natural playground with a sandbox. As far as indoor options, they have reptile residents in the nature center, a small children’s area, and a butterfly house that opens in June. Visiting Irvine Nature Center is free.

6. The Hilton Tire Park, located at 1101 Hilton Avenue in Catonsville, is part of the Patapsco Valley State Park and does have a small entrance fee. The park offers a tire park playground, a new play structure, a tire swing, a natural playground with sandbox, and a kids exploration trail with some musical instruments. Of course, being in Patapsco, there are also some beautiful areas for picnic, bathrooms, and lots of hiking. You can walk to the swinging bridge from here in about 20-30 minutes.

 7. The Oregon Ridge Nature Center, located at 13555 Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville is about 45 minutes from Columbia. This nature center holds many large special events and hosts a regular calendar of events, including a bookworm story time once per month. This nature center is really fantastic to visit at any time though. They have a natural playground, walking trails, and resident animals including chickens, birds, turtles, snakes, etc. They have been working on updating their beach area, which is great for swimming in the summer, and is in close proximity to a playground structure (currently difficult to get to with the construction). The nature center is free.

 8. The Howard County Conservancy, located at 10520 Old Frederick Road in Woodstock, is a 20 minute drive from Columbia. There is a very small indoor space with a few reptiles and a corner with toys where the kids can play when there isn’t a class or camp using the room. Outside there is an owl, beehive, goats, and chickens, as well as some beautiful gardens and a natural playground. HoCo Conservancy
 9. Benjamin Banneker Park, located at 300 Oella Ave in Catonsville, is a neat little place to explore nature and history. Just to the right of the building you will find a natural playground that encourages children to use their imaginations on the boat, in the teepee, or in the sandbox. There are trails that will lead you through the woods to the trolley line where you can walk to The Breadery and pick up a delicious pumpkin chocolate chip muffin for your walk back. The Benjamin Banneker Museum is a small space with a bit of local history and a few kids activities.

10. The lakes! Centennial Lake (2.4 mile loop), Lake Elkhorn (1.7 mile loop), Lake Kittamaqundi (1.44 mile loop), and Wilde Lake (1.31 mile loop) are the four largest lakes to check out in Columbia. Centennial and Elkhorn also have great playgrounds for the kids. Wilde Lake has a tot lot with swings and a stream where the kids can play. Lake Kit has some great summer concerts, yoga on the lake, restaurants, and other activities, but no playground. Smaller walks include Jackson Pond or the Font Hill Wetlands.

After a year and a half exploring Maryland, these are my favorite places to get our little guy out in nature. Many thanks to the Columbia Families In Nature group for introducing us to some of these great places!

If you think there is a stellar place I have forgotten, please add a comment below!

Quick and Easy Activities for Your Tot

I could spend hours on Pinterest just perusing and pinning creative ideas that I will probably never make the time to do. Some of the activities for children are so elaborate that I start researching the materials and skill needed and find myself falling short. Take for example this magnetic travel tin… magnetic-traveling-farm-toddler-game-04 I stumbled upon this blog post by Meredith at UnOriginalMom. Let me tell you, she should get the “most crafty mom” award. She laid out the steps she took in her blog post, which went something like this. She purchased a package of DVD tins ($94.75 on Amazon), magnetic paper (13.28 on Amazon), and Etsy clip art ($6). She opened the Etsy images in Photoshop, traced them in Silhouette Studio, and reorganized the images to fit on one page, printed the silhouettes on magnet paper using an electronic cutting machine, had the color copies printed professionally on glossy paper, used Photoshop to crop her background image… Oh gosh, I’m exhausted just reading this.

Maybe I’ll just pour some wine and order one of these travel tins off Amazon for $8-$15.

Then of course, there are the ideas that seem really great until you try them with your child. I can’t tell you how excited I was to make this Homemade Color Book.

homemade-colour-book

I had the idea pinned for months. Finally, after a trip to Home Depot and gathering up all our colored stickers, I sat down to do the project. I had this vision of my son and I sitting side by side talking about the colors and putting the corresponding stickers on together. In reality, he stuck some stickers on his shirt and our floor, then ran away. I pressed on and finished the project while he reorganized his toys around the room. I was still excited, convinced that he would be much more interested in the finished product. That was dashed when he immediately pulled the stickers off and crumpled the cards before throwing them on the floor, and stepping on them. At least it kept him entertained for a minute.

So here I am putting together a list (with images) of the activities I think are practical for us average moms with average budgets and an average amount of time (which with a toddler is basically none).

  1. Putting objects in holes. We have this simple pom pom push activity that my son loves. It only takes a few minutes and minimum dollars to make and has kept my son entertained time and again. I recently came across this option using straws and a grated cheese container over on The OT Toolbox that is pretty fantastic as well. This post on Wildflower Ramblings gives a few more ideas for sorting pom poms and pushing lids through cut outs in a cereal box. PomPomPush
  2. Sponges in water is absolutely my son’s favorite activity at the moment. I put just a small amount of water in a large container and hand him a pile of dry sponges. He likes to watch the sponges expand as they soak up the water and see the water drip down as he squeezes the sponge. I have various colors cut into shapes so we can practice his colors and shapes as well, but you could use any clean sponge cut into tot size pieces. You can add “tools” such as tweezers, chop sticks, or a spoon to have your LO practice picking up the sponges in other ways.IMG_4945
  3. Wrap stuff in foil. Seriously guys. Wrap your kiddo’s toys, wrap books, wrap a kitchen spoon, wrap the cat, all in foil. This seriously takes seconds and pennies to keep the kiddo entertained. I found this idea over here on Munchkins and Moms and I have to say it is pretty fantastic. Foil
  4. Printables! Go for the easy ones, like this caterpillar counting activity, this shape one, or this magnetic clothing printable. Even easier, color yourself a rainbowPrintables
  5. Along the same lines, practice brushing! I quickly drew Elmo, laminated, and gave my son a yellow whiteboard marker and a toothbrush. He loves “brushing Elmo’s teeth.” If you do not have a laminator you could also use these reusable dry-erase pocketsBrush Elmo
  6. Thus far my son has not taken a huge interest in the oh so popular discovery bottles. He has actually preferred shakers (noisy objects in a jar or bottle with no water). However, this oil and water discovery bottle described on Play Trains! adds a science element that might just be enough to capture his interest.Two-Color-Oil-and-Water-Discovery-Bottles-pinI feel like sensory exploration has been hyped up as THE THING you need to do for your toddler. No toddler is complete until they have dug their paws into a container of blue noodles. Here’s the thing, some kids just like to eat their food. I managed to stop Booboo from eating the blue noodles in his bathtub by convincing him they were dead worms, but smashing cereal with a hammer definitely turned into a second snack time. It’s funny, we spend so much time at dinner convincing our children to eat their food rather than play with it, then we sit them down for an activity where we tell them the opposite.
  7. Activities that include science, mixing, and creating have been more positive for us. You can find simple recipes for moon sand, play dough, or play snow to entertain the kiddos without creating food confusion. And if that fails, just let them eat dinner with their fingers.SanDoughSnow
  8. For anyone looking for crafts without having to actually do a craft, I suggest going the old fashioned route with a coloring book, crayons, stickers, stamps, and paint, or these fantastic reusable stickers, which can be used in the book provided or on any window or mirror (great for travel!).

Do you have an easy activity that your little one loves? Please share in the comments below!!

Is social media bringing you down?

I rolled over in bed and immediately picked up my phone to sort through the day’s news while giving my brain a moment to wake up. When I picked up my phone, I felt optimistic about the day, about humanity, about this life we are living. As I scrolled, I felt that shift. I began to worry about the state of our earth. I started to feel frustrated by our politics. I could feel the stress of parenting weighing on me. The diapers, the food battles, the messy house… and I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.

I put down my phone and let the negativity preoccupy my thoughts. That’s when it hit me. Am I sabotaging myself?

I have tried to live by the saying that life is what you make it. Only today did it occur to me that my social media feed is exactly what I have made it. I have followed, liked, and commented on pages and posts about these frustrations in life. I have either gravitated to or actively sought negativity and here it is, showing up day after day, pulling my focus and thoughts away from all that is right.

 

SanFranLC

These are not my intentions. I do not want to choose a negative mind set. I want to improve our planet, not continuously mourn it’s loss. I want to build up the politicians who share my common interests, rather than attack the people whose goals I do not share. And most importantly, I want to bask in my son’s laughter rather than wish away his childhood.

I realized that I need to make a change if my intention is to greet the world with a happy heart each day. I must unfollow the pages that do not align with my intentions. I must tell social media that I no longer wish to see negativity, anger, fear, and criticism in my newsfeed. I realize now that I need to make a conscious effort to seek out opportunities that will support my goals in a positive way.

Sunbeams

Moving forward, I will choose to use my news feed as an opportunity to fill my soul with all things good rather than allowing it to be a black hole that drains my time and energy, and impairs my outlook on life.

 

If you have found a page or resource that you feel has been a positive inspiration for you, please share it in the comments below!