Thursday, May 29, 2014

Your "Not Bummer Summer" List of Family Friendly Activities


The kids will soon be out of school, so  it's time to make your very own "Not Bummer Summer List".  Have you seen the movie, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer?  If not, it's a great idea for inspiration and you can watch it with the kids.  Before you use my list, you might ask the kids to jot down a few of their own ideas.

I'm going to give you a pretty long list of ideas that we use in the summer.  Some of them are indoors.  Most are outdoors.  Many are at the parks and will keep your kids engaged in learning and staying active.  If you are a working parent, hand this list over to your summer caregiver.  You can always see if there are still spots open for summer camps too.

The first stop we make is to the neighborhood store to stock up on a supply of summer fun stuff we can use at home or bring with us to the parks: water toys and balloons, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and sand pails & shovels.  Sometimes we add face paints and art supplies to the list.  For additional very cool for kid stores- check out Fischberger's Variety Store, Winkies, or Art Smart's Dart Mart.  Fischberger's has toys, games, books, and crafts.  Art's has kites, frisbees, and golf discs.  Winkie's has a selection of toys, games, and outdoor fun stuff in the basement.

Get up early to watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan from any of the beachfront parks.  If you pair this with donuts, the kids will willingly get out of bed.

Try nite glow golf.

Go to Doyne (9 holes) or Lincoln (18) golf course for a round of foot golf, played with soccer balls.

Look for fossils at Estabrook Park along the river.  They are embedded in the large rocks near the river walkway, so you won't need any tools.

Bike the Oak Leaf Trail.

Jog along the lakefront trail.

Find the tiny doors in Humboldt Park.

Learn to unicycle at Red Arrow Park with MSOE students who provide unicycles and give free lessons.

Join the outdoor yoga class at Bayshore Town Center in the square on Saturdays 8-9:30.

Ride the trolley downtown.  Get off at Juneau park and admire the view of the lake.  Check out Solomon Juneau's cabin in the park.

Get the Oak Leaf Discovery Tour Passport and get stamps for every park you visit this summer.

Ride one of those super cool family bikes at Milwaukee Bike & Skate, Veteran's Park.  They also have tandems, in-line skates, go carts and reclining trikes.  There is something for all abilities.

See the flowers, waterfall, and outdoor spaces at Boerner Botanical Garden.  Then go to the basement and check out the children's library and the historical exhibit of Milwaukee Parks.

Fly a kite at Veteran's Park.  If you don't have one you can get one at Gift of Wings near the lakefront there.

Go have a family friendly fish fry or brunch at Hubbard Park Lodge.

Visit what may be the oldest building in the US at Marquette University- Joan of Arc Chapel

Kayak the Milwaukee River.

Go fishing.

Climb to the top of Kilbourn Reservoir Park for a stunning view of the city.  Or climb the wooden tower tucked away in the woods at Schlitz Audubon Center.

Borrow a dog and go to Lynden Sculpture garden dog days or one of the county dog parks.

Try skateboarding at Abendschein City Skate Park in Oak Creek.

Let your kids perform on a stage.  Kadish Park has an amphitheater on the hill.  Lake Park has the summer stage in picnic area #3.  As long as it isn't being used for an official event, you can use it.  Then there's the Peck Pavilion right on the river downtown.  Have your video camera or smart phone ready to make them stars!

See a live performance at Marcus Center's summer program Kidzdays in Milwaukee.  Free shows with live performers are on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays throughout summer at 10 am at Kidzstage.

Visit the Domes on Mondays from 9-12 with an ID showing you are a Milwaukee county resident and get in for free.

Do the Monuments & Statues tour in downtown Milwaukee.

Visit a community garden like Alice's Garden or tour Growing Power.  It's fun for kids to see food grow. If you have space and time, plant your very own garden.

Help turn the compost piles with Kompost Kids every weekend.  See how many worms you can find.

Walk the labyrinth or participate in a drum circle at Alice's Garden.

Visit the UWM Manfred Olson Planetarium for a Friday show.  Then go look at the stars.

Take a hike.

Disc golf.

Try a different park than you usually visit.  There are nearly 200 parks in the Milwaukee county area when you consider county, village, state, and city parks.  There isn't one comprehensive list that includes all of them, but this link will certainly get you started.  If you have a smart phone, download 'Oh Ranger, Park Finder' and it will show you parks nearby using the phone's GPS.  Be sure to see Cass Street Park if you have a budding artist in your family.  The colorful sculptures by local artist Marina Lee are sure to inspire.

Visit a Beer Garden for music, brats and enormous pretzels.  This year there's a traveling beer garden too with Sprecher's products.

Go to one of the many playgrounds.  Put Possibility Playground in Port Washington at the top of the list.

Stroll the River Walk and take your photo with the Bronz Fonz.  Find the bronze duck and admire the kids' art tiles on the walkway.

Browse American Science & Surplus.  You're sure to find something for outdoor science fun.

Visit the Milwaukee County Zoo.  Bring quarters so you can feed the goats and use the foot massage chairs.     If you want a day trip option, there's the smaller Racine Zoo.  The playground is fantastic and you can actually get right up close to the kangaroos.  At either place, a picnic lunch is a good option.

Drop your kids off at a free playground program in Milwaukee sponsored by Milwaukee Recreation.  Kids get supervised activities at a number of sites, and you don't need to preregister.  They also have a list of splash pads on the same link.

Pick your own berries or veggies at a farm near you.

Skip rocks at Whitefish Bay's Big Bay Park, Klode,  or South Milwaukee's Grant Park where there are plenty of rocks at the beach.

Join a river clean-up or another environmentally friendly activity with Milwaukee Environmental Consortium or do it on your own.

Check out one of the amazing nature centers in our area- Schlitz AudubonWehr, Havenwoods State Forest, and Hawthorn Glen..  You can borrow a backpack with some fun books to help you experience nature, or try one of the programs they offer.

Check out the reptiles at any of the Urban Ecology Centers. Riverside Park and Menomonee Valley have secret slides!

Bring your old books and swap them at a little free library at the children's play area in Kletzsch park or South Shore Park.  The kids can play on the playground while you relax with a good book.

Enjoy a free outdoor concert in the park.  There are simply so many to choose from.  You can find live music nearly every night of the week!  And don't forget Bayshore does a weekly lunchtime concert too so the kiddos can dance and splash.  For the evening concerts, the splash pad is closed.

Watch an outdoor movie at the park.  Or go to the $2 kids' movies at Marcus Theaters at 10 am on select days during the week.

Go for a swim at Atwater Beach.  Relax.  There are lifeguards.  There's some very cool play equipment at the beach level.  The stairs are quite a workout too.

Build a sand castle or bury each other in the sand.  Our favorite place for this is McKinley Park because they have a little snack bar for popsicles, and it's close to Colectivo for frozen coffees and snacks!

Visit a Farmer's Market.  My favorite is South Shore or Cathedral Square on a Saturday morning.

Go to a nature themed story hour at Havenwoods or an evening fireside program at Wehr Nature Center.

Get an ice cream, frozen yogurt, or custard- there are so many choices you could go to a different place every week- Kopps, Culver's, Leon's, Dairy Queen, Northpoint Custard, or Purple Door Ice Cream.

Make some art at one of the parks when the AWE Art truck studio comes to visit.

Make chalk art pictures all over your driveway or sidewalk.

Have a lemonade stand for a cause.

Visit a local cemetery.  I know this sounds weird but I never met a kid who didn't love the experience.  There are some really old graves of Milwaukee's founding fathers and beer barons at Forest Home Cemetery.  You can download the history and take it with you. Be sure to stop in at the halls of history to see photos and read about the people buried there.

Splash at the Square at BayShore Town Center.  Free towels are provided at the towel trolley as long as you have an ID card with you for deposit.  Click on their link to see other events throughout the summer.

Go tour the North Point lighthouse at Lake Park and be sure to take photos of the kids on the lion bridge.

Climb the rock wall at the Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center.  They have a free climb once a month.

Go to the top of the MSOE Grohmann museum to see the views and the statue garden.  There are vending machines in the basement for snacks so you can have a rooftop picnic.

Check out the Holton Bridge Swing Park.  Fun even in the rain!

Have a picnic at any park.  Many parks no longer have hot coal barrels, so you may want to keep it cold.  You can pick up deli sandwiches at Koppa's Fulbeli Deli and treat the kids to the weirdness.

Rent a pedal boat, stand up paddle board, or kayak at Veteran's Park.

Swim at one of the neighborhood waterparks or pools.

Do some nature photography.  Any park and any camera will work for this.

Have a duck race outdoors at Colectivo in Bay View.  Look for the waterfall on the side of the building.  The bakery inside is fun to watch too.

Try geocaching.  You just need a GPS device or a smart phone with an app for geocaching.  Many of the county parks have caches.  There's a unique Milwaukee tour for geocaching that takes you to many different neighborhoods where you'll find caches.  You can even download a passport and earn a coin upon completion.  Havenwoods State Park has a geocache tour that takes you through the park's history, and you can use their equipment for free!

Take a day trip to Bookworm Gardens a free activity garden in Sheboygan,  Little Americka amusement park in Marshall, or even Bay Beach amusement park in Green Bay.  Other fun day trips include Cave of the Mounds, Old World Wisconsin, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

Lastly, check out the Miltown Moms site for more current events and their awesome weekend top 5 lists.  Take some pictures of you and your family having fun and make a photo book at the end of summer!

If you need some additional resources, stop at Havenwoods State Park and ask for the Sierra Club Kids' Guide to the Outdoors.  It's free and includes detailed information about 4 counties worth of parks.  Or go to the Wehr Nature Center to get the Oak Leaf Birding map, which includes a variety of birds and details about some of the parks in Milwaukee county.    There are 2 nature books written by Ken Keffer and Stacy Tornio, both Wisconsin authors.  Ken works at Wehr Nature Center and Stacy is an editor at Birds & Blooms magazine.  The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book:  448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up, and We Love Nature!: A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors.  Both of these books are sold at Wehr Nature Center.  You can get a Milwaukee by Bike map at most bike shops.  If you need a map that includes all Milwaukee county parks, stop at a golf course and ask for the latest golf map.

Hope this gives you some food for thought.  I'd love to see your photos and hear about your summer experiences!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Boerner Botanical Gardens- Flowers and More




I've been to Boerner Botanical Gardens many times, but had never fully explored the building.  Of course you expect it to be a place with nice flowers and trees, but there is so much more!

When you enter the building, be sure to go downstairs and check out the historical photo display of the county parks.  You can learn what many Milwaukee forefathers did, in order to be remembered by having parks named after them.  You will also see what Washington Park looked like when it was a zoo.  Maybe you want to see how the parks looked with horses on the parkways?  It's all there and is quite interesting.

Display boards show black and white photos with commentary about the history of our parks
There's also a library with sections for children's books, garden catalogs, and all types of books about plants.  Spend some time with your kids browsing the selection of nature books and sit for a while on a hot day to share some stories.  You'll find plenty of inspiration.  Be sure to take a look at the giant sized scrapbook including hundreds of newspaper articles from the 40s about what took place in Milwaukee parks long ago.  If you find the downstairs restrooms, you will see an extraordinary display above your head that shows what the roots of plants look like.  
Children's section of nature books

Parks scrapbook

Library with books on every imaginable gardening topic


This is spring and the tulips are in full bloom.  Even if you saw last year's display, you'll find this is different.  They are good about creating something new each season.  I loved the orange array of tulips the best.  You can also sit outdoors and enjoy something to eat and drink, including espresso coffee drinks.  The cafe is open from 10-2 daily with indoor seating too.  All of the salads and most of the sandwiches are pre made, but the staff can make a fresh panini or heat up your sandwich selection.  If you sit outdoors, you'll see the brand new sculptures- earth, wind, and fire in the peony garden.
Tulips everywhere in many colors

You can become an individual member for as little as $35 per year which includes unlimited visits to the gardens, as well as discounts on food, classes, and the gift shop.  If you travel much and enjoy visiting botanic gardens, this will allow free or discounted visits to 300 botanical gardens, including the huge Chicago Botanic gardens and our Milwaukee Domes at Mitchell Park.  They make it easy to purchase on-line.  There are so many wonderful events at the Gardens- guided hikes, gardening classes, and concerts.  Take a peek at the calendar of events to see what's on this month, and plan a visit soon.

Take a Hike!

Entrance to the wooded trail at Jackson Park
 I'm working on losing that winter weight that seems to hit me every year, so I thought it would be a good time to check out a few of the hikes shown on the Park People website.  These hikes are created by  Brian Russart, the parks natural areas coordinator and his crew.  As I write this, there are nearly 30 hikes in various county parks.  If you click on the link, you'll find a list of parks, and when you select a park, an aerial map comes up with detailed drawings of multi-use trails, current hiking trails, and potential future trails.  These are printable, so you can take them with you to the park.

I decided to do Jackson Park first because I had never been there.  It was easy to spot the trailhead near the woods because of the large brown sign.  I had read in the Oak Leaf Birding Trail map that I might see some wildflowers in springtime, and I did indeed find some!  The trail itself was wet and muddy, so if you go this week, you may still need some sturdy shoes.  It can be easy to veer off the main path and end up on what may be deer paths.  Do be aware that this woods, and some of the others in our parks contain poison oak and ivy, so it's a good idea to wear long pants and avoid touching the plants as you walk off the trails.  There are some good signs on this particular board that show you what to look for.  I've included a couple of wildflower photos to inspire you to get out to Jackson Park.


Jacobus Park is another park I visit in springtime because of the wild flowers.  There are many trails there, but the one I've taken most often with my son Omar is the nature trail, just off the playground, which has interpretive signs.  It's not very long so it's easily done with children.  It's also stroller accessible.

Jacobus Park interpretive trail sign

If you need a little more motivation or enjoy hiking with friends, Wehr Nature Center has weekly hikes at 10:30 on Wednesdays, called "Hike for Health".  You can also pick up a copy of the Oak Leaf Birding Trail map here at the Center.   This is a unique hiking area because some of it is through wetlands.  You may see waterfowl, wildflowers, turtles, and all kinds of songbirds.  Often the staff naturalist is on hand to tell you what you are seeing or can help identify plants and animals.  The five miles of trails are also easily marked so you can do them on your own.  We like the boardwalk trail through the wetlands, or the hike from the nature center to the waterfall.  Parking is $3 if you come by car, though there isn't a cost for the organized hikes and you don't have to preregister.  Meet in the nature center lobby.

Omar runs through the wetland trail on the boardwalk
One of my favorite hikes is Seven Bridges trail  in Grant Park, and this is definitely the best time to go if you like seeing woodland trillium in bloom.  Park at the entrance to the Covered Bridge and walk down the steps to follow the creek.  This will give you access to the beach as well, where you can walk the length of beach and end up at the bath house.  If you continue, you can make it a circular hike back to the parking lot at the bridge via the paved Oak Leaf Trail.  I've often seen deer in this area.
Trillium in bloom
There's a great paperback book, written by Kevin Revolinski, Best Easy Day Hikes: Milwaukee Guide Book.  You can pick up the book for about $5 on Amazon.  The complete list of hikes is available for review at the book link.  It was this book that got me hooked on hiking in the area.

Wherever you decide to go, I hope you will get out and do a little hiking this spring.  There's something to see in so many of the parks right now. It feels good after such a long winter.