Here we are again. School has started, and some of us still have little ones to entertain while the big kids go to school.
In my case, both my boys go to a half-day program, and my aversion to being inside our Cape Cod house coupled with my current financial bank statement has motivated me to visit new places that cost little to nothing. When outdoors is not an option, indoor museums and nature centers are great and fun alternatives.
Trailside Nature Center, has become one of my favorite places highlighted in my rolodex of distractions.
Minutes away from Cranford and located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside, Trailside is in Watchung Reservation. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, the Trailside Nature Center is open for free.
Of the three levels, the biggest attraction for my kids was the Discovery Room, where kids use binoculars to view nature outside the big picture window. It offers lots of bins with puzzles, books, blocks and nature-related materials for the kids. It's a great little section to sit and read from books about deer, birds and honeybees.
Editor's Note: When we visited the center the "glowing rocks" section was out of order. There's also a gift store right at the entrance, just to warn you.
If you happen to go to the lower level of the Trailside Nature Center and a lady in a polo shirt starts telling you everything known about the Watchung Reservation, you've probably met Mary. Warm and affable, she'll write directions down for you. Look for the woman at the front desk it your flashlights are woefully battery-less. As for the rest of the staff, I have only had positive experiences here.
Scared of the Dark?
My oldest is, but if yours aren't they might enjoy the Night Theater. Different parts of the theater light up during different parts of the Night Creatures narration.
If you aren't sure how your kid will behave in a movie theater, this could serve as a trial run. Bring a flashlight to scope out the room with your kid beforehand, to assure them there's nothing hiding in corners. Our oldest boy is slowly making progress but we haven't been able to get him to stay in the room for more than a few seconds. We're hoping that he'll be good for "Toy Story 3" next summer. Do you think a 5-year-old will still be into "Toy Story," or do they graduate to "Transformers"?
Events and Programs
A complete listing of fall adult workshops offered by Union County at the Trailside Visitor Center can be seen here: http://www.ucnj.org/trailside/adult%20Fall%202009.pdf
For $10, Union County Residents can take part in a Tuesday Guided Nature Walk and Raja Yoga session. Starting at 7 p.m., a naturalist will lead the evening stroll, followed by some yoga techniques from a certified yoga instructor. I think I'll bring some of my fellow moms to this one. Want to bring a friend from outside Union County? Not a problem, they just have to pay $15.
More to Come
I can go on and on about Watchung Reservation, but I'll save you my babble until next time. I'm really looking forward to seeing their Fall Calendar for Kids which should be out shortly. I'll post an update when it comes out.
Sheila Sayah is a wife and mother of three who regularly blogs about playgrounds on her site, www.njplaygrounds.com.