On Parenting: A bucket list for summer with kids

May 21, 2014

Jessica McFadden, author of the blog A Parent in Silver Spring, joined On Parenting editor/writer Amy Joyce to talk about great stuff to do with your kids over summer vacation.

Good morning, all. Are you like us, already dreaming of your long summer ahead? Even if you're stuck going to the office while your kids play (ahem), you are certain to break out of the usual routine and try a few new things. Joining us today is Jessica McFadden of the blog A Parent in Silver Spring. And me, Amy Joyce of OnParenting. Between us, we've got five kids and many years in the area. We're ready for your questions and suggestions. Bring them on!

What is your personal favorite DC landmark? Would you recommend taking families?

JESSICA: I still get a thrill seeing all of the monuments! But I have to say I am not thrilled trekking to all of them in the heat with visiting family, or searching for non-existent parking near them. I love to take visitors on a DC monuments cruise along the Potomac. The ones that leave from the Georgetown and Alexandria docks are great because they leave every 15 and are of course, close to dining and shopping. This is my favorite way to see the Lincoln, the Jefferson, the Washington and more beautiful landmarks. 

If we don't want to go into DC, what other fireworks can you recommend off the National Mall?

AMY: There are a lot of options. One is the Frederick July 4th celebration that the Weekend section mentioned in its good cover story about things to do this summer. Um, bathtub races? Pony rides? And then, of course fireworks. Sounds like a wonderful day in Mayberry.

JESSICA: My kids have never been able to stay awake for the fireworks, so we usually do the morning parades. The Palisades and Takoma Park have awesome ones. 


What are your favorite places for summer berry picking with kids? Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. Thanks!

AMY: We're partial to Homestead Farms. There are hayrides and animals. But their strawberries aren't ready yet. We got a great supply of blueberries there last year, and then had baking projects galore. (We really like to head to Stribling Orchard in the fall. It's a beautiful drive and they have baked good to die for. Tuck that one away for after summer.)

JESSICA: We also love Larriland Farms right across the Howard/Montgomery County line-- the strawberries should be ripening very soon!  They post daily updates on the crops all summer at PickYourOwn.org. In NoVA, I like Hartland Farm in Markham because they use minimal pesticides (yup, I am one of *those* moms...)

I love to support local businesses. Where can you find the best non-chain ice cream around the city?

AMY: I, too, love to support local business, and let's admit it, eat ice cream. The Going Out Guide has a best of list, but a few of the places have closed, like, unfortunately, Max's Best. Sigh. Where else do you all like to go? 

JESSICA: We are big fans of Moorenkos in Silver Spring -- they also have an ice cream factory which is a great field trip option! And Dolci Gelati in Takoma Park is a glorious obsession. 

I want to try to explore one new park a week with my kids this summer, in an attempt to bust out of the same-old, same-old. Can you recommend some parks in the DC Metro area that are awesome for kids?

AMY: Do you mean playgrounds? Palisades has one that I haven't tried yet but plan to this summer, just off of Canal Road. I hear good things. We love Clemyjontri. And the playground/park behind Beauvoir is amazing. (Zip line, slides, major climbing structures and an astroturf field.) You can't beat the parks and trains at Cabin John or Wheaton Regional. (And Cabin John's playground is tucked among tall, shady trees, so it's always nice and cool.) There is a train at Burke Lake Park and Watkins Regional. And Glen Echo has a beautiful carousel.

JESSICA: Dorky mom alert: My kids and I play a game in the summer called find a new park. We play around with the county park listings, look at the pictures and head there on an adventure. I like how on the Montgomery County Parks directory you can search by amenities -- playgrounds, nature centers, trails, dog parks, spraygrounds and more!  

We're not doing much this summer, so we thought we'd try for a night or two at a local DC hotel. Can you recommend a family-friendly hotel in good location?

JESSICA: We love doing DC hotel getaways. Although not directly in DC, we had a blast spending a weekend at the Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria. They have all these special touches for kids like a family happy hour with games and snacks every night, nightly "dive in" movies at the pool, special welcome gifts and goodies for kids at check-in and loads of family amenities. We took the ferry over to DC and also explored all the family stuff in Old Town. 

Are there any special summertime volunteering opportunities for families that you know of?

JESSICA: Love this idea! Summer is a great time, without the constant call of homework, to make volunteering with kids a (fun) priority. I just wrote for On Parenting about the DC Diaper Bank's options for families and kids to help out. Big kids can help the adults count and bundle diapers. Little ones can play with the on-site toys!  You can get a little more info in the piece here.

AMY: Would love to hear from the readers on this as well. So much depends on the ages of the children.

My DD's friends are amazed that she can really cook. Teach your kids how to cook. Buy a waffle iron and make waffles (Eggos, ick!) Homemade spaghetti sauce Quick Breads and Cakes Yeast Bread Rolls Learn how to cut up a whole chicken!!!! How to Roast a Chicken Make a fantastic salad. Last days of BBQ on the grill, we grill hotdogs and freeze them and then eat them the week of Thanksgiving to give us a bite of summer

AMY: I completely agree. My boys love to make bread and homemade pasta with their dad -- it's like an engineering project/Play Doh time. And then they get to eat their creations. And of course they like to bake sweets. "Can I just have one TEEEENY chocolate chip? Please?" (Repeat, repeat until their mouths are lined in chocolate.)

We had our kitchen redone this winter in the midst of the snow storms. That was the worst part of the construction: not having the ability to have a cooking project with the boys.

Also, summertime = lemonade stands. Have them make it from scratch.

I am expecting our second child in early August, but I want to make this a memorable and enjoyable summer for my 2 year old daughter. Can you recommend any great toddler activities targeted towards a 2 year old that are also pregnant-mom friendly? Thanks!

AMY: Everyone will be looking at you with pity. Sorry for that in advance! Since your toddler is only two, you don't have to go all out. She will be thrilled to splash around at a spray park while you cool off your own swollen feet. I mentioned Yards Park and the Georgetown park. You could also do something as simple as the Silver Spring fountain. Go to the Mall and hit the carousel and a cool museum. Take her to Glen Echo's carousel and a puppet show.  The zoo is always a hit, but try for a cooler day (and make sure to stop under the misters). There is so much a two-year-old will love, so pick something that suits you, too.

JESSICA: You are a rockstar mom! I suggest anything with a train. It's a win-win: you get to keep off your feet and your two year old will be in heaven! Cabin John, Wheaton Regional, Watkins Regional, the National Wildlife Visitor Center Patuxent Research Refuge tour. My kids and I also loved taking a DC Ducks tour - it was cool and quirky. Best of luck and congrats!

What are your favorite free activities for families during the summer months?

JESSICA: How long do you have??? I have compiled a list on my mom blog A Parent in Silver Spring -- 10o Things to Do with Kids in DC -- lots of these are free.

At the beginning of summer I am always super ambitious about heading on day trips, signing up for tours, Metroing in to museums and monuments. 

By summer's end, I just want to get out of the house and do something cool and easy, like watch my kids splash at a sprayground or walk around a nature center. 

Probably the most iconic free thing you can do in DC is schedule a private tour of the US Capitol with your member of Congress. I recommend contacting your Senator's office because they have a ton of interns in the summer to give you and your kids the VIP experience. He or she will show you lots of things you will not see on the public tour. And you will skip the long summer tourist lines! 

Have you guys checked it out? This is on our bucket list! -- Kathleen Peter

AMY: I haven't, but we probably will this summer. It doesn't open until this weekend. I am a bit of a National Harbor skeptic, and I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the parking (and the cost of parking). BUT -- the kids have really enjoyed it. We did the Children's Museum there this winter during the bad weather, which is more of a big play area. They really had fun and spent more than two hours there. The Awakening, which I liked in its old spot, (am I sounding cranky?) still entrances them. And now a Ferris wheel. However, as mentioned in the Weekend piece last week, it's $15 for a 15-minute ride, so we won't be hopping over there all the time.

(It looks like Jessica has a different opinion than I do of National Harbor. Love that!)

Hi. I have two rather elderly but rather mobile parents who will be staying in DC for the summer. What should we make sure to do that will please everyone (two kids, 7 and 5), and not be too boring for or hard on the over 75-crowd? We've done the usuals: zoo, museums, etc. Anything you can think of that everyone will like? thanks. I'm okay driving a distance, too.

JESSICA: I love a day spent at Glen Echo. If the grandparents like theatre, they will be thrilled right along with the kids at the Adventure Theatre MTC's productions. Pinkalicious is the play this summer. You can also enjoy the carousel, playground, tour the artists in residence, and even grab lunch at the Irish In.

AMY: So my goal this summer is to actually get the kids and my dad (who is not rather elderly, if he's reading) to Jazz in the Garden one evening. The kids will be excited to be outside and dad loves jazz. Good combo, right? We also hope to make it out to Shenandoah for a hike/picnic. Best idea? Ask the grandparents what's on their want-to-do list.

What are the area's hidden gems that are little known spots for tourists that locals can enjoy without the crowds even in the summer?

JESSICA: The Holy Grail! Try museums off of the National Mall like The Phillips Collection, the Textile Museum, Hillwood Estate and Garden.

If you have little kids, get in the car and go to the Udvar-Hazy outpost of Air and Space. History fanatics will actually see more planes and rockets than downtown, and kids can run and run. 

And I love National Harbor Amy! We like taking the ferry on the water, and The National Children's Museum and the Awakening in its new place is now a big sandbox. We go early for street parking. Try the area over by Elevation Burger (yum!). And don't forget to get free treats at the Peeps store. (Sorry, it's lunch and I skipped breakfast!) 

What would you suggest as great local spots for hiking with kids especially for hot summer days?

JESSICA: An easy, totally shaded hike is Roosevelt Island. For more slightly more experienced hikers and those willing to drive, Cunningham Falls is stunning. 

What venue would you recommend for family-friendly concerts for families?

JESSICA: We are big fans of Strathmore's summer outdoor concert series. Very family-friendly, our little kids have loved attending and they revel in the thrill of staying up a little late. And Strathmore's Backyard Theater for Children begins in June! On Thursday mornings in summer, you and your kids can see some of the country's leading children's performers like Recess Monkey. 

And Fort Reno should be releasing their concert dates soon - this venue is great to attend with teens, as well as kids of all ages. Show 'em Mom and Dad are cool. 

I published that before we offered up summer concerts in Virginia. Mari-Jane Williams recommends Wolf Trap -- they also have kids theater during the day. It's a very pretty venue. Anyone else? let us know.

FWIW, the Textile Museum is closed, and transitioning to a new permanent home at GW.

JESSICA: Thank you! Sorry about that. I will miss the Dupont Circle location. 

True or false: The DC July 4th fireworks are a must-attend for families.

AMY: TRUE. But with a lot of "buts." I'd wait until the kids are a little older and can walk themselves and not get lost in a crowd easily. Don't know if you've heard, but it gets a little crazy downtown. But you live here and it's the fireworks in the Nation's Capital. You must do it at least once. It's busy, hot, crowded and, well, magnificent. Plan ahead as far as timing, Metro, food, places to sit. And let yourself just expect that it will be a bit chaotic, that the Metro will be more crowded than you've ever seen it, and that you'll be sticky sweaty. And then kick back and enjoy.

JESSICA: FALSE-ish. I would not want to do it with kids that need to hold hands. I cannot stand the packed Metro home or sitting in two hours of traffic afterwards. I much prefer a suburban viewing of fireworks from the bench of a high school stadium. But I don't mean to be a party pooper -- I got engaged on the Mall on the 4th! I'll take the kids when they are older. 

Not sure of how far out you want to go, or what kind of ice cream you're looking for, but I had the best chocolate malt shake of my life at Petersons in Clifton, VA.

AMY: Great suggestion. Mari-Jane, she of Virginia, also recommends Carl's in Fredericksburg, which is an institution for homemade softserve. Um, anyone else suddenly famished?

The Franciscan Monastery in Northeast has, I believe, a replica of the Holy Land. Monks are on hand to provide guidance, and of course there's a lovely garden too.

AMY: Oh, the gardens. Yes, they are beautiful. It's a really nice space to go check out. Do it.

Have you found a tour or museum room in our area that totally rocks for kids?

JESSICA: After years of acting as my kids' museum tour guide, I have realized that we all have a great time leaning on the pros. I love to check out the Smithsonian events calendar and glom on to one of their special tours or activity/tour combos for families. We have experienced excellent programs this way and learned in an interactive way this mom never could have provided from simply reading aloud the exhibit card! 

One of my most fond memories of childhood is time spent at summertime fairs, festivals, church bazaars, small neighborhood festivals, you name it. However, I grew up in PA so I wonder if there are any local, DC Metro must-attend fairs or festivals in the summer?

AMY: The Montgomery County Fair is a big one. Carnival rides, animals, demolition derbies. It has it all. It's from Aug. 8-10. Others?

JESSICA: The Maryland State Fair is huge and awesome for elementary school kids who can really do a whole day. Start early in the animal barns and exhibits and then do the midway until your cash (and patience!) run out. 

Montgomery County has a TON of libraries each with its own feel and children's program directors. Do you have a favorite?

AMY: We love the library. We frequent the Chevy Chase DC library (which has a good but unshaded playground), and the Tenleytown one, which was recently updated. It's a good option to stay cool this summer. You're right: Just like neighborhood playgrounds, each one has its own feel.

What are some of your must-see, hidden gems of the DC Metro area for families?

AMY: Mari-Jane Williams and I both did our bucket lists for the summer. She lives further out, I'm in the city. So I think we have a decent mix.

One more thing I need to mention: East Potomac Park. I took my older son there when he turned 5, and he had a blast.  Sure, it's a little tired, but there's a driving range with great views of planes taking off from National (go to the upper deck so it looks like your balls go further), a pool, a miniature golf course and a grill for lunch. We go back to use the driving range from time to time, but you really can make almost a whole day out of it.

What are your favorite pools? Preferably in Northern Virginia!

AMY: There are so many! Here's a good list.

What are your favorite day trips for families that get us a little out of the city but don't require an overnight?

AMY: Well, you could go to the city next door. Baltimore has a ton of fun for families. We love the American Visionary Art museum, which always has something wacky and fun that holds their interest. We're hoping to, er, hit the Babe Ruth museum this summer.  And of course, the Aquarium and Maryland Science Center. That said, we're also very partial to Virginia day trips. Have you tried Sky Meadows? They are actually having a family friendly country fair this weekend.

Where are the best spots to cool down during a hot, humid summer day?

AMY: Well, besides a nice matinee on a hot day, how about Yards Park? The Georgetown Waterfront Park. A nice walk in Rock Creek Park or hike somewhere like the old standby Billy Goat Trail (though that may just make you sweat more). Museums -- try something different like the Phillips (you'd be surprised how much a child can get out of that place), or the Hirshhorn.

My husband will be traveling a lot this summer leaving me with two very active little boys (ages 2 and 5) to entertain on the weekends. What are some of your favorite spots to take your kids on your own, where the logistics aren't too unwieldy for one parent? A lot of the places you've mentioned are favorites of ours (Udvar-Hazy, Clemyjontri, Beauvoir playground, Georgetown waterfront, Cabin John) but I am always looking for new ideas.

JESSICA: How about free children's performance at the National Theatre for mornings and minor league baseball games for evenings? I love all the kid-centric things the minors' games have for kids like running the bases...and if you don't make it to the end, the low ticket prices make it no biggie. Best thing ever: you can skip cooking and pick up dinner at the ballpark. (OK, it is evident that I am ready for lunch.) 

AMY: Oh, Jessica is so right about those baseball games. We went to Bethesda Big Train last year and the kids loved it -- so did I.

Amy here. I had a blast, as usual, with you all and Jessica, a walking encyclopedia of things to do around D.C. Make sure to check out OnParenting, where we publish parenting content at least once a day. You can also sign up for our parenting newsletter and get the news and features delivered right to your email. See you next week, when we discuss summer reading and kids with Maggie McGuire of Scholastic. You can start asking questions today and we'll get to them on Wednesday!

In This Chat
Jessica McFadden
Jessica McFadden is the author of the popular blog "A Parent in Silver Spring," which suggests fun activities and outings for families.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for OnParenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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