How do you get kids to learn more about the things to see and do in a new place? How do you familiarize them with public transportation? How do you get them oriented?
Lots of ways probably, but here’s one: kid-led adventures (thanks for the idea Melissasaurus!). Before we moved, I got a Boston travel guide for the kids to browse and told them that when we were settled in they would get to use it to plan some fun weekend outings. The guide included a map of the subway system to consult so that they could include instructions about how to get us all to our destinations. After the first couple of outings, we plan to add an additional layer of complexity: budgeting. We’ll assign them a dollar amount that we can’t exceed during the day.
Basically, this is win-win because even if we got lost we’re learning about a new place. Our first adventure provided a perfect example of this. Here’s the day they planned:
1) The Children’s Museum in the morning, 2) Dim Sum in Chinatown for lunch, 3) back to the Children’s Museum for the afternoon. Pretty straightforward. And it turned out to be a pretty successful day. My daughter was far more interested in the navigation aspects of the day than my son was. In fact, as much as my son was involved with planning the day with his sister while at home on the couch, he had a tough time with leading once we were out and about. In retrospect, it makes sense that a younger sibling might fall back on reliance on the older sibling. That said, I think I’ll try to prepare him a bit better to take a more involved role next time.
My daughter, however, knew exactly where to go, where to switch lines, and what stops to get off at. I was proud of her and it was clear she was proud of herself. When we lived in New Hampshire, she prided herself on knowing how to get around. She paid attention to all the roads and used to help her grandparents navigate when they’d come up for visits. I think that’s one of the reasons she felt so strongly “at home” in New Hampshire and not knowing her way around has been one of the more difficult parts of the move for her so far.
Anyway, getting down to brass tacks, how’d the day go? Well, the Children’s Museum was great. The kids had a blast and it was more interesting than I remembered it being from our one previous visit.
One bit of advice: if you go to the Children’s Museum, don’t forget to leave time to explore the more far flung exhibits. For example, the Japanese house, way up on the 3rd floor is awesome. Boston and Kyoto are sister cities and, to celebrate that, Kyoto gave Boston a complete Japanese house. As in, an actual house that a family lived in in Kyoto for years and years, that was disassembled, shipped to Boston, and reassembled in it’s entirety inside the Children’s Museum, complete with decor. It’s kind of cool when you realize that, in some ways, a visit to the Children’s Museum gives a more authentic view of Japanese life than an actual visit to Japan might. Being inside a home gives a glimpse into another culture that seeing the tourist attractions just can’t provide. Anyway, the museum is pretty awesome. It’s fun, informative, and not prohibitively expensive ($14 for anyone over 12 months, but only $1 on Fridays from 5:00-9:00. Plus, there are lots of other discounts available)
Lunch. Here’s where letting the kids plan the whole day got interesting. If I were planning a trip to the Children’s Museum, I would plan on bringing a picnic lunch or eating at a restaurant in the immediate area. The kids aren’t quite so practical and they decided they wanted to go all the way to Chinatown for lunch and then return to the museum afterwards. We actually get Dim Sum in Chinatown pretty frequently (at Empire Garden on Washington St., although if anyone has any other recommendations I’d love to try someplace new…). But we always go there from the same place (we live on the Green line, so we just walk over from the Boyleston T stop. Before we moved here, we used to park under the Common and walk from that same corner (Boyleston and Tremont). It’s one of those situations where it’s hard not to fall into the rut of taking the same routes without even thinking about it. However, because we came at it from the opposite direction this time, we were able to discover the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.
You may already know about the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, but that’s not the point. The idea here is that there’s always something new to discover, and letting kids, especially young, impractical kids, have a crack at leading the way helps you to discover it together. Instead of lunch being just a quick bite to eat, we got to see more of Chinatown than we’d seen before and we discovered a new public space where we spent almost an hour feeding sponge cake from a chinese bakery to some extremely greedy birds (which the kids thought was hilarious).
Um. Ok. To recap then: Letting the kids plan the day out was great. It helped them gain skills, boosted their confidence, and led to some fun experiences that we wouldn’t have had if I had just set about to line up a fun day for the kids myself. I’m planning on trying this again. I wonder where they’ll take me? Post in the comments if you give it a shot. I’d love to hear other families’ experience with this.