Indoor Play Options in Georgia

By Lesli Peterson

NatureQuest

NatureQuest

I am a huge advocate for outside play. Rain, sleet, snow, or mosquitos…we are out there.  I’m also a realist. When you experience day after day after day of wet, freezing, or muggy weather, the kids need a break. Here are a few of our favorite places to play indoors.

In the City

High Museum The Greene Family Learning Gallery is a hands-on education center. It provides a building area, storytelling space, and three other kid-friendly areas. I love it as a tool for connecting my boys to the art in the museum.

Fernbank Museum of Natural History My boys love to explore at NatureQuest, where they learn about forests, swamps, and more. If I can drag them away, we also play scientist at Sensing Nature. Their favorite stations are the bubble maker and the green-screen meteorologist camera.

North of Atlanta

INK

INK

Interactive Neighborhood for Kids Plan to spend an entire day at this “kid-sized” town. Climb in a plane, play musical instruments, or play veterinarian. You can also climb aboard a firetruck, “milk” a cow, or play judge and jury. Bring a picnic, as there are not lunch options in the building.

Tellus Science Museum Head straight to the back, and busy the kids with gem mining.  My boys look forward to getting a little wet and finding a golden nugget. In the next room, ancient dinosaur bones hide under rubble, waiting for little hands to discover them.

South of Atlanta       

Thronateeska

Thronateeska

Museum of Aviation Explore four hangers of equipment, uniforms, and other military flying gear. Most are “for eyes only,” but there are a handful of places where children can climb, touch, push, steer, and more. Stop for lunch at the cafeteria, with large windows for viewing more airplanes outdoors.

Thronateeska Heritage Center This kid-friendly museum is a science center, train exhibit, and planetarium – all under one roof. Our favorite areas are the archaeology exhibit, the “skeleton” piano, and the HO-scale model train.  

LesliLesli is the Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

 

2015 Free Days at Atlanta Museums and Attractions

By Lesli Peterson

CallawayGeorgia offers a wealth of museums and attractions, with exhibits that range from space to dinosaurs and animals to gardens. We own a membership to several, but it can be financially daunting to visit all of them…especially with multiple kids. Thank goodness for FREE DAYS which allow us to experience new places.

Here’s a list of Atlanta Metro’s best museums and attractions, and the days they are available for FREE in 2015. Always check the website or call before you visit to inquire about cancellations, parking fees, and ID required for Bank of America and Fulton County resident free days.

Atlanta Ballet

Every Month: On the first of every month, Atlanta Ballet offers a free class day at all locations for its adult open division classes.

Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

Every Week: ACAC waives the $5 admission fee every Thursday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. You may be able to catch lectures, gallery tours, film screenings and more for free.

Atlanta History Center

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

November 1: Visitors are welcome to celebrate Day of the Dead.

Booth Western Art Museum

Every Month: Free admission on the first Thursday of each month from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Callaway Gardens

January 16 – February 27: Free Admission (except weekends and holidays – with the exception of Sat. Feb. 21)

February 21: Free admission on Founders’ Day, which honors the late Virginia Callaway, co-founder of Callaway Gardens.

March 26 – 29: Free Admission to the Plant Fair (through Beach gate.)

April 5: Free admission for those who arrive prior to 8 a.m. to attend Easter Sunrise Service. Attendees can stay in Gardens for the day.

June 1 – July 27: Free admission to Astronomy Night with Coca-Cola Space Science Center on Mondays at dark.

September 11: Free admission in honor of 9/11

November 6: Free admission on Founders’ Day, which honors the late Cason Callaway, co –founder of Callaway Gardens.

November 21 – December 30: Free day admission with the purchase of Fantasy In Lights admission at night.

Center for Civil and Human Rights

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Center for Puppetry Arts

Every Month: Walk-up admission is free for Fulton County, Georgia, residents on the first Saturday of each month.*

Children’s Museum of Atlanta

New Exhibits: Fulton County residents are invited to buy one admission ticket and receive one additional general admission ticket for free on the opening day of each feature exhibit.

Every Month: On Target Free Second Tuesday, anyone can attend the Children’s Museum of Atlanta for free from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm.

Free admission for all active, retired, and reserve military personnel are admitted for free, and their families receive a discounted rate on the following holidays:

Memorial Day, July 4, Veterans Day, Flag Day, and Armed Forces Day

Georgia Museum of Art

Admission is ALWAYS free during regular museum operating hours.

Georgia State Parks 

September: Georgia State Parks are always free, although is a parking fee.  Your State Parks Day is held each year in late September, which waives the parking fee at State Parks. Historic Sites are also free on this day.

High Museum of Art

Every Month: Walk-up admission is free for Fulton County, Georgia, residents on the first Saturday of each month.*

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Michael C Carlos Museum

Free admission 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm on the following Thursdays:

January 22, February 5, March 5, April 30, May 7, and June 11, 2015

Museum of Design Atlanta

Every Month: On the 2nd Sunday of the month museum entrance is Pay-as-You-Wish. Enter for free, or make a donation. (Note: The museum is closed on the 2nd Sunday of April in order to change exhibitions.)

Tellus Science Museum

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Additional ways to visit for free:

Georgia Aquarium offers free admission on your birthday.

Georgia Libraries offer free or discounted passes to families who check out certain materials. They can be used once per family. Participating attractions include the following: Zoo Atlanta, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, Go Fish Education Center, and Center for Puppetry Arts Museum

During Museum Day Live in September, Smithsonian magazine offers free admission to participating venues. Several Georgia museums are included. The 2015 list has not yet been released, but be sure to check the website as September draws closer.

A great number of Georgia museums are always free to the public. See a comprehensive list here: http://blog.exploregeorgia.org/free-museums-in-georgia/

Share your Georgia museum adventures using the #ExploreGeorgia hashtag on social media!

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*Fulton County Free Saturdays: Tickets are subject to availability. Acceptable I.D. includes valid driver’s license, utility bill or student I.D. from a Fulton County school. Major funding is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners

**Museums on Us, Bank of America: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full Saturday and Sunday of each month. Discount offered for cardholder only.

 

Exploring the MLK Historic Site with Kids

By Lesli Peterson

MLK Birth Home

MLK Birth Home

With our oldest now in first grade, we surmised that it was time to extend our discussions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beyond books and YouTube videos. It was time to visit the MLK National Historic Site and The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.  I am thrilled that we made this choice; the boys learned so much.  Here are 10 areas of our self-guided tour that resonate most with children.

  1. Junior Ranger Program – Ask any park ranger for the Official Activity Booklet. Kids 9 – 15 complete it on-site, as well as promise to live by King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence.
  2. Firestation No. 6

    Firestation No. 6

    Firestation No. 6 – Dr. King visited here often as a boy. This Atlanta icon also became one of the first fire stations to desegregate. Inside, kids love the 1927 fire truck on display.

  3. King’s Birth Home – My boys enjoyed having their photo taken on the steps and imagining that Dr. King sat in the very same spot when he was a boy. Next door is a gift shop, with a number of books and games for kids.
  4. Children of Courage Exhibit – This exhibit is geared toward younger visitors, telling the story of the children of the Civil Rights Movement.
  5. Courage to Lead Exhibit – The main exhibit within the Visitor’s Center, Courage to Lead is primarily for adults. However, in each section of the exhibit there is a blue sign that describes in simple terms, for children, the gist of the kiosk. On a personal note, it was here that Dr. King’s sacrifices for peace became most apparent to my son. I urge you not to skip this.
  6. Ebenezer Baptist Church

    Ebenezer Baptist Church

    Ebenezer Baptist Church – My oldest walked directly to the altar, inquiring about the “voice from the speakers.” Hearing Dr. King speak in this setting genuinely touched him (and all of us.)

  7. International Walk of Fame – Just outside the Visitor’s Center our kids walked along footprints of many great leaders who have struggled to bring peace and equality to everyone. They also enjoyed posing with the life-size Gandhi statue and learning of his influence in Dr. King’s life.
  8. World Peace Rose Garden – The shrubs were bare when we visited, but that didn’t stop us from admiring the poetry within the garden written by children from around the world.
  9. Trading Cards – Collect all five cards from a park ranger, located at the Visitor’s Center, church and fire station. A Civil War to Civil Rights trading card program encourages families to visit multiple parks.
  10. The Eternal Flame

    The Eternal Flame

    The Eternal Flame – The flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream. My boys enjoyed seeing the flame and understanding its message.

 

Things to know before you visit:

  • Parking and admission are free.
  • Restrooms are available onsite in multiple locations.
  • If you visit in cold weather, bring a coat. You will travel from site to site on foot.
  • Cameras are allowed in all locations except inside the Birth Home.
  • Arrive as early as possible to tour the Birth Home. Tickets are free, but spots are limited and fill quickly.
  • Sweet Auburn Curb Market is just down the road and the perfect place for lunch.

Best of Atlanta Metro for Families with Preschoolers

Tellus Museum

Tellus Science Museum

Traveling with a preschooler comes with its own set of special challenges. You need engaging activities, with opportunities for kids to use all their senses.  Below are twelve picks for the Atlanta Metro, both for families visiting the area and for those that call Atlanta home.

Fail-proof options for vacationing families

  1. Tiny Towne (Alpharetta) Children ages 3-15 drive high-tech miniature cars in a realistic environment. Follow road signs and traffic signals, and have a fun time in the process.
  2. Dunwoody Nature Center

    Dunwoody Nature Center

    Dunwoody Nature Center (Dunwoody) Explore the boardwalk, play hide-and-seek in the treehouse, traipse the short trails, or play on the playground. On warmer days, the creek calls for frolicking, with shallow water and pebbles for tossing.

  3. Center for Puppetry Arts (Midtown Atlanta) Take in one of the masterful puppet shows, which always exceed expectations. A children’s puppetry workshop follows most shows. Kids will also enjoy the Jim Henson exhibit or the puppetry museum.
  4. Children’s Museum of Atlanta (Downtown Atlanta) “Shop” in a grocery store, catch fish, climb the treehouse, or explore machines with pulleys and levers. Rotating exhibits with hands-on kiosks add to the fun.
  5. Tellus Science Museum (Cartersville) It’s easy to spend hours in the My Big Backyard children’s exhibit. After that, walk with the dinosaurs, or pose with a replica of Sputnik. Kids are sure to enjoy fossil hunting and gemstone mining, free with admission.
  6. Yellow River Game Ranch (Lilburn) Meander the trail through this 24-acre park to see sheep, bunnies, cougar, bear, and more. The back meadow holds the largest herd of buffalo this side of the Mississippi! Pet the deer, and feed the sheep and other kid-friendly animals. Don’t forget your camera.

Must-do preschool programs for residents

  1. Atlanta History Center

    Atlanta History Center

    Magic Mondays at Atlanta History Center (Buckhead Atlanta) Once-a-month programs include crafts, games, stories, and a learning activity. Move at your own pace through the sessions, and be sure to finish with a visit to the farm!

  2. Theatre for the Very Young at Alliance Theatre (Midtown Atlanta) Professional performances that kids as young as 18 months will enjoy. Shows engage children and parents, allowing kids to become part of the experience.
  3. Adventure Cubs at Zoo Atlanta (Grant Park Atlanta) This monthly adventure features hands-on programs for three and four year olds. Take a Zoo tour, play at the learning stations, and meet a special animal ambassador.
  4. Southern Railway Museum

    Southern Railway Museum

    2nd Thursday Preschool Program at Southeastern Railway Museum (Duluth) The cleverly designed program includes circle time, songs, activities, and a craft. Each month’s topic covers a different mode of transportation including hot air balloons, ice cream trucks, and of course trains!

  5. Mommy and Me at Southern Museum (Kennesaw) Free with admission, Mommy and Me includes story times, crafts, and hands-on games. Every week offers a new topic.
  6. Booth Cahoots at Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville) Kids learn about works of art on display at the “cowboy museum,” and make their own art inspired by those artists. Pre-registration is required, and participation is free with admission.

lesli

Lesli is the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration to local families. She is also the Official Family Travel Ambassador for the state of Georgia, as well as a freelance writer for several online publications.  She enjoys being a homeschool mom to two young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one adventure at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way.

 

Chronicles of a State Park Journey: Part 2

Spring in Ga State Parks

My family and I are on a mission to visit every state park in Georgia, one a month, until we have explored the ins-and-outs of each one. Each quarter over 2014, we’ll share with you a sample from our diaries on this journey. May you be encouraged to explore the hundreds of thousands of acres that make Georgia beautiful.

April 28 – George L. Smith State Park in Twin City, Georgia

Richard B Russell

I’m sitting on the screened-in porch, listening to the rain fall; we’re hoping for a break in the clouds in order to canoe on the lake. In the meantime, I watch the kids play in the expansive backyard of our cottage, running through the puddles.  Earlier this morning we hiked around Parrish Mill and Pond.  The mill, originally built in 1880, is a grist mill and saw mill, as well as a covered bridge and dam.  Wait! I think the rain has stopped!

The boys and I returned from a canoe excursion on the pond, elated.  It was their first time canoeing, and my oldest has declared it a new love.  Cypress and tupelo trees towered from the black water, and Spanish moss hung low. Blue heron and white ibis flew low along the edge of the water. Long periods passed without a word from either boy; we were awe-struck.

April 29 -  After a restful night sleep, we piled in the truck for a 20-minute ride to Magnolia Springs State Park.  The natural spring flows with 7-9 million gallons of water each day, and I was determined to see this natural wonder.  The alligators and turtles – hundreds of turtles – captured the boys’ attention.

After ogling the wildlife on the boardwalk, we explored near the visitor center.  I was astonished to learn that Camp Lawton was on this site. It served as a prison during the Civil War, and the artifacts and stockade wall were only recently unearthed. We learned about the new limited edition Civil War Jr Ranger Badge, on which the boys are now diligently working.

May 2 – Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia

 

UnicoiOur original plans were to stay in the Lodge at Unicoi State Park, but once the boys caught a glimpse of the “barrel” cabins they begged for a change of plans.  Luckily, one had just become available. It was a little older than other cottages we have stayed in (the Unicoi GM told me that renovations are coming soon,) but it was fun!

We could see the lake from our porch, and it called to us.  Just as the sun was setting we opted for a hike around the lake; the trailhead was just a few yards from our door.  Solar lights along the trail marked our way. We crossed a creek and a playground as we wound by the campground, but we kept walking to the dock, beckoned by the throaty call of a bullfrog.

May 3 – We slept-in this morning and had coffee on the porch; the boys wondered aloud about the bullfrog we scouted last night.  After breakfast, we took a short ride to Anna Ruby Falls.  It isn’t in Unicoi State Park – it’s run by the US Forestry Service – but it is just on the border of the park.  The wildflowers were in full bloom, dotting the walk with bright colors against the lush green forest.  The boys confidently walked the short hike to the falls, and it was worth every step.

June 17 Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City, Georgia

Black Rock Mountain

The clouds were rolling in as we settled into our cottage; we talked about the “cotton balls” hanging in the mountains while we sat on the back porch. After unpacking our bags and answering a multitude of questions about the “awesome” stone fireplace that stood as the cottage centerpiece, we decided to hit the trail.

Ada-Hi is a half-mile trail, but we worked diligently on this hike because of the steep slope.  Dense thickets of rhododendron and mossy-covered rocks were our reward as we marched to the falls at the end of the trail. It reminded me of Smithgall Woods State Park.  We were lucky enough to visit the falls the day after a rainstorm, so the water was flowing generously.

June 18 – Early this morning we drove less than a half-hour to Tallulah Gorge State Park. The boys have a few more years before they can hike the gorge floor or the suspension bridge, but we enjoyed the North and South Rim Trails. A series of falls along the gorge floor grabbed our attention, as well as the towers used by Karl Wallenda when he walked across the gorge via tightrope.

Back at Black Rock Mountain we relaxed by taking a walk around Black Rock Lake, then visiting Foxfire Museum.  Foxfire isn’t part of the Park’s system, but it is on property adjacent to the park. Our favorite part was ringing the bell at the Chapel. It was a truly unique way to teach the boys about Appalachian life.

You can click through here to read about our winter Georgia State Parks journey.

lesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s Destination Expert for Trekaroo and founder of 365 Atlanta Family. She is a homeschooling mom to 2 young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one road-trip at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way.