Before you know it, the kids will be out of school. Again. This time for the long holiday break.
For those of us with school-aged children, this time is cherished and dreaded. Family time is special, but at some point the kids get tired of us and are ready to do something else.
“I’m booooored” will be declared in our house every few minutes even though our boys, ages 5 and 7, have toys and gadgets to occupy themselves for hours. Getting them out of the house, though no easy task when it’s cold outside, is necessary.
What is there to do to keep them entertained that doesn’t involve a tablet, gaming system or treating the kitchen like a full-service cafeteria? Plenty.
Here are a few ideas around the Baltimore area for children of all ages — and you might have a little fun too. Are there places I missed? Share your ideas with me, and it may get added to our list.
Plan a train adventure
A short ride on the train is enough to excite children of any age. Unfortunately, the Baltimore-area light rail is suspended indefinitely as of Dec. 7. You can still have an adventure by taking the MARC train south to Washington, D.C., for the day. You can take the Penn Line to Union Station in D.C. and spend the day at one of the many Smithsonian museums. They are free but some require a timed-entry pass, so check before going on your adventure. Many of the museums have kid-friendly engagement, such as the National Air and Space Museum.
Can you take a train to the North Pole?
Sort of? The B&O Railroad Museum is hosting “The Polar Express” train ride, a shortened train ride that features a live performance on the way to see Santa. The tickets are always in demand, but they are a little pricey. With the purchase of the ticket, you get the train ride and full access to the museum with several activities for kids. We’ve done this twice and our kids love it.
If you can’t get a ticket for “The Polar Express” experience, you can still explore the museum and their beautiful holiday decor. It’s best to drive to the B&O where they have free parking on-site.
Take a hike
What better way to bring in the new year than with a hike? Anne Arundel County offers a guided hike on Jan. 1. You can start the year off with a little exercise and a chance to explore nature not too far from home. There are also 11 hikes available at 10 locations in other parts of Anne Arundel County that average 90 minutes. Some of the sites include Downs Park and Lake Waterford Park. Look out for winter wildlife or opt for a trail that offers scenic views of the Chesapeake Bay. Some hikes even include hot chocolate at the end.
Most of the hikes are friendly for all ages, but the hike at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian is for ages 12 and older. If you want to bring along the family dog, join the hike at Quiet Waters Park that afternoon. It is about 2 miles along paved trails.
If you choose one of the 12 hikes in Anne Arundel County on Jan. 1, you must register first. Find information about each hike and register here.
Why would you do this? Explore nature and kick off the new year with an honest effort toward that New Year’s resolution. Plus, your kids will burn off some energy. Maybe.
What should you know? Visit this site for more information about each hike. Email the ranger for details about the hike so you can prepare. Do your research so you can identify the best hike for your family.
What about other winter activities? Opportunities aren’t just limited to Anne Arundel County. Here are the guides for parks and recreational activities for the rest of the year in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.
Check out the lights!
One benefit of shorter days is you can drive around and see holiday lights and still have time to get home before bedtime. One of our favorite places to go is Howard County. This map makes it easy to plot a drive by houses with creative decorations to celebrate the season. This may be ideal to do after driving through the Merriweather Symphony of Lights, which can leave you wanting more if you aren’t able to get out and walk around to really take in the grand displays.
Cost: Driving through the Merriweather Symphony of Lights is $25 per vehicle. For nights when walking is allowed, pricing varies.
Pros: You can take in the holiday lights from the warm car and bring along fun snacks.
Cons: The Symphony of Lights is about a mile long, which can go by quickly in a car even traveling at about 15 mph. Walking is only available on specific nights, so check the website for details.
Holiday train gardens
I’m a sucker for miniature displays and little kids also love them. The holiday train garden at The Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville is a favorite. The train garden is approximately 10 by 25 feet and started as a small display in the 1980s. Baltimore landmarks and cityscapes are shrunken down to give children the perfect eye-level view of the realistic scenes. When you’re done with the display, you can visit the museum and see everything from fire engines to interactive displays that can occupy children of all ages.
Cost: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $7 for kids and under 2 free and price includes train garden.
When can you go? The museum isn’t open every day, so check their site for days and times.
Explore the library
One highlight of the season are the winter windows at Enoch Pratt Free Library’s central branch in Baltimore. Graphic designers create the magical windows in a winter theme in front of the library. The windows are built to have a similar look to the likes of the iconic New York City department store holiday displays. You will see scenes from ice skating reindeer, the underground home of bunny rabbits and even a gingerbread village. Want a special experience? Stop by at night to get the full impact of the scene.
No matter where you live, your local library also likely has a program or activity during the winter break. Even if there isn’t a scheduled event, you can usually find an activity for your child. Ask your child to pick a favorite animal and then find books, using the computer to learn something fun about it.
You can also get your child a library card and give them some freedom to check out a book of their choice in person or online. Some branches also allow for you to check out games and movies.