Nostalgia for the lazy days of childhood. Fear that summer brain drain will put your kid at the end of the class come September. Theories conflict, heart and mind clashes — what’s an overworked, stressed out parent madly in love with their brood to do to make the most of one of 18 short summers with the littles? The answer is everything. A healthy mix of lazy backyard sprinkler days, mind expanding classes and library programs and grand adventures with the whole family will add up to an unforgettable summer. Read on for a few adventurous ideas.
A quick hour drive away in Sandwich, Mass, the Adventure Park at Heritage Museum and Gardens offers five magnificent outdoor obstacle courses complete with zip lines. Once harnessed and armed with an understanding of how to operate the twizzles (locking mechanisms), participants are free to ascend. The forest contains a variety of obstacles suspended among the trees: numerous bridges, tunnels, climbing and balancing apparatus, and, best of all, zip lines. You’ll spend the day among the trees, secured by your harness onto various cables so that you don’t fall down, in some cases, around 30 feet. You’ll get a great workout of both body and mind, and you’ll spend a day in nature — literally. The obstacles are sturdy, but many are made of wood and rope that blend in with the foliage. It’s quiet up in the trees and divinely peaceful. 67 Grove St, Sandwich, Mass; 508-866-0199; heritageadventurepark.org
Closer to home in Warwick, Laidback Fitness offers an excellent indoor ninja workout experience for adults and children. If you’ve ever watched “American Ninja Warrior” and yearned to be one if only for a couple hours, the Jungle at Laidback Fitness is the place to live out your dream. The facility is essentially an urban workout space / semi-industrial indoor playground made from mostly recycled materials. A huge ladder suspended from the ceiling, the rungs of which are wrapped in colorful duct tape, makes a great set of monkey bars. There’s a warp wall, a climbing wall, various ropes and nets, tons of balance equipment and a huge set of rings. The instructors are awesome — really positive and encouraging, but equally willing to just give you some space to enjoy the equipment. 2800 Post Rd, Warwick, 401-871-8436, laidbackfitness.com
Located behind Hope High School with a great view of the football field and the track, the Brown St Park offers a playground with equipment for children of all ages and adults. The standout piece of equipment for adults is the huge set of gymnastics rings. It looks manageable until you actually try to swing from one ring to the next; then you wonder if there are any parents who can actually complete this feat while the little ones scamper around nearby. It’s great for the adult body, but perhaps not the adult ego. There is also a sandbox, a number of interesting sculptures that double as play structures and a community garden. Brown St Park: Brown St., Providence; friendsofbrownstreetpark.org
Located just off Rt. 1, World War I Memorial Park offers a fantastic playground, a massive sandbox, manicured gardens with an enormous slide running down the side of a hill and a small petting zoo. This gem of a park is free. Children of all ages enjoy feeding pellets from the food dispensers to the sheep, ponies, pigs, goats, birds and other creatures in an area near the entrance. A short walk up a paved, shady hill lands you at a lovely garden with a super slide, a sandbox and a modern playground with equipment for both older and younger children. This immaculate park has a number of picnic tables where you can enjoy a packed lunch, and the port-a-potties are as clean as you’re going to find anywhere. World War I Memorial Park, 401 Elmwood St, North Attleboro, Mass.
If you’re tired of fighting the heat and the crowds at the state beaches, you may want to spend a day exploring Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown. Close to both Second and Third Beaches, Sachuest Point is one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island. Its 242 acres provide sanctuary to a number of migratory birds and are home to harlequin ducks and New England Cottontails as well. A series of flat trails provides breathtaking views of the ocean as well as multiple points of shoreline access. The Ocean View Loop is 1.5 miles long and very navigable (for strollers too, if you have little ones who still need a ride), but if your family isn’t ready for that distance, you can enjoy a stunning view of the Atlantic a mere tenth of a mile from the parking lot (which is free). Huge rocks between the trails and the ocean host a number of tide pools that are home to snails, mussels and the occasional starfish. Kids can spend hours investigating the various life forms in the pools. I recommend bringing a beach bucket or two as well as a picnic lunch. The adults can relax and watch the waves roll in while the kids enjoy the tide pools. Over the years, I have brought innumerable friends and visiting relatives to Sachuest Point, and everyone loves it. It is not only beautiful, but also quiet, save for the sound of the surf crashing on the rocks, and a gentle but steady breeze keeps the temperature very comfortable. Amenities at the Visitor Center (open daily from 10am to 4pm) include immaculate restrooms, trail maps and information about the wildlife and history of the point. 769 Sachuest Point Rd, Middletown; 401-619-2680; fws.gov/refuge/Sachuest_Point
A lesser-known freshwater experience that’s well worth the drive north to Burrillville is Spring Lake Beach. It offers plenty of sand, a snack bar and a delightful old fashioned arcade where you can still play games for a quarter. You can rent a paddle board or a paddle boat to use in a buoyed-off portion of the lake, which is an excellent experience, especially for beginners. A floating dock a ways off shore provides a great swim challenge for adults and kids alike. There are also swimming lessons and lifeguard certification courses available. You can easily spend an entire day at Spring Lake, and you won’t have to deal with any of the traffic that comes part and parcel with all of the ocean beaches. 50 Old Hillside Dr, Glendale; 401-568-9474; burrillville.org/parks-recreation/pages/spring-lake-beach